Intellectual imperialism

Edwin Feulner

January 22, 1991|By Edwin Feulner

PICTURE this: an iron-fisted academic goon squad ready to rough up students or professors who don't subscribe to its brand of political orthodoxy.

No, it's not the National Socialist Party of Nazi Germany. It's the Middle States Association of Colleges and Universities, the organization with the power to grant or deny accreditation to institutions in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The association is EdwinFeulnertrying to raise the banner of "cultural diversity" on campuses, a euphemism for racial quotas, gay rights, male-bashing and other manifestations of "correct thinking." Heretics are all but burned at the stake. Professors or students who question the agenda are either rushed into "sensitivity awareness" seminars, harassed into silence or run off campus.

Even now, with U.S.-led forces engaged against Iraq, the students who led angry anti-war protests in the 1960s are the professors preaching anti-American, politically correct propaganda in the classroom.

Unfortunately, the movement is finding fertile ground. At New York University School of Law, students refused to debate a moot-court case involving a hypothetical divorced lesbian mother trying to win custody of her child -- because arguing against her would be harmful to gays. At the University of Michigan, noted demographer Reynolds Farley was harangued after reading a passage from the autobiography of black activist Malcolm X, in which the author calls himself a pimp and a thief. Farley dropped his course.

This crusade, like so many other holy wars, is being waged through forced conversions. The Middle States Association is trying to use its accrediting arm to muscle universities into obedience.

And the incentive for a campus to swallow the new orthodoxy of "political correctness" is strong: A college that loses its accreditation also forfeits federal aid and academic legitimacy.

All of this is making the U.S. Department of Education a little queasy. The department is withholding the Middle States Association's accrediting authority while it reviews its diversity agenda. Education officials rightly fear that the obsession with diversity will translate into quotas in admission and faculty hiring, violating a 1988 law prohibiting discrimination in public or private universities that receive federal money.

Unfortunately, the Middle States Association has its henchmen. The National Task Force for Minority Achievement in Higher Education is calling for public universities to ensure that minority groups not only enroll, but graduate in rates proportional to their population in each state. Vincent Sarich, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, rightly asks, "How do you mandate graduation rates except by cheating?" How indeed.

In a similar display of selective discrimination, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, representing 815 mostly overpriced institutions, blasted as "outrageous" an Education Department announcement that "race exclusive" scholarships are discriminatory and illegal. The education establishment's outcry caused the Bush administration to pressure the Education Department to recant.

What is outrageous is that this new form of intellectual imperialism has established so many beachheads on our nation's campuses.

The zealous pursuit of so-called diversity -- often leading to quotas and mandated, politically correct speech -- cannot peacefully coexist with the quest for excellence in our universities.

In what is becoming an academic inquisition, educators will have to choose sides. Let's hope enough of them choose freedom.

Edwin Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation, a ? Washington think tank.

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