Smith College has become some unwanted attention. For the rest of us, it’s a good test case for exactly what is going on in American schools and universities.
A tiny women’s college in Western Massachusetts, Smith has been much in the news. A worker has openly quit her job in response to the mandatory critical race theory training that she has described, very rightly, as developing a”racially hostile workplace” Smith’s endowment currently stands just shy of $2 billion. That is a fat target for a hungry lawyer. If this were not enough, ” the New York Times came and researched a two-year old event where a black student had been offended by cafeteria employees who informed her she couldn’t sit in a place reserved for seeing high school pupils (where most men needed CORI background checks). The result was a campus-wide protest against racism and the eventual removal of two employees whose combined wages just barely equaled the price of attending Smith for a single year. Other employees were endangered at their homes. Lives were destroyed. But then, after an investigation, it was determined no wrong was completed. However no apology or recompense was made to people who actually suffered, together with the president of this faculty still insisting”implicit bias” may have been in the office in this case. What is going on?
There is not any single explanation for this decline in American higher education. We can return to Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987) or to Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s latest Coddling of the American Head (2018). Standards have slipped, comforts have a tendency, and yet learning appears to have fallen apart. I saw a remark on the world wide web to the effect that a century ago we’ve taught Greek and Latin to high school pupils, and teach remedial English in college. Something has gone wrong.
Nor has the overpowering partisanship of those universities escaped its own critics. The unexpected embrace of critical race theory was more unsettling, however. This is not just one more step in the ever leftward lurch that is placing greater education beyond the chance of parody (but watch Scott Johnson’s Campusland, that I reviewed ). It appears to be entirely new, dividing the precepts of the radicals we’ve become accustomed to. What happened to free speech, free inquiry, or the unsettling of comfortable thoughts? Whatever happened to conservative liberalism and a minimal regard for free debate and question?
The left championing of free speech, as true as it could have been at one time, always existed side-by-side together with the development of exactly what C.P. Snow called”two cultures” In a 1956 essay of this name, enlarged upon several occasions, the accomplished all-natural scientist and novelist contended that there has developed such a split between people who study the sciences and people who pursue humanities and the arts they have been two distinct cultures. He implied that knowledge of this second law of thermodynamics is as fundamental to the one culture as a knowledge of Shakespeare is the other. (Would that were so now.) However, how many British professors can describe fundamental principles of mathematics, as an example? Regrettably, it now appears that few can share their own discipline without recourse to arcane governmental language.
Snow’s purpose was that the two civilizations no longer talk to one another. No more can you mind comprise the amount of human knowledge. Particularly with the mathematization of these sciences, big regions of knowledge are now inaccessible to the well-educated. In a 2002 review of this novel, Orin Judd included a more glowing explanation. Whereas developments in the sciences necessarily made access to them and more difficult, the arts needed to make a concerted effort to achieve the same result:
The reaction of the peers in the arts, or people who had been their peers, would be to create their own areas of experience as obscure as you can. If Picasso could not understand particle physics, he sure as hell wasn’t going to paint whatever comprehensible, also when Joyce could not pick up a scientific journal and read it, then no one was going to have the ability to read his novels either.
Certainly Judd goes a lot, but how far is too much? Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word is an elongated study of the very point. Fans of Picasso and Joyce might object. They will tell us we just wish to”put at the work.” (Sound familiar?)
From this place that members of this technical field can talk on it, it is not a big step to say that just members of a particular race may talk on subjects related to them.As the procedure for specialty lasted and both civilizations held to the principle of free speech and question, something strange happened. Not only did every facet find it impossible to understand the other, every abandoned land to the other. English professors could increase into the physicists about issues of mathematics, and physicists would take anything coming from the English departments. Much like the medieval Muslim philosopher Averroës’ concept of just two truths–just only one for philosophy plus only one for theology–every department has come to establish its own field and all that might pertain to it.
Each field is assumed to get its own perspective on the world and works exclusively from inside it. This is exactly what Heidegger described as”the viewpoint of this point of view.” With the arrival of the many”studies” departments which split the intellectual world by race, sex, and sex, we’ve got the makings of much more technical and ceded land. The Women’s Studies department has the final word on girls, and also the African American Studies department does on the black experience, etc.
From this place that only members of this technical field can talk on it, it is not a big step to say that just members of a particular race may talk on subjects related to them. Keep this going, and you have a passage such as the following from this New York Times article about the debacle at Smith College:”The story highlights the tensions between a student’s deeply felt awareness of personal truth and facts that are at odds with this ” There was nothing ironic in this sentence. What can facts state to some”personal truth”? No longer than just a computer scientist could say about religion.
Even the multiversity, to use Clark Kerr’s expression, was ready to take lots of the tenets of critical race theory by both dependency and structure. There’s not any coherence to the instruction or even the structure of these associations. Critical race theory, the item of this multiversity (as well as multiculturalism), fit perfectly well. And it allows for ethical preening on the part of people who believe in the demanding search for truth.
And this is true of the habits of thought as much as some other. The American academy was, therefore, structurally due to adopt critical race theory along with all its effects, such as we see at Smith College. Ideology is also at play, however the habits that resulted from the specialty and obscuritanism of these multiversity resulted in the habits of critical race theory. But the long road back to sanity has not yet been travelled.