Many say the current presidential race is the most uncivilized in modern American history. Civility in public discourse, why it seems to have hit a new low and long-term implications for the democratic process.
Guest Host: Melissa Ross
The Supreme Court hears arguments today on admissions policies at the University of Texas which allow for racial preferences. A ruling against UT would have broad implications for affirmative action programs in institutions across the country. This fall racial unease has led to protests on dozens of campuses including the University of Missouri,Claremont McKenna College, Yale and Princeton. At many colleges student activists have called for the removal of references to controversial historical figures, mandatory cultural sensitivity training and in some cases administration resignations: Please join us to discuss race relations on campus and the future of affirmative action.
- Craig Steven Wilder professor of American history, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; author of "Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America's Universities" (2014)
- Jody Allen visiting assistant professor, history, College of William and Mary
- Michael Poliakoff vice president, policy, The American Council of Trustees and Alumni
- Queen Adesuyi senior, Georgetown University majoring in American Studies
- Jeffrey Rosen president and CEO, The National Constitution Center; professor, George Washington University Law School; legal affairs editor, The New Republic; author of "The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America" and co-editor, "Constitution 3.0."
MS. MELISSA ROSSThanks for joining us. I'm Melissa Ross of WJCT in Jacksonville, Florida, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. Supreme Court justices will hear arguments today on the legality of admission policies at the University of Texas that allow an applicant's race to be considered in the process. At the same time, students and administrators at college campuses across the country are grappling with allegations of racial bias and the legacy of slavery.
MS. MELISSA ROSSJoining me to talk about these issues, Craig Steven Wilder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jody Allen of the College of William and Mary, Michael Poliakoff of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. And from a studio in Philadelphia, Jeffrey Rosen of the National Constitution Center. We'll be taking your comments and questions throughout the hour. Call us at 1-800-433-8850.
MS. MELISSA ROSSSend us your email to email@example.com. And join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. Jeffrey Rosen, let's begin with you. If you could, explain the significance of the case the justices will be hearing today, Fisher versus the University of Texas.
MR. JEFFREY ROSENAbsolutely. And what a fascinating and important case it is. So the case began in 2008 when Abigail Fisher and another woman were denied admission to the University of Texas. They had both failed to graduate in the top 10 percent of their graduating class, which is one criteria that Texas uses to guarantee automatic admission, but they also weren't admitted under a supplemental program that takes race into account as part of a holistic review in deciding whether or not to admit people.
MR. JEFFREY ROSENSo they said this violated the equal protection clause and the U.S. Court of Appeals in Texas disagreed. It cited two important Supreme Court holdings. The Bakke case from 1978 and the Grutter case from 2003 which said that achieving classroom diversity is a compelling interest and this program was designed to achieve that. It then went up to the Supreme Court and in 2013, the Supreme Court sent it back to the lower courts and said you got to take a closer look about whether this supplemental program actually does achieve the goal of classroom diversity.
MR. JEFFREY ROSENSo before the court today is this incredibly important series of questions. Will this series of cases that held that classroom diversity is a compelling interest be overturned or not? And what is classroom diversity? Is it okay just to guarantee a certain number of African American students at the top 10 percent plan does or is it okay for the university to say, no, we also want African American students from majority white schools, not just from a majority black schools.
MR. JEFFREY ROSENSo all of it is on the table and the future of affirmative action could be at stake.
ROSSLawyers on both sides focusing their arguments on Justice Anthony Kennedy as is often the case. He holds the crucial swing vote in this case. As we look a prior cases, can we read the tea leaves just a bit to see how Justice Kennedy might interpret the arguments both for and against?
ROSENJustice Kennedy has never voted for an affirmative action program. At the same time, he has not joined those four justices who seem inclined to overturn the 2003 Grutter case, which he dissented from, and say diversity is not a compelling interest. But there's a very interesting backdrop to this case and Justice Kennedy as Adam Liptak noted in the New York Times last week, this is taking place against the backdrop of the topic of free speech on campus, which we'll be discussing later.
ROSENAnd some think that, for Justice Kennedy, if diversity in the classroom is the whole justification for affirmative action and if there are now calls to shut down speech in the name of diversity, that might lead him to reconsider the whole notion of classroom diversity as a compelling interest. Nevertheless, so far, he's come to the edge, but stopped short of actually overturning Grutter and Bakke and it would be easy for him to find a narrow way of ruling in this case saying, this is such an unusual plan, marrying the top 10 percent admissions to this holistic admissions that I'm going to strike down this particular plan without actually overturning all of affirmative action.
ROSSCraig Steven Wilder, professor of American history at MIT and author of "Ebony And Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America's Universities," certainly the justices can't be unaware of the protests on dozens of colleges -- college campuses around the country, racial unease and students of color saying that they don't feel welcome, they don't feel safe. What about that aspect of this?
MR. CRAIG STEVEN WILDERI think the protests that are happening on campus are important backdrop to what's happening in the court today, but I would actually make it more than a backdrop. First, I don't think it's students of color and particularly African American students, who are protesting. Students are protesting, generally, across the United States today on college campuses. They are protests of everything from mass incarceration and the investment of university endowments in private prisons.
MR. CRAIG STEVEN WILDERThey're protests of Reddit, MIT right now -- I was at the provost's office yesterday. There's a sit-in right outside the president's office of students demanding action on climate change. We had large populations over the last few years of extraordinarily courageous students who are undocumented immigrants coming forward to protest their treatment on campus and to defend their right to make claims upon the American dream.
MR. CRAIG STEVEN WILDERWhite students have been participating in very large numbers in the protests of the racial climates on campus in support of students of color. And so I think these protests are actually more diverse than we pretend and I think that the -- and therefore, what the court should be looking at is the students are reminding us of the extraordinary amount of work that we still have to do to achieve a just and equal society and the role that universities and colleges play in that endeavor.
ROSSJody, how connected, if at all, would you say these protests are to the Black Lives Matter movement? As Craig points out, these protests are widespread and they involve students across the country at more than 100 campuses, students from all backgrounds are speaking out.
MS. JODY ALLENWell, I think the Black Lives Matter movement has been -- really has gotten a lot of this started. I think the idea -- when things get so bad and students, people in general, have decided enough is enough and I have to fight back. And so they're taking to the streets. They are sitting in. So they're waking up, I think, and deciding that something's got to change, you know, and we must be a part of it. And I don't -- I think that this is, you know, there's certainly many, many examples in history, you know, where students have come to the front to -- and that's what college is about, right?
MS. JODY ALLENYou come, you learn, you are exposed to different people, different ideas and so when you see what's wrong, you speak out and I think that's what's happening.
ROSSMichael Poliakoff, there have been student demands at campuses nationwide leading to a number of changes, beginning with the president of the University of Missouri and chancellor stepping down. There have been other resignations. There have been calls for monuments to come down or for names to be changed because historical figures have had ties to slavery. And we'll get into some of those specifics throughout the show.
ROSSWhen you look at this movement taking place all over the country, what would you say administrators are doing right in response to the protest and where do you think they, perhaps, have fallen short?
MR. MICHAEL POLIAKOFFIf I may, let me start with what they're doing wrong, which is not to articulate the crucial part that free speech, free expression, free thought has to play on the college campus as preparation for being part of a pluralistic society. For too long, they have winked at dis-invitations. One case in point, George Will invited to be a participant in a program supposed to have more intellectual diversity and is dis-invited because the students would feel presumably traumatized. This is a very bad signal.
MR. MICHAEL POLIAKOFFThe cultivation of reporting systems for micro aggressions trigger warnings, these are things that are affronts to academic freedom and are ill-serving the crucial need for the campus to be a place where people can air very different opinions. There's no doubt that racism is a cancer in our society. Where better to air this than in a -- let me us that term -- safe space for free expression and provocative ideas.
ROSSJeffrey Rosen, given this backdrop, the court's ruling, do you foresee a sweeping a ruling, a more narrow ruling perhaps?
ROSENGenerally, the affirmative action rulings have been not sweeping, not narrow, like Goldilocks, somewhere in between. The court has been steadily restricting the scope of affirmative action, but Justice Kennedy often writes a kind of concurrence which says I'm not gonna say never. But as my colleagues have said, taking place, as it does, against the backdrop of this remarkable explosion of debate on campus, it's possible that Justice Kennedy might say enough is enough.
ROSENWe know he dissented in the Grutter case. He was skeptical of diversity as a compelling interest. According to some accounts, he'd initially, you know, wanted to--he's overturned Grutter more recently, but was persuaded not to. So it's possible, just channeling the conservative justices, you can well imagine them thinking, you know what, the whole justification of affirmative action constitutionally was sold as a way of bringing white and African American students together to debate.
ROSENIf, in fact, the debate is being shut down, that justification falls away. We actually want to dramatically restrict affirmative action.
ROSSAnd coming up, more of our conversation on affirmative action and the Supreme Court's case as we look at debate and protest on college campuses. Stay with us.
ROSSWelcome back, I'm Melissa Ross, sitting in for Diane Rehm today. As the Supreme Court takes up an important affirmative action case, we're discussing debate and unrest on the nation's college campuses as we're joined by Craig Steven Wilder, professor of American history at MIT, Jody Allen, visiting assistant professor of history at the College of William and Mary, Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy with The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of The National Constitution Center and author of "The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America."
ROSSJody Allen, when we talk about specific instances that students around the country are protesting about, at William and Mary, give us a snapshot of what's going on on your campus.
ALLENOkay, well, there are a lot of the same problems at William and Mary that we're hearing about on other campuses, increase student diversity, in particular increased faculty diversity. We have -- you know, William and Mary is the second-oldest college in the country, and we have a lot of monuments and statues to people who had questionable pasts. And so there -- those questions are being raised at William and Mary also.
ALLENAnd so one of the things that we're in the process, though, of working on, we do have -- we have -- the president established a task force on race and race relations last spring. And so we are in the process of trying to deal with some of the issues that students and faculty and staff are having at the school.
ROSSCraig Steven Wilder, that's a dynamic that we see replicated at universities across the country. For example at Princeton, there's been a drive to erase the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, a former president. He supported segregation. And there are a number of other examples, complaints about monuments named after founders of universities that profited from slavery. That aspect of the universities' histories is particularly problematic.
WILDERIt is, and I think one of the things we need to think about is what free speech actually means. You know, when we diversify college campuses, when we invite, in fact, communities of students onto our campuses, do we invite them to be silent, or do we empower them to actually also project and to assert their vision of higher education, just like everyone else?
WILDERAnd I think that African-American students on our campuses have every right to question our celebrations of diversity. How do we celebrate diversity on a quadrangle that's framed by monuments to the slave trade, Native American massacres and lynching? Can we actually do that? I think, you know -- and I think it's perfectly reasonable, and it's consistent with free speech, for students to come forward and make real challenges to the -- both the architecture and the architectural geography of the campus and to project a vision of what they want to see and what they want from higher ed.
ROSSWhat's your reaction to the countervailing argument some alumni of these universities have put forth? For example at Amherst, students are protesting the legacy of Lord Jeffrey Amherst, pointing out that he attempted to spread smallpox to Native American tribes, that he was a reprehensible man and that he shouldn't be honored? Alumni are saying we should be honest about America's complicated history in terms of slavery and our treatment of Native Americans rather than erase it. What about that argument?
WILDERI spent a decade, you know, researching and writing about the relationship between Native Americans and African-American, and the old colonial colleges and the universities, and my response is actually that there is no single solution for universities that are confronted with these challenges. But what the students are asking us to do is not actually to tear down every monument.
WILDERThe students are actually inviting us into a conversation about what campuses are supposed to look like and what an integrated and sort of, you know, welcoming community, academic community, looks like, and it doesn't look like the campuses that we have today. So they do want changes.
POLIAKOFFI certainly agree with Professor Wilder's caution on this. The line from Shakespeare comes to my mind, the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones. And so let it be with just about everybody in history. And how we handle that on a case-by-case basis is going to be difficult. Harry Truman, a president that I much admire, had a term for people of my religion that's so offensive that I will not utter it, and his term for African-Americans was equally horrible.
POLIAKOFFI'm not suggesting that Truman State University change its name. And, you know, when we look at, say, Elihu Root at Hamilton, Nobel Peace Prize in 1912, kind of an imperialist, but I agree with Professor Wilder, let's have that conversation, but let's not rush to eradicate, to defenestrate these figures before we've really thought what is that slippery slope that we're standing on for people dead and living.
ALLENI just wanted to add, I agree with what's -- certainly with what's been said. I think that if we -- we can't do what's already been done, which has been to erase African-American, Native American, women's history from campuses, that we don't want to do what's already been done. We just have to do it again and do it correctly this time and include a wide range of people on our campuses.
ROSSSince students are leading the way in this conversation, we actually have one on the line, and we'd like to bring her into the conversation. She is Queen Adesuyi, a senior at Georgetown University majoring in American Studies. And after student protests, Georgetown recently announced it will rename two buildings named for school presidents who organized the sale of Jesuit-owned slaves to help pay off campus debt in the 1830s. Queen, welcome to the program. Thanks for being with us.
MS. QUEEN ADESUYIThank you for having me.
ROSSSo you were part of the group that made demands for, among other things, to have those buildings renamed on campus. Can you explain a little bit about the students' motivation there?
ADESUYISo we initially started with a demonstration in solidarity with other universities that were posing demands. Our demands came from the fact that we've been asking the university to change its name for a while now. It wasn't necessarily in motivation from what's been happening in other -- in other universities. We've -- we've been doing this for months, being that the buildings that were in question had just been re-opened this year.
ADESUYISo it hasn't been an issue in terms of living around a building named after slave -- people who sold slaves, but since August, since they re-opened the buildings, since we found out the name and the history of it, we've been calling for that name to be changed, and the university has been giving us the run-around. And this climate, this climate that we have in our nation has been helpful in terms of pushing our university to make changes.
ROSSAnd how gratified are you that Georgetown is agreeing to change the name, the impetus being that Georgetown profited off the sale of slaves? The university is very rude. Its prosperity came about originally from the sale of slaves.
ADESUYIRight, but the fact that the building was re-opened without a name change and a highlighting of that history is, like -- it hurts because the university kind of just re-opened this building, told us about the history but then didn't acknowledge the fact that we should change the name because acknowledging the fact that having a building named after someone is glorifying them, you don't just name buildings after people for no reason, and having black students live in a building where a man, you know, did something like that, it wasn't just the selling of them, they were -- their families were broken up, and they also were sold into different -- way different conditions, which led to, like, earlier deaths for a lot of them.
ADESUYISo the fact that they changed the name after being pushed so hard isn't necessarily the greatest thing. It would've been amazing to have our president change the name from the very beginning in that idea, in that context, just to show that he is aware of this. You shouldn't have to be pushed for this.
ROSSAnd the dormitory will be changed from its original name of Mulledy Hall to Freedom Hall, at least for now. So how do you see the movement on Georgetown's campus proceeding from here?
ADESUYIWe're regrouping right now. We had other demands on our list at the time, including similar things to other campuses. We wanted to have an African-American studies major, right now it's only currently a minor, same training for faculty, diversity in terms of faculty, some kind of reparations for the slaves that were sold due to the -- to Mulledy and McSherry. So it's difficult being that students are really only here for four years, and a lot of times people leading the movement are seniors, and we're on our way to graduate, so we're regrouping and getting underclassmen and trying to figure out a way of instilling a timeline for our university because our university is really good at pacifying us and not necessarily taking the stance that we would like them to take.
ROSSQueen Adesuyi, she's a senior at Georgetown University. Thanks for joining the program.
ROSSCraig Steven Wilder, students remarkably all over the country are saying we won't be placated, we won't be pacified.
WILDERAnd I'm proud of them. You know, look, I think we tend to have a very sanitized view of diversity, that black and brown students are supposed to come to campus and be so appreciative that they'd never actually assert a legitimate right to shape the campuses that they're on and to demand educational experiences that satisfy them.
WILDERAnd this isn't new, and one of the things I want to caution against is the idea that just because students critique us all the time, students protest all the time, it's what they're supposed to do, and we shouldn't become super-sensitive when the students, when the critics become black and brown. This isn't a new phenomenon. Back in the 1970s, when we brought Native American students to campuses like Dartmouth, where I taught for several years, one of the immediate demands of the Native students was in fact that we remove extraordinarily offensive, racist, sexist imagery that adorned the dining hall Thayer Hall, right in the center of the campus.
WILDERYou know, there was a similar movement at the University of Vermont, which had as one of its annual, major annual, its major annual event a blackface minstrel show right into the 1970s. A lot of those -- it was diversity that brought about those changes. It was students coming to campus and actually organizing and protesting, and I think that's what free speech looks like.
ROSSMichael Poliakoff, free speech can also involve pushback. Recently the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University Everett Piper posted on that university's website chiding students not just at his own school but all over the country. He calls them self-absorbed and narcissistic. He says the university setting isn't meant to be a safe place, many students are saying they want their university to be a safe space, but rather a place to learn that life isn't about you.
ROSSHis post is titled, "This Not a Daycare, It's a University," and Dr. Piper says what we're seeing in the culture today is the end result of a politically correct agenda that has bred what I will call ideological fascism rather than intellectual freedom. Your thoughts?
POLIAKOFFWe certainly do have a polarized discussion going on on campus. I do certainly want to reiterate what Professor Wilder said, that the protest, the critique, is part of what higher education has to do, and that indeed is what C. Vann Woodward had argued in 1975, that this is the place where we have those kinds of provocative discussions.
POLIAKOFFI'm much more worried by the pushback that's trying to shut down the response and the debate. Since we're talking about SCOTUS, it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who told us that it's not freedom of thought for the thought that we like but for the thought that we hate. And presidents are absolutely right when they say, and trustees ought to be getting into this conversation, there needs to be leadership, that you will have to engage.
ROSSAnd I'm Melissa Ross, host of First Coast Connect, WJCT Public Broadcasting in Jacksonville, Florida, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. If you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Lots of calls from listeners. Let's take one from Richard in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Richard, good morning. Thanks for being with us.
RICHARD(unintelligible) affirmative action. Let's tell the Roberts court what it really is. It's a right-wing, racist court. He proved that when they gutted the Voting Rights Act, and when Roberts was in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration, he didn't even like the Voting Rights Act back then, and so he proved what -- and he's got his comeuppance, but -- so as far as I'm concerned, you know -- actually the law was just dried on the paper, and all these Republican governors and Republican legislatures were gutting and trying to restrict voting in all these states. So that's just the way I feel.
ROSSRichard, thanks for the call. Jeffrey Rosen?
ROSENYou know, the National Constitution Center had a wonderful constitutional debate on Fisher the other night with Intelligence Squared, which you can find online, and we insisted on that debate that there's a difference between the constitutional and the political arguments. So the -- it's possible to believe in good faith that the Constitution is colorblind and absolutely forbids any racial classifications and still think affirmative action is a good idea. Conversely, it's possible to think that the framers of the 14th Amendment only intended to prohibit racial classifications that were stigmatizing or degrading or that confined African-Americans to an inferior status and to think affirmative action is a bad idea.
ROSENSo that debate convinced me that it -- I wouldn't view the Supreme Court case in purely political terms. It's true that the conservative justices, as the caller said, have opposed affirmative action on a policy ground, but there is a difference between saying that the Constitution is colorblind and saying that affirmative action is a bad idea.
ROSSTo Ken in Raleigh, North Carolina. Ken, go ahead quickly with your comment.
KENYeah, I noticed that Harvard and UNC are both being sued for their diversity policy. The allegation is that it discriminates against Asian-Americans and holds them to a standard in admission policies. What's your thoughts on that?
ROSSLet's go to you, Craig?
WILDERI think that there are a couple of things here. One is that the -- having a spent a lot of time on the faculty end of college admissions, one of the things we're talking about are actually -- and I think we need to understand this to understand the debate and the protests that are happening on campus. These are all extraordinarily talented students. You know, the students who we're admitting to MIT, MIT isn't doing anyone a favor when we admit a student.
WILDERThose students, we need those students. Those students actually, no matter what their background is, their racial and ethnic backgrounds, those students actually help us maintain our elite status. They're being admitted, in fact, to wide range of colleges and universities. If they're getting into MIT, they're getting into lots of schools. And so one of the things that we need to understand is that actually that that diversity is not just an aim, diversity is actually a benefit to the universities, which is more than just cosmetic.
ROSSAnd coming up, more of your calls and questions. Please stay with us.
ROSSWelcome back, I'm Melissa Ross, host of First Coast Connect, WJCT Public Broadcasting in Jacksonville, Florida, sitting in for Diane Rehm today. She'll be back next week. And as we discuss the Supreme Court taking up a landmark affirmative action case today and debate and unrest on the nation's college campuses, we're joined by Craig Steven Wilder, professor of American history at MIT and author of "Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America's Universities," Jody Allen, visiting assistant professor of history at College of William and Mary, Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of The National Constitution Center and ; author of "The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America."
ROSSAnd as this discussion of diversity continues on campus, Michael Poliakoff, we take it up now with you.
POLIAKOFFApropos that last question about the barriers that Asian students may face, let me first disclose, I'm the father of two Asian daughters, one from China and one from Vietnam, both very bright and one who is applying to college right now. So I have both a personal and a policy issue.
POLIAKOFFThe New York Times reported some years ago of a graduate admissions discussion in which one of the professors said we already have enough of them, referring to Asian students, and another agreed. And this made its way into the Times. The Economist very recently reported that it -- there seems to be an understanding that Asian students need to be 150 points higher on their board scores to get into the most selective universities.
POLIAKOFFSomething's gone very wrong if Asian students are facing a higher hurdle than other students, and I would like to make sure that we keep that on the table, that we need to have a system in which all students who work hard and earn admission realize that they're on a level playing field.
ROSSCraig Steven Wilder.
WILDERI wanted to come back to that question, too, because I think it's a matter of really thinking about college admissions more broadly, and I think part of the challenge is a lot of this conversation actually depends upon a kind of 1960s, 1970s framework for understanding diversity at colleges and universities. At MIT, for instance, white students are not a majority of the undergraduate population. In fact we have no majority population in that undergraduate population.
WILDERAnd so everything in admissions, legacies, the general admissions process, the admissions that actually relate to athletics, all actually need to be on the table. And my concern is that we often in fact present the college admissions struggle as one in which there's a zero-sum game between students of color but not in fact a game where we actually put in all the chips and think about admissions generally and what the interest and aims of the university are.
ROSSHere's an email from Trudy. Are we going to rename the Jefferson Memorial next? I am in favor of free speech, diversity, outreach and affirmative action, but we must accept that people are a product of their times. What about that, Jody Allen?
ALLENI have a -- I have a concern with the idea that people are a product of their time. I think they are, but I also know that there were people in Jefferson's time who chose to do things differently than he did. What made him -- you know, what makes him special? And so -- I'm not suggesting that we change the name of the Jefferson Memorial. I think we do need to have, though, an open and honest discussion that, you know, for so long we've only thought of Jefferson as this, you know, great man and not any of the shadows of his past.
ALLENAnd still even today, people resent if you say -- if you mention something about Jefferson being a slaveholder or being the father of black children, being -- you know, being a slaveholder. And so I think we need to understand all of Mr. Jefferson and challenge that. But again, you know, it's -- this idea of him being a man of his time doesn't fully wash.
ROSSAnd whether it's Jefferson or another founding father or another university president, Craig, from centuries ago, the students are leading on the campus to rename monuments, to change a number of issues. But as we discuss this, dismantling centuries of structural and institutional racism is a pretty big nut to get your arms around, isn't it?
WILDERAbsolutely, and I think, you know, the problem is we tend to wave the flag of tradition when certain groups of people protest, right. Everything becomes a tradition, and we use that to sort of dismiss their protests. The reality is that on college campuses -- no one's -- I haven't heard any students call for the renaming of the Jefferson Monument, so I'll stick to the college campuses. On college campuses, we didn't get a lot of these buildings innocently.
WILDERA lot of colleges and universities actually intentionally sought out and used the names of people who they knew to be slaveholders, who they knew to actually have connections to slavery to project an image and a narrative about the nation that they wanted, that they sought to project. And so for instance, you know, if we think about the 1930s, a period of extraordinary racial anxiety for white Americans, economic and political anxiety, it's in that time period, it's in that very moment, that a lot of these sort of really quite racist monuments and building names came into being.
WILDERThat's not innocent. We actually -- you know, that's something that we chose to do on purpose. And so there are different kinds of naming challenges on campuses. There are some that -- you know, I haven't heard anyone call for the changing of the name of George Washington University. But when you start thinking about, you know, a building named after a violent segregationist at a time when white Americans were actually defending their right to lynch people, that is absolutely on the table, and students, white black and brown, have every right to protest that and to demand that they not be held hostage to the prior racial decisions of earlier generations of students, alumni, faculty and administrators.
ROSSAlexander Young tweets the show, I feel that changing these historical labels doesn't progress relations in society as much as we think. Michael Poliakoff?
POLIAKOFFI'll go back to what I said before, which is simply caution, and I think we all do agree with that. Now I have to quote James Joyce, history is a nightmare from which I'm trying to escape. We don't escape it by running from it. We escape it by engaging it. And yes, Professor Allen's quite right, there were people in our founding who had better vision, and we do need to celebrate those people, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and so forth.
POLIAKOFFI want to add just one point, though, about the balance of what's happening on college campuses. Emory students have now demanded that student evaluations critique their professors on their various list of sensitivities. This is -- seems rather unwholesome to be introducing the idea that faculty have to have a particular viewpoint on various issues of ideology and politics to be acceptable. And the whole idea of a reporting system for micro aggression seems to be itself a rather aggressive way of shutting down diversity of opinion.
ROSENIt is interesting that we are seeing a clash between the constitutional debates over affirmative action and free speech, and although it's certainly true that a university has the right if it choose to rename its buildings, it's also true that much of the speech that students are objecting to as micro aggressions would be protected under the First Amendment. When the University of Oklahoma President David Boren expelled two students who led a racist chant, the liberal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky said that expulsion violated their First Amendment rights. It's not a close question. If the students choose to sue, they'll win.
ROSENEssentially, according to the Supreme Court, hate speech is protected, although it's true that direct threats and persistent harassment are not, and schools like the University of Chicago have adopted statements saying that teaching students to try to take shortcuts to victories on their issues through censorship is deceptive. So it really is interesting. The two questions we're discussing at some point may converge before the Supreme Court, and as increasing calls to forbid micro aggressions, especially at public universities, become more acute, the Supreme Court may be asked to have a First Amendment case that is the New York Times versus Sullivan of the trigger-warning age and decide exactly how much hate speech the First Amendment protects.
ROSSLet's go now to Jordan in Brighton, Michigan. Jordan, good morning.
JORDANHello, thank you. I just wanted to point out the irony of the group of people, the Supreme Court, whose new members are often chosen based on what diversity they'll bring to the court, and we view that as a benefit. We recognize that, you know, that having a more diverse Supreme Court is a benefit (unintelligible) society, and now there's a certain irony that they may choose to prevent other groups, other colleges and such, from also trying to take into consideration diversity as a benefit. Thank you.
ROSSWhat about that, Jeffrey Rosen?
ROSENWell, there are excellent and strong arguments on both sides of that question on the court itself. On the one hand, Justice Clarence Thomas says I find it offensive that everyone will expect me to support affirmative action because I'm African-American. In fact, I'm stigmatized by it, and other African-Americans are. And that itself is a constitutional injury that relegates us to an inferior status, and that's why affirmative action should be banned.
ROSENOn the other hand, Justice Sonia Sotomayor says with equal eloquence, I am a product of affirmative action, I'm proud of it, I benefitted from it, and it was the very purpose of the 14th Amendment to give other people a leg up, as I had, and to allow all institutions to support society. So that's what makes this such a hard and important case. There are strong, competing visions of what the constitution means on both sides, and eventually five justices are going to decide which one wins.
ROSSAnd in today's Wall Street Journal, the president of the University of Texas, Gregory Fenves, has an op-ed arguing for diversity, saying that the core argument of this case, Craig Steven Wilder, is that the university and the nation as a whole benefits when we educate future leaders in an environment rich in the very diversity that makes this nation great. He says, experience shows what will happen if the Supreme Court rules against us. Student diversity will plummet, especially among African-Americans.
ROSSThat happened at Texas after we were barred by a lower court in another case from considering race in admissions from 1998 to 2004, and it has happened in California and Michigan after those states barred the consideration of race in admissions. And so although our discussion today is a wider one than just affirmative action, what's your reaction to his comments?
WILDERI mean, I generally agree with the comments. You know, I'm also, like Justice Sotomayor but in a much more modest sense, a proud product of affirmative action programs. I see no stigma to that at all. But I also think that affirmative action is not the only instrument that we have for achieving a diverse and just society. And one of the challenge I want to make is -- challenges I want to make is to universities and colleges to live up to that challenge, to live up to the very principles that we're founded on, to educate the broadest population that we can as well as we can.
WILDERAnd that means that we really have to get creative and not simply rely upon the decisions -- waiting for decisions of courts to come down. There's a lot of good work we can be doing if we put ourselves to that work.
ROSSI'm Melissa Ross, sitting in for Diane Rehm, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Jody Allen with the College of William and Mary, how can universities get creative, as Craig says, about this process?
ALLENWell, I think there needs to be a genuine concern and an understanding of what diversity is and that you can't -- I think what's been happening is that you bring in a diverse, maybe, student population, but then you don't provide any kind of opportunities for coursework that will teach them about their own cultures, teach others about their cultures. I think diversity is fine, as long as you come onto a campus and accept what's there.
ALLENAnd that's not what diversity is. The true diversity will embrace those students, the cultures, their ideas, their interests and their differences. And I think there are lots of very, very smart people on college campuses, and if they would put their heads, you know, together and figure out, okay, these are the people we want to bring in, this is a way that we can do it, and once they get here, we want them to feel comfortable and as if this is a place for them, that we really want them here.
POLIAKOFFI would certainly strongly go along with the idea of diversity in its broadest sense, particularly the diversity of the intellect because that is, after all, what the Supreme Court since the Bakke case was after, and it is indeed what an academy is about, students of different religious backgrounds. I've certainly seen campus climate surveys that tell us that often strongly religious students don't feel welcome, they don't have a story to share.
POLIAKOFFAnd so yes, we bring in students of all different ethnicities, races, religions, ideologies, and we have faculty that are going to be able to bring out that wonderful range of opinions, but it's that -- that is not happening the way it should. There has been a real failure of campus leadership. When Erika Christakis is allowed quietly to resign without the Yale leadership saying something's gone terribly wrong, then...
ROSSThe professor who sent an email about Halloween costumes, yes.
POLIAKOFFYes, she and her husband were not supported the way they should have been, as proponents of free exchange.
ROSENYou know, this question of what diversity means is going to be central to the Fisher case, and it's interesting that in the early incarnations of the case, the University of Texas described its interest as being (unintelligible) and classroom diversity, in other words ensuring that every classroom had a proportion of African-American and white and other students that mirrored the population of the state as a whole.
ROSENBut in the latest incarnation, it shifted to intra-racial diversity, the idea that they are already getting socioeconomically disadvantaged African-American students from their 10 percent plan, and they now want the ability to get more advantaged African-American students from majority-white schools because that contributes to intellectual diversity, and the Supreme Court is going to have to confront head-on what did Justice Powell mean in the Bakke case, what did Justice O'Connor mean in the Grutter case when she said that intellectual diversity was a value. And they're also going to have to confront what it means on the ground at a time when we have so much polarization on campus.
ROSSCraig Steven Wilder?
WILDERI think that these are, you know, big challenges for us, but the key thing for me in this debate is that colleges and universities play a special role in the United States, and one of our obligations is to educate the population broadly. And when we do our very best work, that means actually rather than thinking of ourselves as institutions who, for instance the elite universities, which simply grow their endowments, we need to begin challenging ourselves to face the sort of fundamental questions that challenge our society. Diversity is one of them. It's not the only one.
WILDERThere are questions of -- other questions of social justice and economic justice, the affordability of college. I want us, in fact, actually engaging all of that. For the case that the court is deciding today, you know, I think there's a right answer to this case. You know, I don't hide that at all. But I also think no matter what the Supreme Court decides, the fight for a just society doesn't end today.
ROSSIt's been a fascinating discussion, and we thank you for doing it with us. We were joined by Craig Steven Wilder, professor of American history with MIT, Jody Allen, visiting assistant professor of history at the College of William and Mary, Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at The American Council of Trustees and Alumni and Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of The National Constitution Center. I'm Melissa Ross, host of First Coast Connect at WJCT Public Broadcasting in Jacksonville, Florida, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
Most Recent Shows
AT&T’s bid to acquire Time Warner: Join us to talk about what the proposed merger of the country’s second-largest wireless carrier and a major content company could mean for consumers and the future of U.S. media and telecommunications.
After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies were forced to work together in completely new ways. A veteran national security reporter on how America has tried to adapt to a new era of warfare.
Early voting is underway in states across the country. Just over two weeks before the presidential election, a look at the latest polls, the electoral map and end-of-the-line strategies for both campaigns.