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What’s The Matter With Kansas?

March 9, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

About ten years ago the book What’s the Matter With Kansas? by Thomas Frank received considerable attention on the talk shows and in the journals of opinion. Frank’s thesis was that mainstream Americans had been “duped” by Republicans into voting against their economic interests by convincing them that cultural questions such as abortion and homosexual rights were more important issues for them. It is not an uninteresting thesis. Donald Trump’s election revealed the extent to which the counterculture values championed by the Democratic Party of today have alienated white, blue-collar voters in Middle America.
But this is not the issue regarding Kansas that one of our readers asks us to consider in a recent email. He brings to our attention a plan that takes affirmative action and racial quotas to a new level at our universities. Our correspondent informs us the University of Kansas is “moving toward codifying” a plan that will “decrease focus on academic excellence at KU, while concomitantly reducing free speech, liberty, and equality. In fact, evidence is that these limitations on liberty already are being implemented successfully.”
The plan is called “Taking Leadership on Who and What Matters: The Plan to Build a Model Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.” The plan speaks of “key values around which the College will focus its goals and actions over the next five years.” It was written, according to our correspondent, “by a small group of faculty and staff, and has been presented as the policy roadmap for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the largest college at KU. The college is now preparing a strategic vision based on this document which will become the basis for policy.”
What does our correspondent feel is the problem with the plan? He argues that its stated mission of “equitable opportunities and successful outcomes for all,” though perhaps a “well-intentioned” attempt to deal with “persistent inequities in higher education that have negatively affected the welfare and success of historically minoritized populations,” will “limit equality, freedom of speech, and liberty and will reduce the value of a KU degree and the university as a meaningful source of academic excellence.”
Our correspondent holds that the plan’s goal of instituting “practices and policies…that actually produce parity,” will “mandate a priority on allegiance to diversity, equity, and inclusion, rather than academic excellence, in faculty recruitment, promotion, and tenure, and leadership decisions.” He is convinced that the plan will result in a pursuit of a guarantee of “successful outcomes” for “students who cannot meet minimum academic standards, and a guarantee of jobs at KU for minority Ph.D. students.”
As a result, our correspondent continues, “equity — not equality or excellence — will be the basis for decisions, and any student, faculty, or staff who fails to ‘go along,’ or who objects, will face serious repercussions. In recent practice, the college administration has acted consistently with this bias, and has also actively sought to rebalance ‘fairness’ by choosing ‘winners and losers’ in debate on these important issues, rather than promoting free speech and rigorous and fair intellectual debate.”
Our correspondent notes that the plan’s stress on the word “equity” rather than on “equality” is revealing.
He writes, “Equality seems straightforward. It implies an access to channels of communication and sources of information that are made available on even terms to all. Equity, on the other hand, recognizes that some are at a larger disadvantage than others and aims at compensating for these individuals’ misfortunes and disabilities by leveling the playing field and giving extra measures to those who are in need more than others who are not. In other words, social justice leaders in education are striving to ensure equitable outcomes for their students.”
It is, he continues, the familiar question of the difference between “equal opportunity as opposed to equal outcomes. The plan states, ‘The College is committed to developing and implementing a plan to transform the College into an exemplary diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning and workplace environment for our students, staff, and faculty’.”
Is this not, he asks, “placing the emphasis on equal outcomes, even if it means placing fingers on the scale (against certain groups, of an administrator’s choosing) to achieve balance?” He then asks follow-up questions:
“Is it the place of the university to mandate an outcome, presumably the successful completion of a degree? Does not the plan suggest that anyone, of any ability, should be guaranteed a degree from KU? What then is the value of a KU degree? Is it the job of the flagship university of Kansas to compensate opportunities to individuals depending on ‘minoritization’? To mandate outcomes? In what sense is this fundamental premise fair, or consistent with the mission of the university?”
Our correspondent points to the plan’s “targeted 100 percent retention rate for minoritized College faculty at the end of each mandatory review year.” He asks, “How will this ‘100 percent retention’ be balanced against academic excellence in promotion and tenure decisions? Where is the priority?”
Our correspondent answers his own question. He believes the following section of the plan indicates the priority: “We will situate diversity, equity, and inclusion at the center of College curricular protocols, with the goal of ensuring that we represent and dignify the experiences of historically minoritized populations.”
We have frequently heard it said that the small number of conservatives on the faculties of our universities is caused by a lack of qualified conservative candidates for these positions. Consider how that situation — if, indeed, it exists — could be remedied if conservative professors were recruited in the manner that this plan at Kansas University calls for recruiting “diverse” members of its staff:
“We will establish our commitment to, and accountability for, diverse, equitable, and inclusive classrooms in evaluation, promotion, and tenure policies, and actively center inclusivity in routine teaching, hiring, and review practices. We will develop language, and seek to improve current policy as needed, in the creation of job advertisements that emphasize the need for candidates to articulate understanding of, commitment to, and practices of equity and inclusion in the classroom.
“We will work with the Faculty Senate and appropriate others to develop promotion and tenure guidelines that emphasize expectations for departments and faculty to articulate understanding of, commitment to, and practices of equity and inclusion in the classroom.”
On a related topic: T.W.V., a reader from Minnesota, recommends to us The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell as a source of insight into the way left-wing activists maneuver to shape public opinion.

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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is fitzpatrijames@sbcglobal.net, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford, CT 06492.

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