In Praise of Whistleblowers

Where bigotry is concerned, faculty can and must police each other.

What is racism’s limiting principle? At times, the answer has to do with practicalities: Xi Jinping would presumably enslave every last Uyghur if geopolitical and administrative circumstances allowed it. Or perhaps religion gets involved: One shudders to think, for instance, how the internment of Japanese Americans might have unfolded had not the nation’s residual Christianity stayed certain hands.

In most places, thank God, there are not only pragmatic and religious limits on bigotry but social ones, as well. Yes, we humans egg each other on to evil, but we also keep one another in check, perhaps especially where public morality is concerned. Hence the irreplaceability of the dissenter, the snitch, or the scold. If such a person allows himself to be silenced, an ideologically homogeneous community has no one to draw it back from the brink.

If dissenters allow themselves to be silenced, an ideologically homogeneous community has no one to draw it back from the brink.Consider, for example, an internal report obtained by the National Association of Scholars earlier this fall, detailing appalling racism at the University of Washington. When, during the ’22-’23 hiring season, a psychology-department search committee attempted to fill an open faculty position, it ranked three finalists without regard for race. Subsequently, however, that ranking was condemned by a subsidiary departmental body known as the Diversity Advisory Committee. Having placed a white candidate above two applicants “of color,” the search committee had necessarily violated the logic of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and could not be allowed to proceed. Though some psychology faculty seem to have offered token resistance, the search committee ultimately gave in and re-ordered the applicants such that a black candidate took the lead.

Having worked in and written about higher ed for nearly two decades, I can affirm that this story is entirely unsurprising. Moreover, I doubt that it would have made national news were it not for two unusual factors. First, Washington’s psychology department put in writing a set of discriminatory search criteria so outlandish that one gasps upon reading them. Second, a (heroic) dean saw what was happening, called foul, and asked a university-oversight office to step in.

Though City Journal considered the first of these points in a must-read piece last week, it is worth repeating some of the lowlights. Hiring committees, the faculty-search handbook in question states, should

  • “deconstruct how evaluating candidates based on certain characteristics (e.g., productivity, verbal fluency under pressure, charisma, likeability, [or] visionary leadership) may advantage privileged groups over underrepresented groups”;
  • ask themselves, “On which criteria did White candidates, male candidates, etc. tend to receive higher scores [during past searches]?,” then alter or eliminate those criteria;
  • note that “rewarding spontaneous verbal participation”—i.e., the ability to converse fluently in a professional setting—“could advantage White American candidates”;
  • “visualize your ideal candidates and work backwards from there to word your advertisement.”

These directions are racist, full stop. Like the Smithsonian’s infamous declaration that “hard work” belongs to white culture, they offend by assuming that minority job-seekers will never meet objective, race-blind standards. And this is before one even gets to the handbook’s bigotry against whites, whom the psychology department seems to have been monomaniacally desperate not to hire. If this is how faculty search committees are proceeding, they should be disbanded immediately and the earth salted beneath them. Indeed, UW Psychology has been suspended from tenure-track hiring for the next two years while the university sorts things out.

Nothing can replace a campus voice willing to say that “progressive” racism is wrong.The written handbook from which I’ve quoted rendered UW Psychology’s malfeasance both discoverable and undeniable, two characteristics that have placed and kept it in the news. One wonders, though, if the department’s racism would have gone unchallenged were it not for the actions of College of Arts and Sciences dean Dianne Harris, whom even left-leaning Inside Higher Ed now lauds as a “whistleblower.” According to UW’s internal report, Harris asked the university to review “possible issues concerning the hiring processes employed in the Department of Psychology.” By explicitly warning that “the personal racial identities of the candidates” may have played a role in the selection process, Harris went against not only the spirit of the times on campus but the professional path of least resistance. To say that she acted courageously is to understate the matter by orders of magnitude.

And now something relatively similar is happening at Chapel Hill, a thought that should cheer all Tar Heels who care about honor and honesty. Following a deeply troubling campus roundtable, in which Hamas terrorists were openly celebrated, UNC faculty have begun signing a letter condemning antisemitism and demanding “respectful engagement with challenging topics.” (Importantly, the faculty in question are not calling for new restrictions on speech.) There is safety in numbers, of course, but to put one’s name on such a document is nevertheless an act of bravery. So is anything that puts a college professor on the side of Republicans rather than the “Squad,” Jews rather than their murderers, and truth rather than propaganda.

There is much in this country for education reformers to do. Public officials have a unique role in holding universities to account. But nothing can replace the voice (or voices) on campus willing to say, of “progressive” racism, This is wrong. Such men and women deserve our thanks.

Graham Hillard is editor at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.