George Will, California, and Alabama

Posted on June 18, 2020

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Not too long ago one of George Wills’ columns was devoted to “Higher education’s mandatory political participation.” What in the world was George writing about this time? “Mandatory political participation” of whom, in what? I read on and found myself understanding George this time, almost the first time around.

 As usual George approached his subject somewhat obliquely. The University of California has a strong commitment to the ideal of “diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI]” in higher education. And since I was doing a bit of research of the same subject, except at the University of Alabama, I was curious to discover that Alabama has an equal devotion to the same creed. California and Alabama apparently have a lot in common, in case you have missed this item.

Since both universities aspire to greatness (Alabama’s current “brand” says “legends are made” at UA), I wondered what the Universities of California and Alabama are doing generally to further the ideal of excellence in scholarship since, as an old professor, I tend to emphasize scholarship as the primo goal of any university.

 Let’s start with the faculty. Scholarly credentials are the most important ingredient, right? How good are you, or promise to be, in chemistry, languages, engineering, history, psychology, journalism, etc. etc. Sorry, if you checked the [yes] box in your mind. That is not the prime criteria for DEI.

At California, all academic candidates are required to write a “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) statement affirming support– sometimes as George points out “enthusiastic” support,–for, “and demonstrating activism to support a system-wide (all the campuses of the UC system) orthodoxy.”

“An applicant should show that he or she has been active, in advancing the approved [DEI] agenda. If you don’t pass this test, you don’t move on to assessments of academic excellence.” This is a simple, but profound, difference from the past in what determines a faculty hire. And the faculty are the ones who teach your children.

Following George and California. This isn’t the first litmus test at California. From 1949 to 1967 all employees had to sign an oath attesting they weren’t members of the Communist party or other organizations advocating violent revolution. Today the litmus test is DEI and potential faculty must demonstrate commitments to DEI, such as in “outreach,” and a track record in advancing DEI. As George notes, “this is all politics.” While clarity is not Will’s strongest suite, in politics he knows what he writes.

“Politics is how we organize our ideas and practices for living together,” he notes. “The defining characteristic of totalitarian societies [read the old Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.] is not that the individual cannot participate in politics, but that the individual cannot not participate. In such societies, politics permeates everything. [italics added] Government’s aim is the conquest of consciousness, and abstention from politics is subversive.” Hence DEI promotes—indeed demands– that “everyone think the same way [read the politically correct way], banishing “the classic liberal principle that every person should be treated as a unique individual.” And he adds for good measure, “this banishment is a political project abetted by DEI statements, which are political tests.”

Let’s leave California aside for the moment. I don’t live in California. They may really want open borders, wave the Mexican flag in their street demonstrations, flick their noses at federal statutes and regulations on maintaining sanctuary cities and the like, and behave like we expect Californians to do, out on the edge. But don’t forget, California also produced Ronald Reagan and John Wayne and there is a strain of California deeply rooted in American traditions of liberty and constitutionality. I think some elements of California are Americana at its best, or worst.

DEI seems to be an example of the worst, a devotion to identify politics and a profoundly socialist and progressive agenda that challenges the very core of American principles devoted to the individual as Wills’ points out and the responsibility of that individual to think for himself, not like government or DEI tells her to.

So, what is UA doing in DEI? Try for starters a 35 page, single-spaced, report by the Halualani Associates available at https://alabama.app.box.com/s/5qrl57g774ezfz6vlxy7qau47animic8

This study was preceded by a 58 page study done in 2008: The University of Alabama: Strategic Diversity Plan, 2008, or https://eop.ua.edu/img/uasdp2008.pdf

The Halualani report was commissioned by the President’s office and done in 2016 and 2017 and in 2018 the administration summarized many of the suggestions for improving DEI at UA and shared it with students. I saw some images of this sharing process on the official UA DEI web pages with a few well-chosen images of four or five students posing happily being diversified and included.

This immense document produced by Halualani is a long set of formulas and views into how to inculcate the values of the DEI into your student community. As Will noted, the entire concept is to promote DEI through direct political action. Let’s continue the discussion in a future column.

Published as “George Will, California and Alabama” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday June 14, 2020.