To sustain the idea of political equality, we must understand American exceptionalism not in abstract terms but rather as something we practice.
There are no doubt many causes of the renewed rise of political correctness on campus, but one of the most important is the increasing power and size of universities’ diversity bureaucracy. The recent events at Yale began with an e-mail from a collection of no fewer than thirteen university bureaucrats (e.g, officials of LGBTQ Resources, Gender and Campus Culture, Native American Culture, La Casa Culture, to name just a few) who advised students how to dress for Halloween. Similarly, at Harvard the Office of Diversity, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion created politically correct place mats for “social justice” to help students confront benighted family members on the issues of the day.
Cornell University distributed guidelines on the public display of holiday symbols (short version: avoid religious symbols but mistletoe too). That ukase issued from the Department of Environment Health and Safety, since it also included fire safety tips. But there can be little doubt that advice on how to be inclusive came from diversity bureaucrats. The rules have the Orwellian touch we have come to know from these officials: promote diversity by preventing people from offering in public evidence of their diverse religious sentiments. As in 1984 War was Peace, in 2015 Diversity is Uniformity.
Diversity bureaucracies are proliferating for three reasons. First, government bureaucrats have implemented laws, such as Title IX, in such a heavy handed way as to create work for a whole new class of university brethren. Second, many faculty members, at least at elite universities, want to avoid administrative work that is not only of little use to their careers but can be positively dangerous for anyone with an independent mind. Third, student activists periodically demand more diversity bureaucrats, because they rightly recognize them as their best of allies—as single-minded and ideologically committed as themselves.
Sadly, in the coming years government will likely impose more intrusive regulations, faculty’s career ambitions will not broaden, and activists, emboldened by the diversity bureaucracy, will make ever more demands. As a result, the diversity bureaucracy will continue to metastasize. As the diversity bureaucracy is selected from individuals who want to internalize the left’s view of social justice as university policy, more growth will further threaten academic freedom and neutral inquiry.
I am not optimistic that anything can be done in the near term to rectify the problem. But in the long term the only solution is to get rid of the diversity bureaucracy. Any legitimate university objectives in this sensitive area should be pursued by representative faculty committees. Most university professors lean left, but they are less likely than university administrators to erode the atmosphere of free inquiry and meritocracy so essential to advancing knowledge. To paraphrase Bill Buckley, I would much rather be governed by a random selection of a university’s faculty members than of its bureaucrats.