Last week at UCLA, a student government committee disturbingly attempted to bar a student from a spot on the Judicial Board. Her transgression? She is a Jew, which might create a conflict of interest. The Daily Bruin got it right: It’s wrong. Eventually reason won out and Rachel Beyda was appointed to the panel. Evidently the fear was her anticipated perspective regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. She couldn’t be fair they said. What started six decades ago — or four millennia ago, depending on your perspective — is not finished. No one seems able to please everyone regarding the conflict, but that’s not slowing down the undergraduates at UCLA from illiberally silencing views.
It is sad that with the significant “curriculum energy” expended on diversity at university campuses, little has changed since William F. Buckley’s, God and Man at Yale. Buckley’s position in the 1951 revelation that Catholicism, and its adherent’s, were unwelcome at Yale was stinging to the WASPs in charge. Henry Sloane Coffin, as the leader of a review committee of Buckley’s sins, suggested that Buckley “…should have attended Fordham or some similar institution.” Read “similar” as Catholic. The students at UCLA had the presence of mind to apologize for their bigotry, goaded by leaders in and out of the academy. They never went as far as the Yale nobility and suggested that Ms. Beyda should enroll at Yeshiva University.
The efforts of the last half of the 20th century, and the 21st to date, reveal a fundamental inability of universities to entertain and embrace minority, or different, or uncomfortable points of view with an open mind in spite of expensive efforts. Universities that don’t require at least one multicultural course are scarce. Tuition and fees for students, faculty paid by the state, rooms air conditioned on tax dollars, surrounded by manicured green lawns paid for by all, add up to real money over time, and the efforts to make people reasonable seem futile. Evidently, UCLA didn’t have a “diversity” course, but alas, help is on the way. The UCLA faculty just approved a requirement for all students to take a “diversity” course. But, less than half, 46%, of the eligible faculty cast the ballots. Maybe they were at church, temple, synagogue, or a political rally.
Ana Marie Cox, in the Daily Beast last week, seems to apologize for her Christianity in a self-reflection and “coming out” as she calls it. Is it possible that she is considering enrolling at UCLA, and wants to clear the air before submitting her application to the member of the Association of American Universities, just to be on the safe side?
Is “diversity” teaching ineffective? Are students not smart enough to grasp the importance of reflective equity and decency? Do our elected and academic leaders, faculty and students embrace a fear of human unfairness so deeply embedded that only curriculum and bureaucracy can solve the problem? Of course we make decisions based on world views. That is neither bias nor bigotry per se, but much more likely self-realization, a goal of all education. The bane of education is the banishment of views that don’t fit the predetermined pattern or purported intellectual fashion of the day. I suggest these because some world views are polluted by hatred.
Intolerance on university campuses is “new wine in old wineskins.” The mold is too frequently a mindset that purports to hold reason above all else, and oddly, it is reason that was lacking completely in the student leader deliberations at UCLA, not the faith perspective of a Jew, Christian whether WASP or Catholic, high or low, Hindu, Muslim, or Confucian.
None of those belief systems got in the way of a reasonable approach to the Rachel’s interest in participating in student government. It was anxiety about a nation, not the Torah. It was bigotry, very similar to the bigotry that kept blacks out of white colleges; Catholics out of private universities bent towards east coast WASPs in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries; and Jews off student government committees. It does not mean that legitimate differences will be easy to deal with. A heterogeneous environment makes communicating deeply-held perspective more difficult, not less. Superficiality evidenced group think of any kind is antithetical to intelligent people in and out of universities.
But remember, right won out: Rachel got on the Judicial Board after the avalanche of protests.
The balance point for a university is that place where individually diverse views are allowed, even sought, but also where a world view based on something that is larger, greater than a political interest must be present. Buckley believed Christianity was a good place to start. The mid-twentieth century secular liberalism that confounded Yale was that a no-holds-barred anything-goes freedom, absent a deeper organizing principle, coupled with acceptable bigotry, would do the trick; as long as it fits the mold.
And therein lurks the death knell for reflective thought.
Somebody almost forgot to tell the student leaders at UCLA.