“Please spread the word among your colleagues and friends on Faculty Council, that we need to correct the lily-white imbalances of the Dean's Search Committees, all four of them.”
On October 9, faculty members at Brooklyn College got an email containing this sentence from Jocelyn Wills, associate professor of history. Several recipients were shocked by the bluntness of Wills’ demand. “This is designed to initiate a campaign to vote for members of search committees—for school deans—exclusively based on race,” said David Seidemann, professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
Indeed there are several major problems with this statement. First, it is blatantly racist against white faculty members. Imagine how offensive it would sound the other way around: “we need to correct the minority-heavy imbalances to include more white people...”
Second, it assumes that balance should be the norm, and that only by some magic racial ratio can a search committee be properly staffed. That ratio and evidence of its success rate remain a mystery.
Third, with balance as the goal, Wills is pressuring her colleagues to discriminate based on race, and to make race the top criterion for nomination. What about other qualifications? And what is it about skin color that makes a person a better or worse member of a search committee?
Wills let her guard down so that her own prejudices show through. Her statement reveals her belief that it’s acceptable to choose one person over another based on race. It also reveals a more general truth about academic culture: it has become safe to sneer at certain colleagues in the name of “diversity.” Colleges and universities pride themselves on being places to renounce stereotypes and embrace critical thinking. This isn’t critical thinking; this is groupthink. Wills obviously felt secure making a public racist remark and openly urging others to act in a prejudiced way—because that’s the example that academe has always set for her.
Not only has this sort of behavior become safe, but deviating from it is actually unsafe. Consider Virginia Tech’s diversity litmus test for faculty hiring. A candidate who declares himself racially colorblind probably won’t get hired in the first place.
Then there’s a fourth problem with Wills’ attitude: it hurts the people she wants to help.
She goes on in her email to list those on the slate for the Humanities and Social Sciences committee:
- Noel Anderson, acting chairman of the political science department, whose expertise is in “comparative issues on race and education policy”
- Alan Aja and Miranda Martinez, both assistant professors in the Department of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies (of interest is NAS’s recent article on the true meaning of “Latino”)
- Joseph Wilson, director of the Center for Diversity and Multicultural Studies, political science professor, and editor of several books on race
She also puts forward Irene Sosa, an associate professor in the Television and Radio department, for the Arts committee.
These may each be excellent candidates for the Dean’s Search committees, but all that matters to Wills is that their presence breaks up the “lily-white imbalances.” Their strengths and abilities go completely disregarded. Judging by this email, Wills doesn’t respect these faculty members for their expertise, discernment, or integrity; she just wants the variety of their pigmentation.
Wills’ indiscreet email gives us a window into the foolish dogma at Brooklyn College, as well as the majority of colleges and universities, where “diversity” justifies any number of shallow hypocrisies.
The email was brought to NAS’s attention by the CUNY Association of Scholars, an affiliate of the National Association of Scholars. Click here to read the whole email.
Update 10/18/10: The day after this article was published, the New York Post covered the story in "Lily-White Prof-Panel Slam," which notes that Wills resigned after she was elected to the search committee.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain