Tuesday Tirades

Peter Wood

Today's recommended reading from NAS:



We are gathering some statements from scholars in response to President Obama’s announcement that he has lifted the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research. Is this a good thing for science? An ethically dubious choice? If you care to weigh in, email us.  

And check out “Politics-Free Science?” by John Tierney.


Few ideas are more suspect in contemporary higher education than the notion of hierarchy. Hierarchy is routinely denounced as the root of social injustice. It is the means by which exclusive groups arrogate power and privilege to themselves and perpetuate their dominance by hoodwinking those they oppress into thinking that their subordination is right and proper. There is surely a lot to this idea. Hierarchies based on “honor” such as the old European aristocracies, or “purity such as the Indian caste system were profoundly unjust.   The United States, of course, was founded on principles that overturned hierarchy. Not only do we have the Declaration of Independence’s premise that “all men are created equal,” we have written into the U.S. Constitution a firm repudiation of the main pillar of European hierarchy. Article I Section 9, clause eight declares: 

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State. 

But oddly, those on campus who most worry about the ghosts of hierarchy they see around us are have been vigorously building their own hierarchy. It is based on the high status conferred by successfully claiming to speak for a group that has suffered oppression. The more oppression endured, the higher the status—thus there is a competition among groups who attempt to advance their various claims to victimization. Like most hierarchies, this depends on some weird leaps of logic. Those who speak for a victim group or attempt to advance its claims need not have suffered any oppression themselves, or even mild inconvenience. They need only lay claim to a pedigree of suffering, not all that different from a mediocre and untalented descendent of a duke who claims aristocratic rights by virtue of descent, or a Brahmin claiming purity because of his bloodline.  

I wrote about this strange hierarchy in Academic Questions last year (“Clientage and Contumely,” Summer 2008). We now have, thanks to Heather MacDonald writing in The Weekly Standard, “Victimology 101 at Yale,” a pitch-perfect account of how gay and lesbian activists (or more precisely LGBTQ activists) at Yale have managed their part in this game.  


Over at the Huffington Post, the promiscuously ignorant John W. Delicath, Director of the Media Matters Action Network, repeats the mischaracterization of the non-partisan NAS as a “conservative” organization. The logic here is that any organization that has received money from a conservative foundation (we have), published conservative authors (we have), and dissented from Leftist orthodoxy (we have), must be a “conservative organization.” This is something like the one-drop rule of ideological identity, except that we have three drops.  

What of an organization that has received money from a liberal foundation (we have), published liberal authors (we have), and dissented from conservative orthodoxy (we have)?   Apparently that doesn’t count in the eyes of Media Transparency, on which Delicath relies for his caricature. 

NAS charts its own independent course. We are pleased to have support from and links to conservatives and liberals. Conservatives seem to accept that, but it drives some liberals like Mr. Delicath to the grassy knolls of conspiracy theory.   

Including Taxes  

We at NAS have long emphasized the importance of accountability in higher education. Americans have the right to know how colleges and universities—especially public ones—spend their money and time. In “Bowing to the god of ‘diversity and inclusion’” (Review-Journal), Glenn Cook chronicles how the state legislature registered a lobbyist, Lucy Flores, whose job was to advocate for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ Office of Diversity and Inclusion.  

The Office is typical for its kind. It sends out tons of emails advertising multicultural events, intimidates other campus offices who fear being thought under-enthusiastic,  coaxes faculty members to offer students extra-credit to participate in its non-academic programs, and solicits reports of offense speech. As Cook writes, “The easily offended have an eager audience. It is groupthink at its very worst.”  

Since Cook made inquiries about Flores’ role at UNLV, she has been dismissed from her lobbying position. Cook continued to investigate how the Office of Diversity and Inclusion uses its budget. He observes that Christine Clark, UNLV’s “includer-in-chief” was recently quoted in the student newspaper saying that white people have an inherent fear of black men.  

Cook sums up: “This represents one small example of the sense of entitlement and disconnection from reality that your tax dollars subsidize—and further proof that the higher education system deserves great scrutiny if it insists on demanding ever-greater sums of your money.”

 Will Davidson Become Like the Rest?

On its website, Davidson College describes itself as “a liberal arts institution founded by Presbyterians in 1837.” But Zach Bennett, a political science student at the college, fears that Davidson may soon be tempted to “’catch up’ to its peers.” A committee is currently assessing the curriculum with the intent to propose new academic objectives in April. In his column “Protect Liberal Education at Davidson” in the student newspaper, Bennett notes that although Davidson has remained “behind the curve,” in general, college liberal arts have “fallen prey to social missions and relativism.” He warns Davidson not to follow suit and draws on Strauss’s “What is Liberal Education?” to remind the college of its commitment to the cultivation of the mind.  

Bennett is probably right to be worried. Davidson is already au courant with quite a few contemporary trends in higher education that have little to do with traditional liberal arts education and a lot more to do with Leftist nostrums for reforming society. A five-minute scan of Davidson.edu brought up: 

  •  The college declared 2008-09 to be the “Year of Sustainability,” and the college website (helpfully!) offers a carbon footprint calculator.

  •  Last year, Davidson established an environmentalism residence called the Eco House, where ten students now live.

  •  Student Life provides separate services and programs for minority students.

  •  History is taught “with attention to critical issues such as ethnicity, class, and gender.” 

With its propensity to jump on the politically correct bandwagon, how will Davidson reframe its academic mission? “Today, we stand on the brink,” writes Bennett a little melodramatically. But it does look like Davidson is strapping on its rappelling gear.    

Honor, Simplicity, Tenacity

Here’s another article from one of the best blogs on the Internet today. “Great Lessons From Great Men,” by J.D. Roth, recounts twelve lessons learned from financial books written by men such as J.C. Penney and Thomas Jefferson. Here are a few: 

  •          Be Tenacious
  •          Exercise Self-Control
  •          Do the Right Thing
  •          Embrace The Golden Rule  

For the full list with elucidation from J.D. Roth, along with many other great articles, visit artofmanliness.com.

We admit this doesn’t have much to do with higher education. But it should.

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