Phi Beta Cons

Thoughts on Michelle Obama’s Thesis

Well, I think it’s safe to say it’s not this type of thing that justifies her half-million salary…

It’s titled “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community.” I just read a good chunk of it, available here. It’s a sociological study conducted by a questionnaire distributed to three groups of African-Americans: those coming soon to Princeton as students, those students at Princeton, and those who have graduated from Princeton. She finds that Blacks identify more with one another during college, and less before and (especially) afterwards. This is her explanation for why:

Predominately [sic] White universities like Princeton are socially and academically designed to cater to the needs of White students comprising the bulk of their enrollments. At Princeton, for example, presently their [sic] are only five Black tenured professors on its faculty; and the program of Afro-American studies is one of the smallest and most understaffed departments in the University only offering four courses during the spring semester of 1985; and there is only one major University recognized organization on campus designed specifically for the intellectual and social interests of Blacks and other Third World students.

A few things. First, you’ve got to love period documents, like this one, which give you a window to look back on the ’80s and their tepid atmosphere of Political Correctness. You know, if anyone lacks hope for higher education today, they should at least be glad PC has not become what it aimed to be: where “Blacks and other Third World students” is a notion of common parlance. I suppose the Faculty diversity issue is still in play, and that the presence and size of an Afro-American Studies department is still taken as an indication of a university’s “respect” for African-Americans at large; but still, you rarely get elaborations of that belief so openly, so vulgarly as you do in Michelle Obama’s ca. 1985 senior thesis. The language is characteristically devoid of a contemplation of its own weaknesses; how exactly Princeton is “academically designed” for “White students” is not made clear. If Afro-American Studies is the exemplar of Blacks’ academic needs, what exactly is the “White” equivalent to which it is a reaction?
But perhaps I’m reading too much into this. I mean, if you have a two errors in the ‘Conclusion’ section of one’s senior thesis, it’s a pretty good indication you’re not taking it too seriously yourself.
N.B. — Thanks to Matt Franck of Bench Memos who pointed out the first error in the quoted paragraph above.

Travis Kavulla is director of Energy and Environmental Policy at the R Street Institute. He is a former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners who held elected office as a Montana public service commissioner for eight years. Before that, he was an associate editor for National Review.


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