The Severely Biased New Prof at Boston University

Fresh off completing her doctorate at the University of Michigan, Saida Grundy has landed a job on Boston University’s faculty – Assistant Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies. What can B.U. students anticipate from her?

Editors at the site SoCawledge dug into Grundy’s thinking and found a lot of tweets that resemble those of Steven Salaita in their nastiness. Whereas the object of Salaita’s animosity is anyone who defends Israel, in Grundy’s case it is the white race.

Among her tweets is this one: dear white people: u are all ben Affleck. Those euphemisms for ur ancestors like “farmers” & “pioneers” means owned humans & killed natives

No doubt Professor Grundy knows that no white person now living either owned humans or killed natives, and that the great majority of whites in the past did neither of those actions.  Still, she appears to harbor a deep animosity toward whites anyway.

Another: every MLK week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned busineses. and every year I find it nearly impossible.

But the Reverend King had nothing against white-owned businesses. Why does Grundy feel the desire to discriminate against them?

Read through the tweets and you’ll see a young woman who has been brought up with (or perhaps schooled to have) animosity boiling within her. She illustrates very well the problem that former BU professor and now NAS president Peter Wood calls “bee in the mouth anger.” (I strongly recommend his book on that.)

What will her classes be like? It’s hard to believe that they will be “safe places” for white students, especially men.

After her tweets were made public, the university knew it was in a mess.

BU’s president, Robert Brown had to say something and came up with this attempt at straddling the fence: “At Boston University we acknowledge Dr. Grundy’s right to hold and express her opinions. At the same time, we fully appreciate why many have reacted to her statements. Boston University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form….We are disappointed and concerned by statements that reduce individuals to stereotypes….” (You can read Brown’s entire statement and more about the raging controversy here.)

At least Brown recognizes the racism, bigotry, and stereotyping that is such a big part of Grundy’s view of America. Many educators have rushed to her defense, claiming that people outside of higher education have misunderstood her and vastly overreacted. That’s the tenor of this Inside Higher Ed piece. The problem, according to author Colleen Flaherty is that “what professors write, think, or talk about doesn’t necessarily always translate to a wider audience…Ideas that are relatively uncontroversial among colleagues might elicit outrage from the public.”

Elaborating on that notion, VCU sociology professor Tressie McMillan Cottom said, “A lot can go wrong when you use ‘inside’ language ‘outside’ because we rely so much on social ties and context to make meaning of words.”

So we are apparently to believe that the only problem here is that Grundy made the mistake of letting the general public know what she thinks about race in language that revealed her evident biases.  If she had just kept her angry stereotyping within what Cottom usefully calls the higher education “bubble,” those ill-educated outsiders wouldn’t be upset over words they can’t comprehend out of their “context.”

The truth is that by using “outside” language on Twitter, Grundy allowed the whole world a clear view of the way her classes are apt to go. Academic writing is usually impenetrable (even to other academics), but you can’t hide anything in the tiny thought compressions of a tweet. If Grundy had used Twitter only for mundane personal stuff and reserved her vitriol for classrooms filled almost entirely with students inclined to nod in agreement, nobody would know what bile her students were steeping in.

Finally, Grundy herself says that she regrets having stated things “indelicately.” What that means is that she regrets having used clear “outside” language that revealed her biases instead of the cloudy language of academe that would have kept them hidden.

Why STEM ‘Diversity’? Just Because

Most reports, studies, proposals, etc., calling for more “diversity” — whether of faculties, students, coaches, whatever — either fail to provide any justification for the discrimination necessary to increase it or fall flat, sometimes fatuously, when they do attempt to provide a justification.

In reviewing a typical one, for example, MIT’s Report on The Initiative For Faculty Race And Diversity, I quoted from its various rationales and concluded, “In other words, ‘diversity’ is ‘core’ to MIT’s excellence because it is ‘intrinsic,’ because ‘one must … be inclusive,’ because it is ‘key,’ and because insufficient diversification would ‘constrain ourselves and limit our success.’ In other words, well, just because.”

That criticism, however, cannot be leveled against “Minority Ph.D.‘s Find Career Success in STEM,” an argument in the Chronicle of Higher Education for more STEM diversity by Frances M. Leslie (not Francis, as given in the Chronicle), which offers a commendably concrete and specific justification for producing more minority STEM graduates. Professor Leslie — dean of the Graduate Division and a professor of pharma­cology, and of anatomy and neurobiology, in the School of Medicine at the University of California at Irvine — is clearly a person of many talents, but her commendably concrete justification for producing more minority STEM Ph.D.’s suggests she could be equally successful as a stand-up comic or satire writer for The Onion.

“First of all,” she notes the “disparity” of minorities receiving “only 7.25 percent of doctorate degrees” in STEM fields, “far below their 30 percent representation in the general population.” This “disparity” matters, she claims, because the “U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that recipients of Ph.D.s and professional degrees have the lowest unemployment rate and highest full-time earnings in the country.” Then comes her justification for striving to make STEM Ph.D.’s demographically representative, a justification that is refreshingly free of “diversity” cant and camouflage:

So the dearth of underrepresented minorities with Ph.D.’s in STEM not only represents a substantial financial inequity but also reduces their potential impact on the nation’s economic strength.

Given these findings, it seems clear that universities should make a substantial effort to support underrepresented minority students in STEM graduate education.

STEM diversity, in short, is good not only for the diverse, who are enabled to make more money, but because of the positive impact their arguably higher earnings in STEM than in the occupations they would otherwise be pursuing has on the GNP.

In fact, even this slim reed of an argument is not persuasive. The fact that STEM Ph.D.’s may have the lowest unemployment and highest earnings does not mean that individuals who could have become STEM Ph.D.’s but did not would predictably make less money in other fields.

No wonder most arguments for “diversity” tend to avoid trying to specify its benefits.

 

 

 

 

How Liberals Ruined College

”On today’s campuses, left-leaning administrators, professors, and students are working overtime in their campaign of silencing dissent, and their unofficial tactics of ostracizing, smearing, and humiliation are highly effective. But what is even more chilling—and more far reaching—is the official power they abuse to ensure the silencing of views they don’t like. They’ve invented a labyrinth of anti-free speech tools that include “speech codes,” “free speech zones,” censorship, investigations by campus “diversity and tolerance offices,” and denial of due process. They craft “anti-harassment policies” and “anti-violence policies” that are speech codes in disguise.”   - Kirsten Powers, the Daily Beast

Read “How Liberals Ruined College” at the Daily Beast

WHY ELITE STUDENTS GET ELITE JOBS

The conventional meritocratic recipe for success is simple enough: study hard in school, get good grades, be involved in one’s community, find an appropriate college, apply for jobs in your field of study, and everything else falls in place. But that’s not how it really works says Lauren A. Rivera, author of Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs.

The path to success she sees is this:  Be born to upper-middle-class or wealthy parents. Know what academic tracks to be on by the end of middle school — knowledge that one acquires from well-educated parents and school counselors with low caseloads. Get involved early in the competitive sports favored by elites, such as lacrosse, tennis, sailing, skiing, golf, cycling, climbing, soccer, and running. Test well enough to get into an elite university.

Apply for a first job in an Elite Professional Services Firm (EPS), the “finishing school” for American elites. They include Wall Street, top management consulting, and exclusive law firms. After you’ve demonstrated that you’re “one of us” in the interview get on the EPS launching pad, which eventually leads to a high-status career in corporate America, politics, or the nonprofit world. Eventually, have children with a spouse of a similar class background, raise them in fine neighborhoods with top schools, sent them to elite universities, and the “virtuous” cycle of elite reproduction continues.

The book offers a rare glimpse into the hiring practices of EPS firms and how they differ from “the dominant theory of hiring” in the United States. The dominant model holds that employers hiring decisions are based largely on “estimates of human capital, social capital, gender and race. But that model is inadequate, she argues, because it fails to account for the increasingly powerful role that one’s class background plays in the recruiting and hiring practices firms that prepare one for leadership roles in society.

Rivera, a management professor at Northwestern University, acknowledges these trends with alarm. Her book goes further than most in that she looks beyond elite college admissions to how elite students find high-status jobs. As a direct observer and participant in the hiring process at an unnamed EPS firm, Rivera shows that elite education is a virtual prerequisite for entry into high-status jobs — jobs that according to the commonly viewed ideal of meritocracy should be available to any competitor on the basis of ability and experience. She demonstrates, convincingly, that’s not the case.

Raised working class in Los Angeles by an immigrant single mom while her father was in prison, Rivera says she was able to penetrate this rarified atmosphere due to her own experiences attending elite prep schools, colleges and graduate school.  She describes being “checked out” by the insiders of the firm in which she carried out her case study, who determined that she was “one of us,” before agreeing to be interviewed for her study.

The author says she did not set out to prove any particular theory, but allowed the data to drive her interpretations.  She concludes that the hiring practices of certain employers — ones that are pivotal in shaping the nation’s future leaders — are driven by considerations of class status. Class, she argues — and the social capital associated with class, is more important than virtually any other factor in whether certain high-statues employers will even consider an applicant for a job.

The key word is pedigree: the array of background traits, including the cultural, social, and educational capital passed from one generation to the next, which EPS candidates bring to the competition for elite jobs. But it’s a closed competition.  One must get through the gates first.  A candidate’s pedigree determines whether his or her application to an EPS firm is legitimately considered in the competition, or tossed in a slush pile of candidates who have no realistic chance to even compete for such jobs.

Of course, pedigree has always been influential in hiring decisions for first jobs at elite professional service firms.  While Rivera acknowledges this, she contends that the rules surrounding pedigree have changed over the generations.  Although elite employers have always hired on the basis of pedigree, the mechanism is now far more indirect. Finding young talent to fill society’s most important and highly paid jobs once was based on descent, the handing over of familial economic power from one generation to the next.

Today, elites have modernized the rules of entry. Rather than explicit bloodlines being the determining factor, the outcome biased toward elites is interpreted as just the rational outcome of the “meritocracy” at work.  Now, just as elite colleges contend that they admit students on the basis of cognitive talent, elite employers claim their highly competitive hiring practices lead to finding the best and brightest young employees.

But the way elites choose talent is hardly an open competition, Rivera argues. Rather, EPS hiring is a “sponsored contest.” While any college graduate is free to apply for a position, only those who are pre-qualified are actually permitted to compete.  The most important pre-qualification is earning a degree from one of two types of schools.  Generally, EPS firms maintain two lists of colleges from which they draw the applicant pool.  First is small list of so-called “core” schools that have fed firms’ talent requirements for decades.  The relationships are historic, steadfast, and habitual. Think Ivy League, especially colleges that are within a few hours drive from power centers of finance, banking and law.

Next is a list of “target” schools that firms have relied on for talent, but to a far lesser extent than core schools.  The pivotal difference between a sponsored and an open competition is the behavior of gatekeepers in seeking talent.  EPS firms go to great efforts to seek out the kinds of college graduates that fit the firm’s culture.  The firms go to the students, spending valuable time and money traveling to the listed campuses and recruiting for their applicant pool.

There is one noteworthy exception, Rivera says.  If a highly regarded EPS firm happens to occupy a booth at a “diversity” job fair, that’s likely no more than a show and tell, serving the firms’ needs to convey itself as an equal opportunity employer, which enables them to compete for federal contracts.  An open competition for jobs is far different: in almost no instance does a gatekeeper for an open contest seek out applicants. In this sense, then, a competition for jobs at the post office is far more competitive than hiring the chosen candidates for any EPS firm.

Then comes the sorting of resumes and the interview process.  At these stages, evaluators at EPS firms, often busy staffers and analysts who work with high workloads, are pretty much left to their own preferences without any firm guidelines from lowly valued human resource departments.  A typical evaluator will spend no more than 60 seconds per resume. In that brief moment, the evaluator scans resumes for positive signals of fit with the firm or red flags that suggest a bad fit.  These decisions are often based on personal biases, reflecting the evaluators’ own background.  Rivera calls this “looking glass” merit: evaluators choose candidates like themselves, with similar family backgrounds and cultural habits, down to the sorts of recreational activities and sports they might share in common.

For example, in the off-chance that a candidate at this stage had graduated with high honors at, say, the University of North Carolina, that would be considered a red flag.  “State schools,” as public universities are called in this competition, would be considered a sign of “intellectual failure.”   Candidates who’ve graduated form a core school are presumed to have the cognitive ability to do the job — although no actual evidence of this presumption exists, Rivera says.

One example stands out.  Rivera interviewed a hiring consultant named Natalie, who examined an application from Sarah, a graduate of New York University’s Stern School of Business.  Natalie noted that Stern was a top ten business school, but not a top three school. “She’s there either because her husband is in New York or she applied to business schools and she didn’t get into Harvard or Stanford.”  For Natalie, Sarah’s graduating from NYU’s Stern School of Business was a red flag, indicating some kind of intellectual failure.

Another red flag is whether the candidate happened to participate in the wrong types of sports in school. Evaluators often looked for similarities in recreational activities as a signal for shared interests and comfort level. One evaluator told Rivera he always asked a job candidate what he or she did for “fun.” The answer wasn’t acceptable if the activity were not something that was fun to him.  One candidate told the evaluator that he liked reading the Wall Street Journal for fun. An EPS evaluator told Rivera, “Nobody reads the Wall Street Journal for fun. And if they are unable to come up with something they do for fun, they are done.”

The classed-based hiring practices of EPS firms might not be so unsettling if such firms had not achieved the level of status, economic power, and influence that they currently enjoy in American life, Rivera contends.  Owing to the high pay and high status that EPS firms use to tantalize graduates, significant numbers of elite college graduates have turned to EPS firms for their first jobs out of college, ignoring opportunities at other types of employers such as manufacturing and educational institutions.  At Harvard alone, more than 70 percent “of each senior class typically applies to investment banks or consulting firms,” Rivera says.  In addition to the highly skewed demand for EPS jobs, this “holy trinity,” has become a well-traveled springboard to leadership positions in all aspects the United States.

Rivera cites research that America is unique among other advanced nations in the extent that people care about the reputation and prestige of one’s alma mater. In few other countries has one’s potential for leadership been so closely tied to where one attended college. As Rivera demonstrates, that has become a self-fulfilling prophesy of the new meritocracy. Exceedingly influential firms have uniquely positioned themselves as “finishing schools” for America’s elites, and yet there is virtually no evidence to suggest whether the system selects for the best, or simply the more well-positioned and well-polished.

For the most part, Rivera’s analysis is believable and compelling. We’ve always known such discrimination along class lines exists at elite professional firms, but she may be the first to inspect the detailed mechanisms that perpetuate the practice.  She fails, however, to address other types of superficially open, but actually closed competitions in which insiders are known to have unfair access to certain jobs in the United States.  The practice is not uncommon. These jobs would include children of police officers, firefighters, union tradesman and similar careers.  Remember?  “It’s who you know, not what you know.”

What’s more, one could argue that EPS firms are selecting candidates most equipped — intellectually, socially and behaviorally — to succeed in jobs that require an unusual ability to communicate and be comfortable with high-status clients in the corporate world.  Evaluators would naturally doubt, for example, whether a first generation college or professional school graduate attending a modestly selective university would have the polish to succeed.

Still, the classed-based hiring practices of EPS firms is unsettling, compared to the semi-open competitions for, say, police or union jobs.  EPS firms are unique in that they occupy far greater status, economic power, and influence than many careers. Owing to the high pay and high status that EPS firms use to tantalize graduates, significant numbers of elite college graduates have turned to EPS firms for their first jobs out of college, ignoring opportunities at other types of employers such as manufacturing and educational institutions.  At Harvard alone, more than 70 percent of each senior class typically applies to investment banks or consulting firms, says Rivera, quoting Nicholas Lemann in the New Yorker.

In addition Americans love a competition that’s open to all comers, like the “Open Championship” in Great Britain and the U.S. Open here. The purpose of these tournaments is to identify the best golfer on the planet during a week’s competition, based strictly on performance.   The opportunity is open to any golfer, not just to those from private country clubs. Indeed, a competition rigged to pick the privileged few is abhorrent to our collective sensibilities. Exclusion based on the conceit that graduates of certain American colleges and universities are intellectually deficient is reminiscent of the days when the U.S. Army rated recruits on the basis of IQ tests.  Those tests purportedly demonstrated the intellectual superiority of immigrants from Arian nations over cognitively deficient immigrants like Jews and Italians.

“Because of the way they hire,” Rivera writes, “these employers end up systematically excluding smart, driven, and socially skilled students from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds from the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the United States, positions that serve as gateways to the country’s economic elite.”

A Setback for BDS

The movement to impose a boycott on Israeli universities, to get colleges to divest from Israeli companies, and to impose other sanctions on Israel—the BDS movement (boycott, divest and sanction)—was launched in 2005 by a collection of Palestinian organizations.  Over the last decade it has gathered significant support in American higher education, but the enthusiasm of some American academics for the cause didn’t attract much attention outside the academy until the vote by the American Studies Association (ASA) in December 2013 to join the boycott.

That vote shocked many who had not yet heard of the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.  The National Association of Scholars called on the ASA not to join the boycott.  And when the ASA went ahead with it, some colleges and universities responded by dropping their institutional memberships in it.  One consequence of the furor was a series of decisions by other scholarly associations, including the Modern Language Association, to reject proposals that they also join the boycott.

Since then, the BDS movement has been less prominent in American higher education but it has not gone away.  Last week the New School held a two-day conference, “Sanctions and Divestments:  Economic Weapons of Political and Social Change.”  Nimer Sultany, lecturer in public law at the University of London, who is Palestinian and one of the international leaders of the BDS movement, argued that BDS is a promising tool to advance the goal of returning “all Palestinian lands” to Palestinians and to “reverse Israeli colonization.”  Todd Gitlin, the 60s radical who is now the chairman of the Ph.D. program in Communications at Columbia University, opposed BDS on the grounds that its stated goal is “too broad.”

Vagueness generally helps the proponents of BDS.  At the New School event, Sultany refused to be pinned down as to what exactly its goal might be.  The eradication of Israel?  He wasn’t ruling it out, but neither did he own it.

This reticence about goals may help proponents of the movement to draw in supporters who feel sympathy with dispossessed Palestinians but haven’t thought very much about the implications of the movement’s broad claims.  When those claims come into sharper focus, campus support dwindles.

That lesson was displayed on May 2, when students at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine voted down a proposal to support the boycott. With 1,619 students voting, only 228 voted in favor of the boycott, and 1,144 voted against it. (247 abstained.)  The students showed collective wisdom, and in this case they were influenced by Bowdoin’s out-going president, Barry Mills, who in 2014 issued a strong statement rejecting the boycott movement.

The National Association of Scholars pays special attention to Bowdoin College.  Our 2013 study, What Does Bowdoin Teach?  How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students, picked out Bowdoin to serve as a representative institution—one that was small enough to study in depth, but also one whose strengths and weaknesses are widely shared by other elite liberal arts colleges.  In that vein, we took a critical view of the readiness of the Bowdoin administration and the students to embrace fashionable progressive causes.

In this case, however, Bowdoin has demonstrated a more thoughtful and deliberative side.

The idea of getting Bowdoin to boycott Israel had come up before.  Mills’s 2014 statement was a response to an earlier round of advocacy.  A new round began this spring and eventuated in a petition circulated in April by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).   According to one of the group leaders, the goal wasto isolate parts of the Israeli state apparatus that are normalizing the maltreatment of Palestinians and abuses of their human rights.” The petition got enough student signatures for a student-body-wide referendum.  The success of the petition drive, however, alarmed other students who organized a counter campaign.

The Bowdoin Orient, the student newspaper, quoted students as saying that they didn’t know enough about the conflict in order to vote with a clear conscience.  This is noteworthy in that it means that students did not take the boycott as the default position.  They did not just assume that the case for the BDS movement was right.  Other students voiced more particular objections such as their preference for a two-state option.  Still others complained that the boycott “threatens academic freedom,” especially the “free exchange of ideas” about the conflict itself.

All of this is encouraging—encouraging that a college community that has often fallen into lockstep conformity on political issues and shown very little interest in allowing a diversity of opinions to flourish re-discovered the value of open debate.

It is especially encouraging because we are in a strange moment in American higher education:  a moment in which intellectual freedom seems terribly imperiled.  The rhetoric of “rape crisis”; the insistence that there is a “climate consensus” that obviates the need to hear from skeptics; the post-Ferguson hyping of the idea that America uses violence to maintain a racial hierarchy—these and many more pronouncements have fostered a campus climate across the country in which students congratulate themselves for shutting down discussion, dis-inviting speakers who might disagree with prevailing opinions, and attacking those few students who stray from the new orthodoxies. Intimidation is the hottest campus trend.

Bowdoin is far from immune to these disorders. It is not a place where intellectual freedom generally flourishes. But as we showed in What Does Bowdoin Teach? there is another, older, and better Bowdoin.  It is reassuring to see the college in this instance find its better self.  And if Bowdoin is indeed representative of elite higher education, perhaps the vote on May 2 is a sign of a broader recovery in American higher education. The BDS movement is an ugly retreat from academic and intellectual freedom. It is heartening to see it beaten back so decisively in a place where its proponents might well have expected an easy win.