The (Academic) Right’s Not Done Yet

Virginia Tech has been receiving some unwelcome but necessary scrutiny of late over the emphasis its college of arts and humanities has been giving to a divisive issue: diversity. The Virginia Association of Scholars, the National Association of Scholars, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni all have voiced concerns about an apparent attempt to mau-mau professors into toeing an ideological line.

Last year a memo from Tech’s provost stressed the need for candidates seeking promotion or tenure to “do a better job of participating in and documenting their involvement in diversity initiatives” — an effort, it said, that was “especially important for candidates seeking promotion to full professor.” Draft guidelines for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences stipulate that “the university and college committees require special attention to be given to documenting involvement in diversity initiatives.”

Richmond Times Dispatch, Staff Reports, Published: April 12, 2009

I like to watch the American Council of Trustees and Alumni blog because they seem to have an eye for reactionary politics, which they support enthusiastically. The other day I noticed this story about the ‘p.c.. police’ at Virginia Technical Institute, which of course sends up a red flag.

I think the tenure process is creepy; it often has a pyscho-sadist edge. If standards do anything, they set the tone on campus for what teachers do. In this case, the proposal made a fairly innocuous suggestion that professors who are promoted to full professor should demonstrate some involvement in diversity.

The Times Dispatch and the ACTA find this comparable to demanding evidence of patriotism. (As if that were not already the case to some extent; and as if they would really be upset by that sort of requirement.) I have a hard time figuring out why this is so upsetting to the right-wing.

Large corporations and the military, not to mention the law, have long recognized the need to counter our long history of racism and sexism in all sorts of ways, from affirmative action programs to diversity seminars. Most are still very reactionary about gays and lesbians, but even that is changing.

I don’t think you can argue that the military and most large corporations are run by bleeding hearts, so there must be some other reason why they support civil rights for women and minorities. My guess is that they know it makes their organizations run better. It’s good public relations, too.

Too much of this, of course, is just lip service, and I am sure lots of minorities and women could tell horror stories about their treatment. But it still a generally accepted value, a small but important commitment to democratic culture. You would think that this commitment would be less rather than more controversial in academia.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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