It’s Time to Afflict the Comfortable in Higher Ed

Read Jack Stripling’s “How Far Will Higher Ed’s Culture Wars Go? South Dakota Is Running Previews” in The Chronicle of Higher Education to see how to disguise polemic as journalism. (Be advised, however: it’s behind a paywall.)

Stripling—who identifies himself on Twitter as a “reporter,” as opposed to an editorialist—discusses the renaming of a Hawaii Day party at the University of South Dakota (USD) due to “sensitivity concerns.” The state subsequently passed a law to require intellectual diversity at South Dakota’s public universities. Stripling gives the impression that worries about the administration’s interference in the Hawaii Day party were unfounded. In his view the intellectual diversity bill was unnecessary, and any change to the status quo in South Dakota is a change for the worse.

Reading Stripling, you might think a bunch of soybean farmers and cowboys one day decided to dismantle higher ed in their state for no bigger reason than their interfering with the young folks’ right to party.

Stripling accomplishes this first by belittling his designated villains: “The facts of the case didn’t matter much. Perception was reality . . . Like other conservative legislation popping up across the nation, the bill presupposed that liberalism runs amok in higher education and ought to be put in check by force of law.”

Facts, perception, and presupposed: For Stripling, the facts are liberal, the perceptions and the presuppositions conservative, and the reader need not consider that perhaps the fact is that liberalism actually is running amok in higher education, and the conservative response is but a highly accurate perception of reality.

Stripling then assures us that the accused administration didn’t do anything wrong. USD’s “internal investigation” concluded that the university made only trivial mistakes. But Stripling didn’t interview anyone on the other side. Not everyone believes USD’s investigation of itself was impartial. Generally, reporters weigh the possibility that government agencies issuing self-exculpations deserve a closer look. Not Stripling.

Nor did Stripling talk with anyone who criticizes how higher education goes about its business, in South Dakota or elsewhere. He does briefly quote State Representative Tina L. Mullaly, as well as Patrick D. Powers of the South Dakota War College Blog, but mostly he quotes representatives of the higher education establishment.

Deferential Stenography

Stripling gives power ample room to speak its peace. He interviews former USD Law School Dean Thomas Geu, South Dakota Board of Regents President Kevin V. Schieffer, Regent Joan Wink (whom Stripling notes is unrepresentative of the board by dint of being both an academic and a Democrat), and Dwight (Bill) W. Adamson, retired associate professor of economics at South Dakota State University and the former president of the Council of Higher Education, the South Dakota university system’s faculty union.

Americans expect deferential stenography of the thoughts of the power elite in company newsletters, or in trade publications’ fawning reviews of new movies or cars. They don’t expect to read it in independent journalism. The Chronicle’s decision to give front-page coverage to Stripling’s article gives the unfortunate impression that it is nothing more than the trade publication of the higher education establishment.

Stripling isn’t a perfect mouthpiece for that establishment. He lets slip some awkward truths.

He recounts that the South Dakota Legislature had pushed for the Board of Regents to enshrine “intellectual diversity” among their principles—and that the first draft of their new proposal substituted the phrase “professional diversity,” which “would appear to suggest that the mingling of different academic disciplines, which happens in any university setting, helps institutions to achieve a diversity of thought and encourages robust debate.” In other words, Stripling lets us see how South Dakota’s education establishment quietly tried to sabotage any institutional bar to progressive monoculture in South Dakota’s colleges. But Stripling never queries just why the establishment made that crucial change.

Stripling recounts how, “Befuddled, officials at South Dakota State University responded, ‘What is the counterpoint of view to social justice and equity?’” Stripling, of course, does not interview anyone who might note that social justice and equity, along with diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism, and other cognate terms, are now synonyms in higher education for progressive propaganda and identity group quotas in admissions and hiring.

Nor does Stripling recognize that this comment proves precisely why South Dakota’s legislature needs to pass a law requiring intellectual diversity in South Dakota’s public colleges and universities. Not one official at South Dakota State University even knows the arguments against “social justice” and “equity.”

Enforcing Conformity

South Dakota’s legislators should read that sentence and realize just how vast and necessary their work is. Every official and every professor in South Dakota’s colleges and universities should be aware of, and able to articulate, the arguments against social justice and equity. A law encouraging intellectual diversity provides the smallest candle to illuminate the closed and musty minds of South Dakota’s education establishment.

So much Americans can discover by a close reading of Stripling’s serviceable work in The Chronicle to defend South Dakota’s higher education establishment. But they will not discover what ought to be the heart of journalism—to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

The comfortable in higher education will only derive comfort from Stripling’s work, and rededicate themselves to the happy task of enforcing conformity in America’s colleges and universities.

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About David Randall

David Randall is Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

Photo: Getty Images

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