Books: Illiberal Education by Dinesh D’Souza

by | Jan 6, 2002

What Illiberal Education describes—though the author does not put it this way—is the official end of individualism on the American campus.

This book is an inside look at the eerie new campus world of mandatory sensitivity training” on matters of race and gender, of punishments meted out by administrations—abetted by paid informants—for indefinable slights against minorities, of demands by the same militants for “racially inclusive” quotas and racially segregated dormitories.

What Illiberal Education describes—though the author does not put it this way—is the official end of individualism on the American campus.

From the moment of filling out a college application, the student’s identity is determined by membership in some group—black, Hispanic, female, “white-male,” etc. The admission criteria he must meet, the financial aid he receives, the orientation program he attends, the housing facilities available to him, the disciplinary agent he answers to are all a function of his designated group. Even the official standards of his academic success depend on what group he falls into.

Of course, all this is a very natural consequence of the collectivist ideas routinely dispensed in the classroom. The student is taught that free will is a fiction and that the group conditions all beliefs and attitudes, including the logic by which one (allegedly) thinks. Even one’s moral stature, he is told, is determined by one’s collective ancestry.

As Becky Thompson, professor of Women’s Studies at Brandeis University, declares (in a teaching manual distributed by the American Sociological Association): “I begin the course with the basic feminist principle that in a racist, classist society. It is not open to debate whether a white student is racist or a male student is sexist. He/she simply is.” Or, as Prof. Frank Lentricchia of Duke University says: “Nothing passes through a mind that doesn’t have its origin in sexual, economic and racial differentiae.” There is what D’Souza calls a “Victim’s Revolution” on campus, in which the demands for reparations range from the prohibition of “insensitive” speech to the abandonment of literacy as a value. (“Reading and writing are merely technologies of control [and are] … martial law made academic,” says Prof. Houston Baker of the University of Pennsylvania, in extolling the virtues of a black oral tradition.) And to attain victim status, it is the experience of the organic group, not the individual, that is relevant.

D’Souza interviews a young black student from Berkeley who “could not remember a single incident in which she was a victim of prejudice.” Still, she maintains: “‘I am oppressed, I will always be oppressed. Yes, I came from a good family and an economically stable background. But my race was still deprived, and that will always live with me.”‘ This approach is clearly Marxist in essence. In the academic drive to replace European thinkers with Third World primitives—D’Souza perceptively remarks— Marx remains an interesting exception. “The premier ideologist of oppression, Karl Marx, was not exactly a Guatemalan. Here is one overrepresented white male in the 14 Stanford curriculum. Yet no one at Stanford or elsewhere has suggested that Marx presents a Eurocentric viewpoint which can be safely discounted…. Why is this ignored? It doesn’t suit the purposes of the activists.” These doctrines of determinism and collectivism constitute the essence of racism, and of racism’s evil. Nonetheless, they now infect virtually every aspect of campus life, beginning with “affirmative action” in admissions policy. Ernest Koenigsburg, a professor of business who has served on several admissions committees, says that at the very top schools, “if one is black, the probability of admission is 100 percent; if one IS Asian-American [one of the more ambitious and productive-—and hence non-eligible—minority groups] or white, the probability of admission is less than 5 percent.” The stark irrationality of enrolling academically unqualified students is cogently revealed by D’Souza. He shows the results of the bizarre competition among schools to grab up minority students. Individuals who are qualified to study, say, at good, respectable schools are recruited instead into the very best, Ivy League universities, where they face overwhelming odds against success. This happens all along the collegiate spectrum, thereby contributing to atrocious failure rates for the affirmative-action students. Minority activists begin to rationalize this failure, initially with attacks on the criteria by which future academic performance is measured, and finally by attacking standards altogether.

The culmination of this assault is the movement to revamp the curriculum. It is the campaign for “multiculturalism,” in which the classic works of Western civilization are denigrated as biased products of dead, white, European males, to be substituted by folk tales, caveman art and modern rap songs. As D’Souza describes this viewpoint: “Since all knowledge is political, minorities have a right to demand that their distinct perspectives be ‘represented’ in the course readings.

Ethnic Studies Professor Ronald Takaki of Berkeley unabashedly calls this ‘intellectual affirmative action.

This is more than the end of individualism—it is the death of objectivity and of reason.

While it might seem that under this regime of subjectivism, anything is permissible as the subject of academic study, that is not so. D’Souza recognizes the significance of the fact that race and gender programs represent a shared orthodoxy from which no divergence is tolerated. What has replaced objectivity is the phenomenon of dogmatic relativism—of thought-police enforcing “tolerance.” For example, in the American Sociological Association’s reading list for gender studies, “approximately 90 percent of the texts are explicitly feminist, and the rest relate to feminist concerns; there is no text that could fairly be described as anti- feminist.” As another example, D’Souza cites the case of a male student in a Women’s Studies class at the University of Washington at Seattle. In the first lecture the teacher asserted that statistics showed that lesbians could raise children better than married couples. After the lecture, the student simply asked for the source of that fact. The teacher’s response was: ” ‘Why are you challenging me? Get away from me. Just leave me alone.”‘ The next day, two campus police officers were waiting in the hall to prevent the student from attending class. He was subsequently advised by an associate dean to drop the course, D’Souza comments: “The monolithic ideological focus of the so-called ‘studies’ programs seems to have produced a relentless, even fanatical, conformity of thought in which ‘diversity’ loses its procedural meaning and assumes substantive content. In other words, ‘diversity’ does not refer to a range of views on a disputed question, but rather entails enlisting in a regiment of ideological causes which are identified as being ‘for diversity.’ For instance, to be ‘for diversity’ you must believe that homosexuality as a sexual preference is morally neutral, or that women have been victims of domestic incarceration through history; if you resist these notions, then you are ‘against diversity’ and eligible for sanctions and abuse.

The tragic fact is that such “sanctions and abuse” are now the invariable fate of anyone on campus who upholds individualism and rationality.

This review is made available by the Ayn Rand Bookstore (formerly Second Renaissance Books)

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The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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