The Wrong Way to Reduce Campus Tensions

  • Statement
  • January 01, 1991

The academic community is alarmed by reports of inter-group tension at many colleges, including those long committed to equal opportunity. Unfortunately, educators have failed to reassess some recent policies and practices that, far from promoting tolerance and fairness, are undermining them. Worse yet, many have seized upon incidents of conflict to call for the extension of these policies and practices. They include:

  • a willingness to admit students widely disparate in their level of preparation in order to make the campus demographically representative
  • preferential hiring for faculty and staff positions determined by race, ethnicity, and gender
  • racially or ethnically exclusive financial aid and academic counseling programs, as well as special administrators, ombudsmen, and resource centers assigned to serve as the putative representatives of selected student groups
  • punitive codes restricting "insensitive" speech
  • mandatory "sensitivity training" for incoming freshmen and sometimes for all students, faculty, and staff
  • requirements that students take tendentious courses dealing with groups regarded as victimized
  • a failure to enforce campus rules when violated by those promoting these policies or other "politically correct" causes.

The National Association of Scholars believes that these policies and practices involve either the application of a double standard or the repudiation of appropriate intellectual criteria. Consequently, they undercut the academy's special sense of common purpose and prompt divisive calculations of group interest. Specifically, we believe that:

  • The admission of seriously underprepared students creates unrealistic expectations and frequently leads to frustration and resentment. Moreover, policies that target specific minority groups unfairly stigmatize all students in such groups, reinforcing negative stereotypes.
  • Two-track hiring threatens to produce a two-tiered faculty instead of a genuinely integrated one. While such hiring may well create "role models," they will be the wrong kind, encouraging the belief that it is the assertion of group power instead of the pursuit of individual achievement that reaps the most abundant rewards.
  • Disadvantaged students deserve ample assistance, yet disadvantage need not coincide with race or ethnicity. Those excluded are often frustrated by seeing individuals who may be no worse off than themselves receiving special treatment solely because of ancestry. Furthermore, bureaucracies created to serve or champion particular groups tend to have vested interests in emphasizing differences, fostering complaints, and maintaining the separation of those groups.
  • Safeguarding intellectual freedom is of critical importance to the academy. Thus, it is deeply disturbing to see the concept of "discriminatory harassment" stretched to cover the expression of unapproved thoughts about selected groups or criticism of policies assumed to benefit them. Higher education should prepare students to grapple with contrary or unpleasant ideas, not shield them from their content. What is more, if a highly permissive attitude toward the excoriation of the "privileged" accompanies the censorship of critical views about other groups, a backlash is predictable.
  • Tolerance is a core value of academic life, as is civility. College authorities should ensure that these values prevail. But tolerance involves a willingness, not to suppress, but to allow divergent opinions. Thus, "sensitivity training" programs designed to cultivate "correct thought" about complicated normative, social, and political issues do not teach tolerance but impose orthodoxy. And when these programs favor manipulative psychological techniques over honest discussion, they also undermine the intellectual purposes of higher education and anger those subjected to them.
  • If entire programs of study or required courses relentlessly pursue issues of "race, gender, and class" in preference to all other approaches to assessing the human condition, one can expect the increasing division of the campus along similar lines.
  • The discriminatory enforcement of campus regulations can only sap the legitimacy of academic authority and create a pervasive sense of mistrust. Indeed, should students feel that repeated violations not only go unpunished, but are actually appeased, the reckless may be tempted to take matters into their own hands. The final stage of discredit will be reached when students and faculty see in such appeasement attempts by administrators to justify their own programs of campus "reform."

The policies just described are generally well-intentioned. Nonetheless, if the goal were deliberately to aggravate campus tensions, the same policies might well be adopted. On the premise that the fair treatment of individuals can do as much to correct the current situation as the doctrine of collective guilt has done to create it, the National Association of Scholars urges the following:

  • admitting inadequately prepared students only when realistic provision can be made for remediation
  • maintaining nondiscriminatory hiring policies
  • eliminating all forms of institutional segregation and preferential treatment determined by race and ethnicity, together with administrative positions that foster ethnic dissension
  • protecting the expression of diverse opinion
  • avoiding programs that attempt to impose "politically correct" thinking
  • adding or retaining ethnic or gender studies courses only when they have genuine scholarly content and are not vehicles for political harangue or recruitment
  • enforcing campus rules, even with respect to those who feel they are violating them in good cause.

The National Association of Scholars believes that the surest way to achieve educational opportunity for all and maintain a genuine sense of academic community is to evaluate each individual on the basis of personal achievement and promise. It is only as individuals united in the pursuit of knowledge that we can realize the ideal of a common intellectual life.

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