The Corner

On Liberal Leadership

My friend Ron Fournier tackles the mess in Missouri at National Journal. He makes some fine points. He also says this of Tim Wolfe, the freshly defenestrated university president:

He un­der­es­tim­ated the an­ger and power of the people he’s sup­posed to serve. He didn’t see the prob­lem com­ing. He didn’t built re­la­tion­ships with the af­flic­ted. He didn’t rally al­lies to ad­dress the root causes of his sim­mer­ing prob­lem. He didn’t use the people’s power to his ad­vant­age. It’s not what Wolfe did that cost him his job; it’s what he didn’t do.

In that sense, Wolfe is a re­flec­tion of failed lead­er­ship at every level of Amer­ic­an life, and cer­tainly in Wash­ing­ton.

What if Wolfe had giv­en the group’s lead­er the space, staff, money, and con­tacts ne­ces­sary to de­vel­op di­versity pro­grams at the Uni­versity of Mis­souri? It would have car­ried more weight than a leg­al­ist­ic apo­logy, and it might have ac­com­plished some good.

Sure, Wolfe would have risked los­ing con­trol to stu­dents and los­ing face among his ivory towered col­leagues. He’d also be forced to share cred­it for any au­then­t­ic and cred­ible solu­tions that might have emerged from a bot­toms-up pro­cess.

Yeah, maybe. But I can’t be the only one who sees another way of looking at this. Is there any evidence that these “diversity programs” — whatever form they actually take — help the racial or political climate on campuses? I haven’t looked into it, but I’d bet the University of Missouri has more “diversity programs” today than it did ten years ago. And that ten years ago it had more than it did twenty years ago. Has the racial climate improved? By what metric are these programs labeled successful? Yale most certainly has a lot of diversity programs, and yet we’ve been hearing for two weeks that it’s a bastion of white privilege and not a safe space for minorities. Chalk-up another big win for diversity programs.

Maybe the problem is that too many diversity programs are in fact grievance programs, where students are taught to take offense and spot structural racism or patriarchy or homophobia where there is none? And they are given the “space, staff, money, and con­tacts” to sharpen their grievances to a fine edge, the better to slice and dice any administrators who might think such programs are a waste of resources.

I’m not saying there are no “credible solutions” that can come out of the course of action Fournier proposes. But I’d like to see some evidence for it. Because it seems to me that Fournier’s model of “leadership” looks an awful like what we’ve seen on college campuses for the last half century.  And not just on college campuses. This is essentially liberalism’s idea of leadership as well: fund identity politics groups, community organizers and other outfits so they can more effectively shakedown the political system for ever more funding.  This approach has its merits of course. It did make Al Sharpton a rich and powerful man. 

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