The dust appears to be settling on the scandal at Harvard University that culminated in the resignation of the school’s president earlier this month. The back-and-forth recriminations between supporters and critics of Claudine Gay have run their course. Harvard’s trustees have appointed an interim president and launched a search for a new president. Many on campus are ready to move on.

But the episode is too important to set aside without considering how it fits in with other controversies that have beset prominent institutions in recent decades and, especially, what it means for the “diversity, equity, and inclusion” movement that has advanced rapidly in recent years through colleges across the nation. It appears from the Harvard controversy that the battle is now between the advocates of the diversity ideology and critics who hope to dismantle it at Harvard and elsewhere. That is shaping up to be a titanic battle, for a couple of important reasons.

First, the members of the Harvard Corporation appointed Ms. Gay in the first place because they saw her as a representative and exemplar of the diversity movement on campus. She is black; she is a woman; her parents were born abroad; and she embraces the required ideological doctrines. She could speak as a person held back by “white society,” who overcame obstacles to reach the pinnacle of American academic life (though she attended the fanciest schools in the country). She explicitly raised those themes in her inaugural address last September, pledging to lead Harvard on a crusade to cleanse the nation of its history of discrimination. “We embrace diversity,” she declared, “as an institutional imperative.” Leaders of the governing board said the same thing: her appointment was meant as a sign that Harvard wanted to address deep societal issues linked to race, gender, and immigration. Ms. Gay’s appointment thus had wide symbolic and political meaning: the DEI movement had won control over the nation’s most prominent university.

Critics have said that, in their zeal to appoint Ms. Gay, the members of the governing board failed to look closely at her research. They conducted only a brief candidate hunt (Harvard’s shortest in the post-war era) and passed over many highly qualified candidates in the process. A few outside critics cautioned against elevating Ms. Gay for reasons that became apparent later. Harvard ignored them; and so, those critics say, it is little surprise that the plagiarism charges were not investigated prior to her appointment. It was the plagiarism charge, not the bungled testimony before Congress, that ultimately led to her resignation.

Nevertheless, Ms. Gay possessed the required scholarly credentials (leaving aside the plagiarism) for the job, with a graduate degree from Harvard, a plausible record of publications, and promotions through the faculty ranks. In her defense, and Harvard’s, those credentials hold up reasonably well against those possessed by other college and university leaders across the country, most of whom abandoned research interests early in their careers in order to move up the administrative ladder. The time is long past when a distinguished scientist like James Bryant Conant or a legal scholar like Derek Bok might be elevated to Harvard’s presidency, or to the presidency of any other major institution. Other factors are more important today—in particular, fealty to the diversity ideology. It is no longer possible for college presidents to govern their institutions absent wholesale endorsement of the diversity enterprise. (Yes, it is an odd development that the university should have been taken over by diversity, but that is a subject for another occasion.)

That is one reason why Ms. Gay’s research credentials were judged by Harvard’s leaders as secondary in importance to her standing as a representative of the diversity regime. It should not take much to govern the university, they reasoned, with its $50 billion endowment, a pipeline to wealthy alumni and federal funding agencies, and a faculty that every scholar in the country would like to join. They were able for these reasons to elevate the ideological factor above other considerations in selecting a new president. By all accounts, Ms. Gay was a stern enforcer of diversity standards during her previous tenure as dean of Harvard’s faculty of arts and sciences. She monitored appointments and promotions, along with disciplinary situations, in a manner consistent with diversity principles, elevating those who agreed and elbowing aside those who did not. That was an important factor behind her appointment: the diversity groups on campus would not have otherwise supported her appointment as president.

Second, the governing board, by appointing Ms. Gay, sought to cement the alliance between Harvard and the Democratic Party, along with other institutions that are already firmly in that camp, including the federal bureaucracy, massive philanthropies, leading newspapers and television networks, and prominent national interest groups. Besides being a known Democrat and party donor, the chairman of the Harvard Corporation, Penny Pritzker, was the secretary of commerce in the Obama administration and is the sister of J. B. Pritzker, the Democratic governor of Illinois. Democrats are well-represented in the Harvard Corporation: several served as members of or advisors to recent Democratic administrations in Washington. One was, until recently, a Democratic member of California’s Supreme Court.

Members of the corporation do not list party affiliations, though it appears from their biographies that all or nearly all are affiliated with the Democratic Party. They elevated, in effect, one of their own when they appointed Ms. Gay: she represents the same diversity ideology that now governs the Democratic Party across the country and is expressed in its party platform. Harvard received loud salvos of approval from members of that coalition when the trustees announced her appointment. Barack Obama was apparently delighted to hear it, and disappointed in turn to learn of her resignation.

Ms. Gay’s appointment was thus a sign of the late-stage metastasis of the diversity ideology within the academic establishment and the takeover of Harvard and other institutions by the Democratic Party. The two institutions—the university and the party—are guided by a common ideology and are committed to promoting the same groups. The diversity groups recognized on campus are identical to the main constituent groups of the Democratic Party: African Americans, feminists, Hispanics, recent immigrants, sexually defined minorities, and others yet to be designated. Many colleges require job applicants to sign oaths pledging loyalty to the diversity regime and instruct professors to incorporate diversity themes into their courses and lectures. College presidents, if they are not members of the Democratic Party, invariably come into office pledging to enlarge the diversity regime, which further cements the party–academic alliance. College faculties are overwhelmingly Democratic and progressive in their affiliations. College campuses are now a “base” of the Democratic Party. Academic administrators, of whom there are now many, are typically hired today to advance one or another aspect of the diversity regime. One will find few conservatives in faculty or administrative posts because they oppose the diversity regime, and so cannot be hired.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the DEI movement, in large part thanks to its alliance with the Democratic Party, has locked up control over America’s leading universities. The enterprise is especially influential not only because DEI is the official doctrine of the university, but also because it leans on powerful external allies in the Democratic Party. For that reason, it was shocking that a few outside critics should have been able to topple Ms. Gay while dishing out an embarrassing lesson to Harvard’s establishment.

Nearly all of the major academic controversies of recent decades have involved confrontations between advocates of diversity and others who appeared on campus to question it or were charged with saying or doing something that violated the canons of the ideology. This is true of the debates over political correctness in the 1990s; the Duke University lacrosse episode; attempts to squelch lectures by Charles Murray, Heather Mac Donald, and other critics of the diversity movement when they have appeared on campus; the various “hate-speech” codes that have been adopted at many schools to silence critics of the regime; the recent mobbing of a lecture by a federal judge at Stanford’s law school due to intervention by a “diversity” administrator; and many other such episodes. These situations come up less often these days: critics of the diversity regime are no longer invited to campuses in the first place. There is the continuing problem that new students arrive on campus unversed in the ins and outs of the diversity ideology, and are thus prone to violate it in some way. In order to deal with this, administrators set up orientation sessions for new students designed to inculcate diversity principles into the thinking of fresh arrivals.

Ours is not the first country in which universities have fallen under control of political parties. The history of these kinds of relationships is far from benign. Nazi leaders in Germany targeted universities for control and used them to implement party policies and spread their malignant ideology. Many of these universities were among the finest in the world before the Nazis took over. Something similar happened in the Soviet Union, though there the universities were captured by Marxism–Leninism and the Communist Party. In neither country were speakers allowed to appear on university campuses to promote ideas in opposition to party dogmas. Authorities under those regimes did not appoint university heads on the basis of scholarly credentials but rather because of their loyalty to the party and its ideology. Everyone knows how those enterprises ended. Is it a good thing that American universities are controlled by the Democratic Party, and circulate its ideological dogmas? Obviously not—and for that reason universities and the diversity agenda will inevitably confront a political reckoning.

The Harvard scandal has brought out the diversity regime into the open where Americans can see it in full—and what they see is a quasi-totalitarian operation that promotes propaganda and thought control in place of open inquiry and robust debate. It is thus no surprise that conservatives and Republicans have finally decided to fight back against that regime by defunding DEI programs and bureaucracies in public universities in several states. A Republican president elected next year, possibly Donald Trump, could take the controversy into Congress and the executive departments that control higher education’s funding streams. This would pit the two parties against one another, with the American university system caught in the middle. That might turn into an edifying spectacle, and a potentially consequential one as well.

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