In his forthcoming book, "No Campus for White Men: The Transformation of Higher Education into Hateful Indoctrination," Scott Greer dives deep into the stories about the campus Left that the media cover every day, tracing the rise of political correctness back to its roots decades ago. Starting with affirmative action policies, Greer takes a closer look at concepts such as microaggressions and safe spaces, providing a comprehensive overview of how higher education came to embrace PC culture.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Greer discussed the book's take on everything from Ta-Nehisi Coates and Howard Zinn to how he believes the academic Left can be defeated.
You trace the rise of political correctness in higher education to the implementation of affirmative action policies. Is it fair to say the "cult of diversity," as you call it, was the catalyst for this transformation?
The argument that students need an imposed level of diversity in their lives is the catalyst for this transformation. Affirmative action is now primarily justified on the grounds that schools need it to ensure that they have a sufficient level of racial diversity, which they believe magically makes everyone smarter. Schools should strive to get students that accurately reflect America's national fabric, but it often comes at the expense of overshadowing merit. Worse, it encourages identity politics by giving an advantage to students simply based on the color of their skin. The admissions process lets prospective students know that racial identity is very important to a university, and certain racial groups are rewarded on the sole basis of applicants marking their box. If a student can get into a school based on their racial identity, why not make that the core element of their political advocacy? Especially when schools are inclined to reward that kind of thinking throughout a student's four years.Rather than serving as a tool for easing race relations and ending racialized thinking, affirmative action has done the opposite. And we're seeing those results play out every week on a college campus.Why do you think the concept of microaggressions was able to take root in academia?
Colleges have always served as the incubators of silly ideas, and microaggressions are no different. Academia preaches that racism is still prevalent throughout American society, and has a serious need for evidence for that argument. Thus, today's scholars point to microaggressions — everyday, unintentional slights that supposedly marginalize minorities — in order to justify white supremacy is all around us.
Another reason microaggressions have found a home is how college administrators increasingly have to take on the role as surrogate parents — a role they are totally unsuitable for — to students. They have to mediate student conflicts and concerns, and generally they just side with whomever applies the most pressure and more effectively appeals to progressive orthodoxy. Campus leftists are the loudest and most aggressive group administrators have to deal with, so the officials elevate the agitators' concerns about microaggressions as a (poor) way of reducing conflict.The concept that white people are inherently and inevitably guilty of racism is building momentum. Why do you think so many people are attracted to the messages of writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates? Does it go back to the generations of people raised on Howard Zinn, as you explained?
Coates's popularity among white liberals primarily owes to white guilt. This is the idea that all Caucasians — no matter their background or beliefs — are responsible for a litany of horrors from the past. Slavery, segregation, the excesses of imperialism — you name it, and all whites are to blame for it. A lot of liberals are really fixated on it and express it in how desperate some progressives are to assert that they have white privilege, which seems ridiculous to conservatives. But there is a kind of masochistic element when it comes to white liberals and race issues — to the advantage of Coates and other writers. They serve up large helpings of depressing tales that can only serve to shame Caucasian readers into feeling bad for their "whiteness." Howard Zinn did a lot to promote this idea to the mainstream, and Coates is reaping the benefits of that. These writers rarely focus on good things white people did in the past, it's only the bad.
Furthermore, it encourages racialized thinking. All whites are born with the taint of the crimes of the past, and privilege, too. It reduces individuals to racial categories and disregards what they think and do now.
To minority activists, Coates and other writers are popular because they justify blaming their problems on "systemic racism" and white supremacy instead of on themselves. Demagogues throughout the ages have used similar grievances as the fuel for their cause. Campus agitators are no different.
One of the book's most promising observations is the way in which taxpayers and state legislators were able to create change at the University of Tennessee. Will this continue? Is this the most effective route to correct higher education?
I think it will continue, and it is effective. The reason why the Left dominates on college campus is because they are the strongest pressure group administrators have to deal with. Fortunately, elected officials wield more power because they control the purse strings. It doesn't even need to come down to defunding — lawmakers threatening to defund and hauling deans before committee hearings could be enough to put some backbone into administrators to stand up to college agitators. Right now, it seems to be the most effective route to correct higher education.
Students and parents can punish schools that are notorious for suppressing speech and mandating white privilege checking by going to other universities. But that strategy will likely take a lot of time to change administrators' behavior. The protester-friendly University of Missouri is still pushing nonsense in spite of their enrollment and donations plunging significantly. And anti-PC students are limited in what they can do when they're outnumbered by leftists.
What, if anything, can the Trump administration do to help?
A big thing the Trump administration can do is overturn the Obama administration's infamous "Dear Colleague" letter that established draconian measures to combat sexual harassment and assault in higher education. As FIRE has documented, that policy results in serious infringement on student rights, such as free expression and the right to due process. Scrapping that policy could lower the rate of false rape allegations leading to the ruination of innocent lives and unfreeze the chill on free speech.
I also think that Trump can use the power of the bully pulpit to call out the wrongs occurring on college campuses and put administrators on notice. His tweet in response to the UC Berkeley riot sent a clear message to schools that they better protect free speech, or face the consequences. That's a positive thing in my view.
You note that the modern campus resistance to PC culture doesn't necessarily have to be conservative. Why do you think that is?
I think many young people — and not just those who would be considered traditional conservatives — can come together to fight political correctness. The issues that could be rallied behind would have little to do with old-school conservative principles. Simply the right to party without having to worry about cultural appropriation is an issue that would have a lot of appeal to students. The Right is definitely going to dominate the opposition against campus madness, but it could attract people of all political stripes. As long as you support free expression, you stand athwart the campus Left.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.