Is Harvard Sacrificing Science for Wokeness?

Christopher Sanfilippo

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by RealClearScience on June 30, 2021 and is crossposted here with permission.

There is a cultural shift underway affecting all aspects of American life. Though hard to define, it usually takes the form of an emphasis on what is known variously as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), critical race theory, wokeness, anti-racism, and the like. Several scholars and writers have been raising the alarm about its anti-intellectual and illiberal aspects. Heather Mac Donald has shown how it has permeated the university. Is there reason to be suspicious?

One might suspect that the new ideology only affects intrinsically political areas of study, such as Government and History. But in fact it has infected every area, even science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Below is a sampling of new policies at Harvard that reveal how this ideology is affecting STEM education.

A few clicks away from the homepage of Harvard’s prestigious medical school, one finds among their “anti-racism initiatives” the following: “We will develop new classes for master’s and PhD students to acknowledge the ways in which racism is embedded in science.” What in the world does it even mean to say that racism is "embedded" in science? It has been pursued, certainly, by flawed people—but science is the pursuit of universal truth. It cannot itself be racist. At best, such classes will simply be a waste of time. At worst, as the language above suggests, they will attempt to indoctrinate students by teaching them that they, and the medicine they practice, are inherently racist.

Not even mathematics, the most rigorous and least ideological of the STEM disciplines, is unscathed. Harvard’s math department is currently implementing suggestions from last year’s town hall concerning “diversity and anti-oppression.” It is suggested to no longer require the GRE for graduate admissions, and, shockingly, to “reform Math 55 culture and content” for the sake of “promoting equity.” Now, Math 55 is known as the hardest undergraduate math class in the country—some years more than half the class does not finish. The rationale underlying these suggestions is unmistakable: there are not enough women and minorities succeeding in the department, so let us lower the standards to make our classes and programs more diverse. Such thinking has become disturbingly common. It's both condescending and an open admission that diversity is more important than rigorous education. Is it lamentable that some years Math 55 has no women? Perhaps. But that is preferable to encouraging students to take it who may not succeed or lowering the standards for all.  

A final example, this time from the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). Buried on the 17th of the 37-page SEAS Strategic Plan for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging it is recommended that a “comprehensive training program” be created for all members of SEAS to address “bias, privilege, inclusive leadership, gender identity, etc.” including inviting speakers and in-house training. But what does this have to do with engineering? Naturally, they neglect to mention the cost of such a program or how it advances the core mission of SEAS.

The above examples—and many more are easily found—taken together paint a disturbing picture of Harvard’s outlook. Diversity is more important than rigorous education.  

What will be the outcome of all this? Students and faculty will be recruited who are not prepared. Standards of academic rigor will be lowered. Millions will be spent supporting a bloated bureaucracy of deans and administrators whose primary job is to tell others that they are racist. Time that could have been spent studying and researching will instead be spent in DEI trainings. Overall, the quality and prestige of Harvard University will diminish. Rational inquiry and the scientific method will be sacrificed to the new idols: diversity, equity, and inclusion.

And these examples are only taken from publicly available information; one shudders to think about how the content of the classes might be—or already has been—perverted as DEI infects the classroom.

To combat the pernicious influence of DEI on STEM education at Harvard will be no easy task. It is already entrenched in the university. But as a first step, I suggest the following: Publicize information on just how much money is being spent on DEI programs instead of the true aims of the university – education and research. Allow students, faculty, and the public to see, for example, how much money goes to speakers peddling ideological nonsense, to consulting firms who develop new DEI initiatives, and to the staff that run them.

Christopher Sanfilippo is a Research Associate at the National Association of Scholars. He is currently working on the Diversity in the Sciences Project.

Image: Erin Doering, Public Domain

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