Academia's `Dirty Little Secret'John E. Pluenneke
ILLIBERAL EDUCATION: THE POLITICS OF RACE AND SEX ON CAMPUS
By Dinesh D'Souza
The Free Press -- 219pp -- $19.95
In mid-April, acrimony erupted at Washington's Georgetown University law school after the student-run Law Weekly published a commentary on the school's admission policies. Timothy Maguire, a white third-year law student, had worked for the admissions office part-time. There he had learned, he wrote, that the school admits blacks with law school admission test scores significantly lower than whites.
In the ensuing uproar, the Black Law Student Assn. asked the school's disciplinary board to withhold Maguire's degree. Disciplinary proceedings begun against him could lead to his expulsion.
To many, the brouhaha was about stereotyping minority students as intellectually inferior. But the crux of the debate was policy--the widely practiced affirmative action aimed at enrolling more minority students. What made the episode prototypical was Georgetown's refusal to address its aims directly. In a letter to the weekly, the law school dean invoked the goal of "diversity" without mentioning "race."
Many universities don't want to talk about the issues raised by affirmative action, curriculum revisions, special studies, and other efforts to redress past social injustices. But a most unlikely self-appointed substitute has stepped forward to do so. In writing Illiberal Education, 29-year-old Bombay-born Dinesh D'Souza has put together an indispensable book for anyone interested in the future of U. S. higher education.
Illiberal Education is a study of the contortions U. S. universities have put themselves and their students through in an effort to recruit minorities and address the concerns of minorities on campus. It comes along just as many academics and students are having second thoughts about these policies because of their unintended consequences.
All policies that depend on treating minorities as groups rather than as individuals, D'Souza argues, tend to exacerbate racial separatism. Affirmative action, he notes, raises questions about fairness, the pursuit of excellence, and the open debate that most people think are at the core of the university experience. The uncomfortable truth, as he writes, is that applicants are being denied college admission because of race.
Affirmative action's results, D'Souza says, are "the dirty little secret" of U. S. universities. But the policy can't be defended by glossing over the reverse discrimination involved--which is why administrators' tendency to duck discussion makes so many uneasy.
D'Souza's underlying message is even broader: The academic world has become perhaps the most closed, intolerant sector of American life. Faculty and administrators bent on righting old wrongs have made rational discussion of remedies impossible. Questions are shouted down, and dissent is branded as racism.
Alan Bloom made a similar point in his 1987 The Closing of the American Mind. But unlike Bloom's argumentative book, D'Souza's work is meticulously evenhanded and helpfully footnoted. It derives perspective and credibility from the fact that D'Souza isn't white.
D'Souza uses a different institution to explore each of his major topics. The University of California at Berkeley is used to study racial preference in admissions; Stanford for the battle over multiculturalism in the curriculum; Howard for the quest by students for an Afrocentric curriculum; Michigan for censorship; and Harvard for the politics of race and gender in the classroom. Duke is used to examine how literature courses are bent to political ends.
D'Souza's study has already made him a hit among conservatives inside the Beltway, where polemicists with good timing are always appreciated. Tom Wolfe has said "the hive is buzzing over Dinesh D'Souza": The author can consider himself anointed. Not that he was an unknown quantity. The Jesuit-educated D'Souza came to the U. S. as an exchange student for a year's study in 1978 and stayed to attend Dartmouth College and edit the iconoclastic and notoriously "politically incorrect" Dartmouth Review. After graduation in 1983, he joined the journal Prospect at Princeton University, where his Catholicism, Ivy League background, courtly manner, and mischievous wit combined to give him a reputation as a sort of Indian William F. Buckley Jr. In 1987, he went to the Reagan White House as a domestic policy analyst and the following year served as "director of Catholic votes" in the Bush-Quayle campaign. In 1990, he became a U. S. citizen.
D'Souza has a refreshingly objective view of the aspirations of blacks: As an immigrant, he feels no guilt for past wrongs to black Americans, and he observes that discrimination is found all over the world. Describing the conformist, "politically correct" views he has found on U. S. campuses, he notes wryly that "diversity" meant something far different at his high school in Bombay. There, he says, he could identify "monarchists, Fabian socialists, Christian Democrats, Hindu advocates of a caste-based society, agrarians, centralized planners, theocrats, liberals, and communists."
The question, D'Souza muses, "is not whether universities should seek diversity, but what kind of diversity." The most desirable kind, he concludes, is diversity of mind--the "smorgasbord of convictions" found at European universities. Or in Bombay.