It’s not as if Kurt Vonnegut didn’t warn us, but do the favored buzzwords of “inclusion” and “diversity” necessarily require us to reject excellence? Sure, the only way to create equal outcomes for all is to suppress excellence, since we can’t all play ball like Michael Jordan or sing like Andrea Bocelli,* but that doesn’t mean that only black guys can play basketball or white guys can sing opera.
The problem, among many others, is that the critical nuance is lost in the quest for diversity and inclusion. Under the simplistic grasp of the mantra, the feelings of the disaffected have been indulged to the point of constant rage at everything and nothing.
So why all the rage?
The answer lies in the title of Anthony Kronman’s necessary, humane and brave new book: “The Assault on American Excellence.” Kronman’s academic credentials are impeccable — he has taught at Yale for 40 years and spent a decade as dean of its law school — and his politics, so far as I can tell, are to the left of mine.
Bret Stephens points to Kronman’s book because Yale has proven a hotbed of the fight for mediocrity in one of the most elite places ever, and Kronman has the cred, not to mention the guts, to take Yale to task.
But Yale has been ground zero for recent campus unrest, including a Maoist-style struggle session against a distinguished professor, fights about “cultural appropriation,” the renaming of Calhoun (as in, John C.) College, and the decision to drop the term “master” because, to some, it carried “a painful and unwelcome connotation.”
The term “master” is a significant indicator of the problem. On the one hand, it’s only a word, which is easily replaced by another word if it bothers some, even if for silly reasons. Is there any good reason to hurt anyone’s feelings over a word? Probably not. Yet, acquiescing to the hurt feelings “claim,” which is frankly dubious as it’s unlikely anyone is crying in their dorm room over it, and if they are, their problem isn’t really with a word, reflects the worst of the rage.
“They stress the need to respect and honor the feelings of others, especially those belonging to traditionally disadvantaged groups, as an essential means to this end. In this way they give credence to the idea that feelings are trumps with a decisive authority of their own. That in turn emboldens their students to argue that their feelings are reason enough to keep certain speakers away. But this dissolves the community of conversation that the grown-ups on campus are charged to protect.”
This is where diversity and inclusion bang heads first into mediocrity. This adoration of feelings over everything else isn’t an inherent component of diversity. People who have been historically excluded, by race, gender, ethnicity, are just as capable of being excellent as anyone else, but have merely not been allowed to test their mettle in the quest for excellence at places like Yale.
Let ’em in. Vet them for excellence, as they should vet all students. If they can demonstrate they have the ability to do the work, to achieve, to be excellent, then we must stop refusing them admission.
And if they can’t do the work, but not for lack of ability but deprivation of education before reaching Yale-level education, then fix the problem below and, once they’re capable, welcome them with open arms.
But if people are admitted without the capacity to be excellent, the only way to keep them is to reduce expectations. Even if it’s not their fault, but the product of poor education in earlier years, the inability to do the requisite level of work at Yale precludes excellence. Either you have the skills to solve the math equation or not. This isn’t about who’s to blame, but who’s capable of excellence.
Had the soft prejudice of low expectations not permeated the approach of diversity and inclusion, the newly included would not only contribute because of their diversity, but would be just as likely to push the edges of excellence as anyone else.
This leap from requiring excellence of all to stressing “the need to respect and honor the feelings” as a means of diversity and inclusion was never a necessary component, but a facile means to overcome the hard problem that not everyone is excellent. Not every white person. Not every black person. Not every man or woman. Indeed, most aren’t excellent at all, but nobody wants to be told they’re not good enough.
So reality of accomplishment morphed into feelings of accomplishment, and then feelings of hurt and pain that were claimed to impair accomplishment, and served as the built-in excuse for mediocrity substituting for excellence. After all, you can’t include students and expect them to achieve excellence if they feel unsafe, another highly dubious claim, or unappreciated. It’s easier to claim that you’re unappreciated than to put in the hard work of achieving excellence.
All this is meant to make students “safe.” In fact, it leaves them fatally exposed. It emboldens offense-takers, promotes doublethink, coddles ignorance. It gets in the way of the muscular exchange of honest views in the service of seeking truth. Above all, it deprives the young of the training for independent mindedness that schools like Yale are supposed to provide.
None of this, however, means that diversity and inclusion are wrong or bad ideas in themselves. Indeed, they are wonderful ideals, and the fact that elite institutions discriminated against people on the basis of their race or gender is an inexcusable wrong and counterproductive. But what got lost along the way was their will to discriminate based on the ability to be excellent, and to end the excuses for why excellence is too much to demand.
Be diverse. Be inclusive. Don’t discriminate based on immutable characteristics that bear no relevance to ability. Discriminate on excellence, or they’ll have to change the name of Calhoun to Harrison Bergeron Hall, where mediocrity rules and exclusionary excellence will not be tolerated.
*The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence provides:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
While a political rather than scientific assertion, we are all “created” equal; where we go from there should be up to us, based on our innate ability and willingness to strive. No one should be held back due to race or gender. No one should be held back because others don’t possess the same innate ability and willingness to strive.