Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Where’s My Advocate?


After reading the article linked in John’s post about the Muslim Student Association’s “Holocaust in the Holy Land” exhibit, I was struck by the following statement:

Sally Peterson, dean of students at Irvine, has worked at the university since 1974 and she said that she’s seen a gradual shift away from students tensions based on race to the point today where issues of religion, international affairs, or ideology can set off a controversy–and are more likely to do so than issues of race.

Well, of course. Even the most cursory review of history reveals that we are not simply divided by race, and religious or ideological divisions can be far more profound (just ask Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot what they thought of their “ideological” opponents). In fact, the entire article represents yet another example of the abject failure of radical multiculturalism. The reality is that multiculturalism has made civility and unity more elusive because it is based on a ridiculous fantasy . . . that we can all get along.


We can’t, and we won’t. One of the critical triumphs of the American republic has been the creation of a system where differences are not assumed away but instead channeled into peaceful dispute-resolution mechanisms (such as democratic elections or legal processes). In other words, competing religions, ethnicities, ideologies, etc. have a hope of success without resorting to the street and without resorting to the force of arms. The emphasis is not on vague, ambiguous, values like “civility” or “diversity,” but instead on more hard-headed concepts like free speech and due process. In other words, the message is: “Your view may not prevail, but you will always have a chance to persuade.”


The university Left, in its utopian quest for an ambiguous concept of “social justice,” forgets human nature. When campuses opened up to people of different races, religions, and ideologies, conflict inevitably resulted. In the face of this conflict, the university decided to take sides. When the issue was primarily about race, taking sides seemed to make sense. After all, we fought a civil war over the issue of race, and in the Fifties and Sixties the interests of leftists and many conservatives converged–at least for a moment. Many conservatives and leftists could agree that people of all races should participate equally in the legal structures of our republic. 


But taking sides on the issue of race (a decision I won’t argue with, but do believe should have its limits) did set a negative precedent in one sense: It created an expectation that the university will be an ”advocate” in the divisive issues of the day. So advocacy on issues of race leads to advocacy on issues of gender, which leads to advocacy on issues of sexuality, and war and peace, and economics, and . . . In other words, the expectation is that the university cannot and will not act as a relatively neutral entity that (much like the rest of American democracy) creates an opportunity for equal participation in the process, but instead that the university will decisively take sides. In other words, campus interest groups don’t just ask, “Can I speak?” They ask, “Where’s my advocate?” 


And so, that is where we are today. In the era of Chief Diversity Officers, GLBT Offices, Women’s Resources Centers, and other creations of the multi-culti Left, the university stands directly against the essential goal of channeling inevitable differences into neutral dispute-resolution processes and actually takes sides in substantive disputes. This further polarizes the culture that multiculturalists claim to wish to unite, and pushes true civility and real diversity further and further from reality.


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