This article originally appeared in Minding the Campus on August 24, 2017.
James Damore, the author of the ten-page “anti-diversity manifesto” that got him fired from Google, is not likely to fade to the level of a remote trivia question. That’s because Damore, a 28-year-old engineer, former chess champion, and researcher in computational biology at both Harvard and Princeton, sharply focused evidence and argument that shook the “diversity” procedures of Google and the tech world.
Damore criticized Google’s “diversity” initiatives aimed at spurring the company’s recruitment of non-Asian minorities and women. The most important of his transgressions was suggesting that “at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences.” Remember, Damore’s research specialization was computational biology. He wasn’t speaking, or memo-ing, out of misogynist ignorance.
That most controversial part of his memo garnered a response from Karen Panetta, Dean of Engineering at Tufts University. Panetta attributed Damore’s views not to his knowledge of the data but to his “education.” He had attended elite universities where “the majority of faculty were trained mostly by men.” And, “if you can’t break that cycle, it persists.” That cycle isn’t just a problem at those elite programs Damore attended, but everywhere STEM is taught. “It is a universal problem. It’s not just industry, you have to remember; it’s connected to higher education. That’s where it grows.”
Training scientists and engineers to focus on the analysis of data rather than social justice and implicit bias is clearly problematic.
Gender disparities in STEM classrooms aren’t the only thing keeping SJWs “a-woke” at night. According to Rebecca Hill, STEM is also too white. In “STEM has a Diversity Problem,” she blames racial disparities on textbooks with too many pictures of white scientists. And in “Why Black Students Struggle in STEM Subjects,” Ebony O. McGee says black students underperform in math and science classes because their energy is spent performing whiteness—“talking ultra-proper English and pretending to go on vacations.” The answer, to the problem, she says, is to “minimize the fragility factors affecting” black students.
Such are the wonders of critical race theory.
Reducing racial and gender disparities in STEM, however, may require some uncomfortable trade-offs. For years critics have warned that colleges balance the diversity books on the backs of Asian students. Remedying the racial and gender disparities in STEM will likely require more of the same.
Such suspicion isn’t unfounded. Just four days before Damore’s memo hit the wire, the Justice Department announced an investigation into a lawsuit sixty-four Asian activist groups filed against Harvard University. The suit alleges that Harvard’s admissions process favored social aptitude over academics in order to give white and non-Asian minority students an edge over Asian applicants.
Elite colleges have been flagged for this chicanery before. As City Journal’s Mark Pulliam noted in “Affirmative Action Antics,” UCLA instituted its own update of the Harvard Jewish quotas when black enrollment nosedived after Proposition 209 abolished racial preferences in California. When students and alumni ordered the school to fix its “diversity problem,” UCLA, like Harvard, bolstered its holistic review process, which admissions officials use to admit applicants with less-than-stellar SAT scores and GPAs. In principle “holistic” review means taking the whole of the student’s life into account, not just his academic record. In practice, holistic review means putting Asian students in a hole and clamping a lid on it.
If Dean Panetta’s thoughts are representative of the view from the Ivy Tower, the diversity regime intends to dig that hole a little deeper for Asian STEM students.
But as we saw at Harvard and UCLA, white men aren’t going to be the category primarily affected by the progressive approach to admissions. Asian American students earn thirty percent (a plurality) of all STEM degrees while accounting for only seven percent of all enrolled college students. Reducing the Asian percentage of students in science and engineering is the only practical way to “diversify” these fields. And it will have the side “benefit” of lowering academic standards, which are currently maintained by the ferocious competition among highly qualified applicants.
Can elite colleges get away with tipping the scales against Asian students? Quite possibly. Elite colleges have long discriminated against disfavored ethnic groups under the guise of promoting “diversity.” That’s exactly how Harvard maintained its “Gentleman’s Agreement” to limit Jewish enrollment, and it is exactly how the post-Bakke “diversity” regime has operated.
Because Asian American students are less likely to have well-connected, donor-class-parents, admissions officers can deal with them in bad faith without fear of reprisal. It also doesn’t help that Asian Americans’ history isn’t a fixed part of our civic memory. This makes us take allegations of bias less seriously or ignore them unjustly. We saw this when The New York Times omitted allegations of Asian discrimination from the lead of an article reporting the Justice Department’s inquiry into bias complaints.
The investigation into Harvard’s admission practices is a fresh chance to force a public debate on the “Asian Quotas.” A move against STEM programs would be good news for critics hoping to make clear that progressive policies require racial injustice. Such an investigation may also encourage Asian American parents and students to pick up the banner of civil rights.
We can expect a purge of dissenting faculty members, at least those not protected by tenure when the Diversity Inquisition comes to STEM. We can also expect the continuing effort to jerry-rig search committees and future faculty appointments in the sciences for female and non-Asian minority candidates, as the University of California already does. (Consider UC’s “President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program,” which despite the name is really a way of forcing science departments to hire under-qualified minority candidates.)
Such actions will be explained away with the same doublespeak Google CEO Sundar Pichai used to justify James Damore’s dismissal.
On the other hand, the game isn’t over. Damore, we should remember, is a chess champion. It is not unthinkable that he will outplay Google CEO Sundar Pichai and the whole army of diversiphile pawns. His sacrifice has once again drawn attention to how intellectually shallow and factually unsupported the entire diversity rationale really is. Racial healing and gender equity will never be built on a foundation of misrepresentation and willful ignorance. It’s now up to policymakers and civil rights groups to focus their attention on people like Tuft’s Dean Panetta, who believes that independent thinking such as Damore’s can be nipped in the bud by appointing the right kinds of people to faculty positions in STEM.
Far too many people in the sciences have thought they were immune to this ideological assault. They believed, and may still believe, that science and engineering are too important to be compromised b appointments made on the basis of gender and race. The real significance of l’affair Damore is simple: stop kneeling to the God of Diversity, or you will be Damored.