Speaking of “juvenile and malicious fury,” we were browsing the invaluable online aggregator Instapundit recently and came across a public-service bulletin filed under the rubric “Higher Education Apocalypse,” a frequent feature at that site. It turns out that the Art Institute of Chicago has decided to fire all 122 of its unpaid docents. Why? Because, being mostly middle-class white women, they are not sufficiently “diverse.”

Docents gave up to two one-hour tours a day for eighteen weeks of the year. Their average length of service was fifteen years.

Now, the Art Institute houses one of the finest collections in the country, indeed, in the world. In the breadth and depth of its holdings, it occupies a place in that top circle of institutions populated by the Metropolitan in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and only a tiny handful of other museums. Beyond that, it maintains (that is, it maintained) one of the most rigorous docent programs anywhere. The volunteers act as greeters and guides to the collection. Unlike docents at many museums, those at the Art Institute actually know (again, insert preterite here) what they are talking about. As the article linked by Instapundit notes, docents there underwent “two training sessions per week for eighteen months, and then [according to the docents] ‘five years of continual research and writing to meet the criteria of 13 museum content areas.’ . . . On top of that, there’s monthly and biweekly training on new exhibits.” Docents gave up to two one-hour tours a day for eighteen weeks of the year. Their average length of service was fifteen years. They did it because they love the art. Did we mention that they did it for free?

That’s all over now. In late September, the museum cashiered them all. “More than 1,200 years of work put in by the current docents,” we read, “and all that expertise: gone in an instant.” In recompense, the aic offered their former benefactors free two-year passes to the museum. Really, you can’t make it up. Going forward, the museum plans to hire a smaller group of docents that will skip the rigorous training and be paid $25 per hour. As the article dryly notes, the new docents “will surely meet the envisioned diversity goals.”

The question is, what goals will they fail to meet? We know the answer to that, although we are not supposed to say. They will fail spectacularly to meet the goal of effectively educating the public for which the museum ostensibly exists. The article, published at a website called “Why Evolution Is True,” asks some interesting questions: Does the Art Institute need to diversify? Is it an experiment in sociological consciousness-raising or an educational institution dedicated to the preservation and elucidation of works of art?

The writer of this article acknowledges that surely “some minority docents might have different points of view about art.” But he wonders “what the reaction would be if all the docents were black or Hispanic and they hired whites to get a ‘white point of view’?”—yet another question to which you know the answer. Moreover, the writer goes on to point out, the Art Institute did try to diversify their pool of docents but failed. Sure, “it would look better to have a diverse group of docents.” But they just could not find appropriate ones. We agree with the writer: replacing the long-serving, unpaid, and qualified docents with a paid group of people whose primary qualification is their skin color is not only insulting to everyone involved but is also “a bad move for the Museum’s reputation and especially for the education of those who go to the aic. There will have to be many fewer tours, and with a much less well-trained group of guides.”

Incidentally, Instapundit notes that this story came “courtesy of a reader who doesn’t use Facebook much, but decided to try and share this story—only to have sharing squashed.”

What is happening at the Art Institute of Chicago is only the tip of the education apocalypse iceberg, of course. In New York (to take just one other example), the outgoing mayor, Bill de Blasio, just announced that he is phasing out all school programs for gifted and talented students and replacing them with a new diversity program called “Brilliant nyc.” Yes, really. The trouble is, you see, that Asian and white students are “overrepresented” in the current programs. Or, to put it more accurately, there are not enough blacks and Hispanics in them. Hence, as The New York Times wrote, they are “a glaring symbol of segregation in New York City public schools.” The question is, as one critic of the initiative had it, “How is putting kids out of gifted and talented programs going to solve racial segregation?” It won’t. De Blasio’s ham-handed attack on quality reminds us that a critical part of the left-liberal agenda is punishing those who succeed.

De Blasio will be gone before his parting gift to the city can be implemented. It will be left to his successor—probably Eric Adams—to carry out the plan. Will he? He has said he is in favor of expanding such programs, not replacing them, but we will see. We’d say that you cannot make it up, but then you don’t have to. This surreal attack on merit is actually happening.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 40 Number 3, on page 2
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