The Cornell Faculty Coalition has issued a letter with a long list of supporting faculty that calls for massive anti-racism measures including the elimination of “colorblind” policies in various areas. It is a reversal of decades of struggle to guarantee colorblind policies, which are now being portrayed as themselves the means of racism. The University of Chicago English Department has announced that it will not even consider applicants who have any interest other than “Black studies.”
I previously wrote about denouncing purportedly “informed commentary” as racism in criticizing the means or demands of recent protests.
In addition to asserting that the Cornell campuses belong to the “Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ (the Cayuga Nation), and . . . likely every Indigenous Nation in the state,” the professor attack all programs that are colorblind: “Yet every “colorblind” event, mechanism, and process at the university — from new faculty orientations to selection of endowed positions — perpetuates racial disparities and reinforces an unjust status quo.”
Yet, it is this demand that particularly stood out for many who have criticized the letter:
“LT8. Abolish colorblind recruitment policies and practices in partner/spousal hiring and replace them with intentionally anti-racist policies and practices. In particular: a) offer partner/spousal hires to all BIPOC faculty, including assistant professors; b) create a centralized funding pool for partner/spousal hires instead of taking lines from departments; c) make data on racial demographics of partner/spousal hires publicly available; d) provide housing assistance to faculty as is done at Cornell’s peer-institutions.” (underlying added)
The coverage has said that Cornell faculty is demanding the “publication of the race of faculty spouses.” I do not see that in the list. This refers to the race of “partner/spousal hires.” I may have missed something but it would seem focus on spouses and partners added to the faculty.
The list itself however does raise serious questions over the abandonment of all colorblind policies, which took decades to secure to end racial discrimination. It also raises questions over the impact on practices designed to achieve high levels of scholarships from the proposed elimination of all standardized testing to required hiring quotas by race.
The University of Chicago is facing a similar controversy this week after its English Department announced that it will only take students focusing on black studies this year. It announced: “For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black studies.”
(For full disclosure, I am a Chicago alum.) The policy bars this leading department to any students who have other academic interests and bars faculty from working with such students in their chosen areas of intellectual pursuit. It is in my view a well-intended but ill-conceived effort as social justice. It is wrong to bar fellow academics and students from pursuing their areas of intellectual interest. There was no bar on students pursuing this focus but this would bar all others from pursuing other areas of focus.
The policy is Orwellian in denying diversity in concentrations of study in the name of achieving diversity. There are students this year who have profound interest in pursuing other areas of study at one of the world’s most premier institutions. They are not racist because they have a deep interest in subjects ranging from Asian literature to Greek classics. It is also saying that no matter how brilliant a student may be in pursing something like South American or French writers, they will not be even considered for admission. UChicago is telling them that they must either focus on “Black studies” or go somewhere else. That is wrong for UChicago and wrong for academia as a whole.
I am a strong advocate for faculty governance but I fail to see how a department can categorically exclude every other intellectual focus or concentration in admissions. I commend the faculty for its commitment to social justice and anti-racism efforts but this is not an appropriate means to those worthy ends.