Intolerant of Truth

Academic censorship in the name of political correctness at the University of California.

Reprinted from City Journal.
Criminologists at the University of California beware: disseminating crime data could put you afoul of university governance. The politically appointed regents of the ten-campus UC system are devising “principles against intolerance” that would regulate university speech and behavior and could threaten a large range of academic inquiry, including crime research. The effort shows how a therapeutic agenda has taken over the traditional educational and research functions of American colleges.

The impetus for the “intolerance” initiative was an alleged rise in anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incidents on UC campuses. In February 2015, some UCLA students questioned whether another student with ties to Jewish organizations could serve impartially on a campus judicial board. In response, the regents asked the UC administration to compose a “statement of principles against intolerance”; the UC provost presented a draft at a regents’ meeting last week at UC Irvine. The regents criticized the principles for not explicitly mentioning anti-Semitism but didn’t object to their substance. Indeed, one regent called them a “nice statement.” While the next version will undoubtedly incorporate a reference to anti-Semitism—which had been omitted out of a desire to be “inclusive,” according to provost Aimee Dorr—the draft’s main ideas and language will almost certainly remain the same.

The current “intolerance” draft opens by announcing the regents’ commitment to protecting UC’s core principles of “respect, inclusion, and academic freedom.” Only recently would “inclusion” have been considered a core academic principle. Universities exist to preserve culture and generate knowledge. Any university run as a meritocracy will be naturally inclusive of anyone who brings intellectual talent and rigor to the institution. To make “inclusion” an end in itself goes beyond traditional academic values into social-justice territory. Even “respect,” however salutary a virtue, is a recent arrival in the pantheon of affirmative academic principles. Respect is ordinarily earned by intellectually solid research. The UC intolerance principles, by contrast, mean “respect” as validation of self-worth: “University of California students, faculty, and staff must respect the dignity of each person within the UC community.” Such an injunction might seem anodyne. But to state it as an affirmative mandate implies that the university is otherwise at risk of systematically “disrespecting” or “excluding” certain persons “within the UC community.” This belief, focused on a favored list of alleged victims, is the foundation of the “diversity” takeover of the academy.

UC’s tolerance principles announce a new “right” to be “free from acts and expressions of intolerance.” That “intolerance” may take the form of “derogatory language reflecting stereotypes or prejudice,” the draft declares. Among the examples of proscribed “behaviors” is “depicting or articulating a view of ethnic or racial groups as less ambitious, less hardworking or talented, or more threatening than other groups.” (Needless to say, such “depiction” and “articulation” constitute speech, not behavior.) UC’s leadership thus casts a pall over a significant swath of social-science research. Incontrovertible data shows that blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. Though most criminologists shy away from honest discussion of race and crime, every so often a brave soul publishes something on the vast racial and ethnic disparities in crime commission. Such a foray into the truth could easily run afoul of the ban on “articulating a view of ethnic or racial groups as . . . more threatening than other groups.” A recent paper by a non-UC criminologist showing that behavior accounted for black students’ school-suspension rates was rejected by every education journal to which it was submitted on the ground that the research violated “social justice.” Jesse Jackson’s famous statement in 1993 that “there is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved” would also run afoul of “freedom from intolerance.”

Crime research is not the only area of scholarly inquiry that could trigger protest. Cultural differences exist in how different racial and ethnic groups oversee their children’s education. Asian-American parents are obsessively focused on academic performance. Truancy and classroom insubordination among Asian-American students are negligible; many Asian-American children spend hours each day studying, overseen by attentive parents. Inner-city teachers describe a completely dissimilar ethos in their classrooms; they struggle to get students to do homework or even take textbooks home, and disruption and aggression are common. Truancy runs high among black and Hispanic students. Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg experimented unsuccessfully with paying inner-city parents to monitor their children’s grades and show up to teacher meetings. Current mayor Bill de Blasio hopes to involve parents by turning schools into social-service centers. Talking about these problems could well be deemed “intolerant,” since when it comes to schoolwork, at least, some ethnic or racial groups are objectively more “hardworking” than others.

The statement of principles claims to apply “to attacks on individuals or groups and . . . not . . . to the free exchange of ideas in keeping with the principles of academic freedom and free speech.” Even if that distinction were meaningful, which it isn’t, in today’s grievance-happy University of California, where even asserting that “America is a land of opportunity” amounts to a racial microaggression, an ever-growing number of ideas are now deemed attacks on certain official victim groups. Though the principles supposedly don’t prohibit “conduct that is related to” an individual professor’s course content or scholarship, it would be naïve to think that protest-happy students won’t leverage their new right to be free from “intolerance” against academic research that violates the code of political correctness.

The regents are certainly within their rights to condemn actual violence and vandalism when it occurs. But the University of California, like all American universities, is far from becoming an actual zone of “unsafety” for any group of students (including Jews). In the big picture, all UC students continue to enjoy boundless opportunities for learning and for success; rare outbreaks of juvenile, attention-hungry vandalism should be kept in perspective. They by no means define the institution. The best response to ignorance is argument. But in the current ideological climate, UC’s efforts to formulate a doctrine against “intolerance” will likely end up reinforcing the university’s intolerance for ideas that challenge the diversity worldview.

Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a City Journal contributing editor.