December 10, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | What Kind of White Faculty Should We Hire?

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By Christian Brickhouse

Re: “Liberal Intolerance at Cornell,” Sunspots, Dec. 7

To the Editor:

In the last few weeks, The Cornell Daily Sun has published a number of articles by conservative students decrying the lack of “intellectual diversity.” Indeed, last week, a resolution was proposed at the Student Assembly meeting to ask the Faculty Assembly to create a committee on diversity of thought. They diminish “diversity of thought” from the broad and deep intricacies of each field to one of partisan politics. They ignore the glaring racial disparities in hiring at Cornell and replace it with a discourse on hiring more “conservatives” (read: white people). To put this in no uncertain terms, these efforts couch veiled white supremacy in an otherwise valid aspect of academic discourse in order to make it seem more legitimate and palatable. Do not be fooled; they offer nothing of substance.

Diversity of thought is an important aspect of scholarly debate. Diversity of thought is not reducible to partisan politics. If the argument was about hiring more sociolinguists in our theoretically focused linguistic department or more Freudian psychoanalysts in our anthropology department, I would be more amicable. Those are legitimate debates within the fields and discussion across theoretical frameworks leads to more robust scholarship. My opinion or my colleagues’ opinions on the earned income tax credit offers no academic value to my work on Black American Sign Language. Indeed, the diversity of thought within the field can operate independently from the political affiliations of faculty members. These commentators equate political diversity with intellectual diversity with no argument. If these proponents actually cared about diversity of thought rather than furthering a partisan political agenda they would be discussing the value of such hirings in terms of actual academic thought and teaching rather than simply pushing for more conservative faculty which has no bearing on actual scholarship.

Instead we are here with a 76 percent white faculty arguing about what kind of white person we want to hire. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, the Republican party is 89 percent non-Hispanic White. For reference, the U.S. population is 62 percent white. Calls for more “conservative” faculty are necessarily calls for a more “white” faculty. Audacious, considering the faculty at Cornell is the second least diverse in the Ivy League after Dartmouth. Indeed, I have attended this university for seven semesters, completed two majors and taken classes in almost 20 departments and in these three and a half years have never, not once, had a Black professor. In fact, neither of my departments have a single Black faculty member. Professor Little, government, articulated this a year ago in the very article in The Sun these commentators like to cite: “Placing more emphasis on diversity of political beliefs when hiring [would] almost certainly require sacrificing on general quality or other dimensions of diversity.”

And that is a problem. If these conservative students actually cared about diversity of thought, they would be pushing for more faculty of color, more faculty with disabilities, more female and gender non-conforming faculty. My research has necessarily been hindered by the lack of professors in my departments with knowledge of Black communities and Deaf communities. For one of my research projects, I have had to work with faculty outside this institution to get better insights into these matters, and much of my background research is news to my faculty advisors. They want to know this information, they want more diversity of thought, but the way to achieve that diversity is not through affirmative action for white Republican faculty.

Mind you, the most obvious evidence of the hypocrisy can be seen in these commentators’ own works. Evan Kravitz, decrying “liberal intolerance,” opens with this quote by Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He then proceeds not to defend the free speech rights of the students who protested Santorum. Free speech is not a guarantee of a platform, it is a guarantee that you will, minimally, not be arrested by the government for your dissent. It does not mean you are free from consequences or backlash over your speech. Indeed, under the free speech doctrine, those protestors had as much of a right to speak as Santorum did, but instead of writing an article decrying a man who wants to deny me my basic constitutional rights, Kravitz writes an article criticizing protesters who exercised their own constitutional rights. Indeed, these nuances are lost on Kravitz because they do not fit his furthering of partisan politics. Or take Student Assembly Resolution 25 sponsored by S.A. representative Mitchell McBride ’17. It purports to ask the Faculty Assembly to create a committee to “investigate ways to increase and improve faculty diversity” but only make mention of political diversity based upon flawed statistics. Mind you, if Representative McBride cared about diversity, perhaps he should have supported that day’s Resolution 23 to make Cornell a sanctuary campus–a far more tangible benefit to diversity–instead of being the only person in the room of almost 30 to vote against it, but I digress. The Sun article that Resolution 25 cites only looks at political contributions which, given the current election cycle and our own Cornell Republicans choosing not to endorse the Republican candidate, can mask the actual affiliations of our faculty by firstly undersampling them and secondly missing conservative faculty who may be unwilling to give to the very Republican party the Cornell Republicans refused to endorse. For the people wanting more conservatives in academia, they aren’t making a good showing of their intellectual prowess.

These commentators further fail to comprehend the Academy at all. Academe styles itself as a meritocracy. It is not a perfect meritocracy, but it succeeds often enough. The Republican party denies climate change (education makes no difference in climate change denial among Republicans, and only 15 percent of conservative Republicans report to trust climate scientists according to a 2016 Pew Research Poll), there are still factions that deny evolution (the number of republicans who believe evolution is real fell 11 points from 54 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2013 according to a 2013 Pew Poll), our Vice President-elect believes (despite medical evidence to the contrary) that you can electrocute gay people into being straight, our President-elect falsely claims that millions of votes were cast illegally (while simultaneously challenging recount efforts), we had an armed man firing a weapon in pizza shoppes because of conspiracy theories that claim Hillary Clinton runs a child sex operation there, and I am expected to be convinced of the blanket claim we need more conservatives in science? Perhaps we should get science into the Republican Party before we get the Republican Party in science.

Indeed, these commentators try to equate this political affinity group with the push for diversity in other aspects without any good reason. I did not choose to be Black. I cannot choose not to be Black. Given new information, I cannot change my Blackness. Political affiliation is a choice. No one is born a member of a political party. Given new information one can (and should) change political parties. However over the last ten years we have seen a concerted shift by the Republican party to deny factual evidence. Consider again that between 2009 and 2013 the number of Republicans who believe in evolution fell by 11 points. We have a prominent public discourse on whether our president elect won because of “fake news” and an inability or even unwillingness of his supporters to deal with actual facts. The Oxford Dictionary word of the year is “post-truth” and Merriam-Webster has stated “fascism” is currently in the lead for its word of the year. Not only are these commentators comparing apples to oranges, but they do so to mask the problems with their own arguments.

This is not to say that being a Republican makes one categorically unfit, rather, it is to point out the very obvious flaw in these blanket calls to hire more conservative faculty. They are not arguments of merit. They are not articulating any tangible benefit that is best served by hiring more conservative faculty. They fail to recognize that conservative faculty likely do not fit the mold of the average Republican. Indeed, my point here is that political party is perhaps the worst proxy for conservatism given the nuance of political ideologies within the academy. My views on Supreme Court jurisprudence are much more conservative than my advisor’s — I’m a fan of Roberts and she of Sotomayor — yet she still chairs my committee for my thesis on the Supreme Court. Likewise, my opinions on unions are more liberal than a number of graduate students in my department, but we still are able to collaborate in the lab and discuss the pros and cons of our various decisions. Political ideology is far more nuanced than the partisan politics the commentators use as their motivation. In short, their arguments lack any kind of nuance, critical thought, or evidence. Their arguments rely on painting with broad strokes in order to eliminate nuance and further their agenda. A poor showing from those who want more people like them in academia.

Were these commentators able to make any claims about the value to scholarship that would come from hiring more Republicans, I would listen. So far though, they have only made sophomoric arguments: diversity of thought is good; there are a lot of liberals; therefore we need more Republicans. What they fail to articulate, which proponents for racial and gender diversity do, is twofold–any tangible benefit and any discussion of why there is a lack of representation. They have not shown how simply being a Republican makes someone better at understanding the P versus NP problem or better able to design an operating system. They have simply decried “liberal intolerance” of anti-science ideas and then, in the same breath, argued for more conservatives. Meanwhile, they completely fail to contend with the reason there are fewer conservatives in academia. The Sun article Rep. McBride cites argues the reason is because conservative students choose to go into jobs that are not academia. A professor emeritus of government, perhaps most likely to interact with conservative students, says “Conservative students who come through a place like Cornell very easily move into research or advising positions in Congress, journalism positions and political positions. Career patterns are such that you are less likely to have conservatives applying for academic jobs.”

Meanwhile the lack of racial diversity is not because students of color do not want to go into academia. Few of the 90 percent white Republican party has to deal with racial profiling. Few of the 90 percent white Republican party are the victims of racialized school discipline practices that disproportionately keep students of color out of school (Dept. of Education, 2014: “Although African-American students represent 15% of students…, they make up 35% of students suspended once, 44% of those suspended more than once, and 36% of students expelled. …[R]esearch suggests that the substantial racial disparities of the kind reflected in the CRDC data are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.”) Few of the 90 percent white Republican party attend underfunded, highly segregated, inner-city public schools whose counselors, if they have any, are ill equipped to counsel students on how to get into college (PBS, 2014: “By 2011, the percentage of black students in majority white schools was 23.2% — slightly lower than it was in 1968”). Few of the 90 percent Republican party have to deal with the school to prison pipeline. Few of the 90 percent white Republican party have to deal with racism in academia, which keeps the most educated demographic group, black women, out of the academy. But please, continue to equate the conservative choice to avoid the (incredibly poor-paying) field of academia with minorities succeeding despite systemic roadblocks.

Because these commentators are so concerned with intolerance, let me be clear about what intolerance looks like. It looks like unfounded, reactionary disdain for the number of liberal professors. It looks like assuming malice because your professor, who makes a living out of cordial disagreement, doesn’t like you because of your political ideology. It looks like the second least racially diverse faculty in the Ivy League being asked, rather than diversify its racial make-up, to determine what kind of white people they want to hire. It looks like co-opting the successful movements of students of color to increase representation and access in order to stifle it and hire more white professors. It looks like weeks of poorly thought through articles with no convincing arguments or evidence trying to derail diversification of faculty in order to further partisan politics and the marginalization of faculty of color. If you want to see intolerance, just keep an eye on Kravitz’s Korner.

To these commentators I offer an old academic adage reserved for papers of your quality:

“Your article has been rejected after peer review. Please do not re-submit.”

Christian Brickhouse ‘17