Podcaster Dave Rubin has the custom of going “off the grid” for a month each summer, to gain some perspective on changes. As a scientist who has been retired from the lab for more than ten years, I feel in a similar position vis-à-vis the state of academic science. To this campus Rip-van-Winkle, things now look very different.
I didn’t notice much until the current anti-racism crisis, when I found that academe, as a place for free exchange of ideas, had become almost unrecognizable. Higher education has begun a transformation along the same lines as the 1966 Maoist “Cultural Revolution” in China. Like the cultural revolution, the energized identity-politics movement presents itself as a cleansing force. Pure Maoism was being corrupted by covert capitalist sympathizers. They had to be rooted out.
In U.S. academe, the problem was similar. The “party faithful” took for granted the permanence of “White privilege” and “systemic racism” which, for many, was also their livelihood. But then, in the decades following the civil rights acts, things got better. Measurable indices of racism seemed to be improving: People of color were well represented on city councils, police forces, and state and national legislatures; Black faces were on many magazine covers and in ads for prestigious products; interracial marriages increased; Black entertainers and even opinion leaders were beloved. A Black president was elected and re-elected. A survey showed a steady decline in objective measures of racism up until 2014. What’s not to like?
Plenty, as it turned out. The “woke” party saw its anti-racist cause going down to…anti-racism! They have fought back, with some success. A survey published in 2017 showed that from 2014 onward people increasingly agreed that “more needs to be done” to achieve racial equality. This tendency was exaggerated in academe. From being relatively content with the state of race relations, administration, faculty, and students have become increasingly doctrinaire in their stance against racism. Unable to point to objective measures of increasing racism, they have turned their attention to something much harder to refute: systemic (aka institutional, structural) racism.
Systemic racism in higher education, a petition
One bit of evidence for this is a currently circulating petition/op-ed that, Science (one of the two leading general-science journals) has apparently agreed to publish about combating systemic racism in STEM. You can read Systemic Racism in Higher Education here but I will just discuss a few of its key assumptions. [ … ]