Culture

Who’s Teaching Stanford?

On the Stanford University campus (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

On April 1, 2016, an activist group at Stanford University called “Who’s Teaching Us?” (WTU) formally presented 25 demands to Stanford. It was not an April Fool’​s Day prank. This pro-diversity group has the backing of Stanford’s largest activist and identity-based organizations on campus. We had previously gained access to WTU’s demands as well as their conversations, which were transcribed from meetings or conducted via online documents.

“Who’s Teaching Us?” is a question that deserves an answer. The truth is that Stanford students are taught by the best professors in the world: people who revolutionize their fields, pursue exciting research, and captivate classrooms. For campus activists, though, that is not good enough.

WTU sees excellence but demands diversity. As it happens, Stanford’s faculty is more diverse than that of the average American college – 73 percent white, as compared with the national mean of 79 percent white, and 16 percent Asian instead of the national mean of 10 percent. Also, Stanford hires disproportionate numbers of minorities relative to the number who graduate nationally with doctorates (just 11.8 percent of doctoral degrees are awarded to Asians in America). But this does not matter to the type of group that presents a list of “DEMANDS” — their uppercase, not ours — alongside vague threats of retaliation if the university fails to “immediately accept” their requirements.

Among WTU’s most ambitious policy demands is that Stanford be required to hire WTU-approved women of color as its next president and next provost. But employment non-discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a decades-long litany of Supreme Court cases confirm that employers cannot hired based on race or gender. Given the law’s view of hiring discrimination, this WTU demand might be tough to implement. The racism of the demand is bad, but the logic might be worse: In insisting that these new hires “break both the legacy of white . . . and cisgender male leadership,” WTU makes it clear that even a transgender white person would not provide enough diversity.

WTU’s solution to the perceived lack of diversity is ‘cultural humility training’ for professors.

The next brainwave from the activists is to create a “responsive platform for reporting and tracking microaggressions from faculty” and integrate it within Stanford’s Acts of Intolerance Protocol, which already addresses “situations involving a real or perceived act of intolerance.” However, without a clear definition of “microaggression,” faculty could be reported, shamed, disciplined, or fired for speech and ideas that cross an invisible line, drawn only by the offended listener. At Brandeis University, a student-association installation that gave examples of microaggression (such as “Aren’t you supposed to be good at math?” and “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race”) for the purpose of raising awareness was itself deemed a microaggression and dismantled. The University of California system went further, labeling the statement “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” as a dangerous microaggression.

The inherent subjectivity of microaggressions will have a chilling effect on speech, as professors must either submit to leftist orthodoxy or shut up. The complex classes on race that WTU demands will have no faculty brave enough to teach them, even if banning microaggressions is deemed to pass constitutional muster. WTU’s solution is “cultural humility training” for professors, but this re-education effort only reinforces the message that differing views are unwelcome.

A third urgent policy reform on WTU’s list is the banning of Wells Fargo from Stanford’s campus. (We promise we aren’t making this up.) According to the protesters, America’s third-largest bank should be booted because it “has perpetuated prison privatization and the disproportionate and unjust incarceration of Black, Brown, Indigenous, poor, and undocumented people.” WTU’s evidence for this is dubious. In fact, according to Wells Fargo spokesman Ruben Pulido, “Wells Fargo does not hold shares in either the GEO Group or Corrections Corporation of America,” the two prison companies WTU listed. Regardless, if campus radicals want to find the evil financiers of the prison system, they need look no further than the nearest retirement home: The top two pension funds, Vanguard Group and Fidelity Investments, now own 20 percent of the private prison market.

Finally, after a number of other bizarre demands, including many we could not fit in this short article, we arrive at the core issue WTU seeks to tackle: making Stanford faculty more diverse. WTU’s general aim to diversify Stanford’s faculty might have merit. More troubling is their desire to force diversity on every department. It is not clear why the race of a linear algebra teacher matters, for example.

For WTU, it’s intolerable that the choices of Chinese students lead to more Chinese math professors and fewer Chinese anthropology professors.

Sixteen percent of Stanford professors are Asian, but a WTU member complained in written group conversations leaked to us that the Asians are “all in the math department.” Such a generalization is uncharacteristic for our politically correct classmates, but it raises the question: Is it acceptable for a group to be overrepresented in one field but underrepresented in another? For example, it is well documented that Chinese students enter STEM fields at disproportionate rates. Individuals, influenced by cultural norms and preferences, have made choices and have excelled. For WTU, it’s intolerable that the choices of Chinese students lead to more Chinese math professors and fewer Chinese anthropology professors.

Moreover, WTU activists seriously debated whether even to allow white professors to teach any classes at all about oppression and non-white groups. It was not enough to demand “more queer professors in all departments, but especially engineering/STEM,” as if the study of electrical engineering were altered by a professor’s sexual preferences. Some WTU activists found it “weird to have a white male teaching about racism.” After all, what could the Jews who co-founded the NAACP and marched with Martin Luther King possibly teach students about racism? Others did not want professors to “mak[e] a living off of others’ experiences” (a theory that could single-handedly destroy the history department). Yet another wanted to be “cautious about intersectionality,” realizing that it might be “hard to be 100 percent consistent” in having professors teach only about their own identity groups.

For campus radicals, a person’s epistemic credibility depends on the color of his or her skin.

Another activist got right to the core of the discussion, remarking that it “goes back to whether we value knowledge of white ppl,” apparently an unresolved question. For campus radicals, a person’s epistemic credibility depends on the color of his or her skin. Consequently, teachers should not be allowed to teach about groups other than their own. Or is it just that white teachers must be barred from non-white fields of study? If we value academic inquiry at all, however, we must reject the condescending restrictions of racialized knowledge. In our view, there is no White truth, Black truth, or Pacific Islander truth — just truth.

Achieving a diverse faculty is more complicated than WTU believes. Imposing strict quotas for minority professors, and compromising on quality to get there, would only paper over the cracks, making it appear as if there were no problem with the candidate pool in the first place. Such a policy would damn the very people the activists claim to help.

Some of WTU’s individual proposals, such as a transparent tenure process, are worth discussing. But students and administrators should not take orders from groups that bundle these initiatives with boycotts, censorship, discrimination, and threats. If WTU really cared about who was teaching Stanford students, it would restrict its discussion to this issue, rather than myriad “DEMANDS” that resemble nothing so much as a Christmas wish list for Santa. As usual, in trying to be everything to everyone, campus radicals will accomplish nothing for anyone.

Thankfully, WTU has earned more mockery than anything else on social media. One undergrad wrote, “If my next professor isn’t an omnisexual transracial black aboriginal polyurethane person of no color, I will make my own demands list.” Much has been lost, but a measure of common sense persists.

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