The public is by now well acquainted with the threnody of Claudine Gay, the embattled former president of Harvard University. Since before Gay resigned in disgrace on January 2, her case has been the subject of a veritable cataract of commentary. The proximate cause of her departure was plagiarism. (We say “departure,” but Gay only left the presidency, not Harvard. She maintains her tenured professorship and a salary of almost $900,000.) The university at first dismissed the charges of plagiarism with the brilliant, if mendacious, coinage “duplicative language.” There’s nothing to see here, move along. Just a few missing quotations marks: that was the gambit. Harvard even sicced its lawyers—the firm that had recently extracted more than $700 million from Fox News—on the New York Post when its reporters began sniffing around the story. The lawyers said the charges were “demonstrably false” and threatened extensive damages. That had a temporary chilling effect. But the terriers of the press had been unleashed, and soon enough some fifty instances of “duplicative language” in Gay’s exiguous oeuvre were uncovered. There were also, according to the commentator Christopher Brunet, possible instances of data falsification. Shakespeare’s Autolycus, that “snapper-up of unconsidered trifles,” would have been impressed.
We doubt that the tort of plagiarism would have gotten much traction had it not been for Gay’s appalling performance, along with those by the presidents of mit and the University of Pennsylvania, before the House Education Committee in December. Following the savage October 7 attacks on Israel by the Sunni Muslim terrorist group Hamas, pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel agitators took to the streets, and to the campuses of elite universities. At Harvard, some thirty student organizations signed a “joint statement” by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee condemning Israel and supporting Hamas. The virulence of the protests and demonstrations ratcheted up after Israel mobilized to defend itself and eliminate terrorists from Gaza. Jewish students were harassed. Protestors chanted “Death to Israel,” “Gas the Jews,” and “Hitler was right.”
Asked by Representative Elise Stefanik whether calling for the genocide of Jews would contravene their institutions’ rules of conduct, all three presidents temporized and said that would depend on the “context.”
“Context.” Clearly, the three stooges had all been prepped by the same lawyers. “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [your university’s] code of conduct?” You would think, as Stefanik said, that this would be an very easy question to answer forthrightly in the affirmative. It tells us a lot that none did.
The public response was quick and brutal. The president of Penn, Liz Magill, was forced out within days, as was the chairman of Penn’s board. Meanwhile major donors across the country, appalled by the spectacle of anti-Jewish demonstrations by students and faculty, reacted with outrage, disgust, and a conspicuous snapping-shut of their checkbooks. The billionaire Leon Cooperman, for example, had given $50 million to Columbia, with more promised. He pulled his support. Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman had been a major donor to Harvard, his alma mater. When he learned about the angry pro-Palestinian demonstrations and harassment of Jewish students there, he went to Cambridge to see for himself. He has written about his experiences several times. In comments published in the immediate aftermath of Gay’s resignation, he touches on a key feature of the phenomenon.
Ackman is clearly a sophisticated man. But his reflections betray a touching naiveté. He has, he tells us, always regarded diversity as a virtue. And so he was inclined to accept that initiatives taken under the rubric of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” would actually foster the values of broad-mindedness, fairness, and equal opportunity. “The more I learned,” he laments, “the more concerned I became, and the more ignorant I realized I had been about dei, a powerful movement that has not only pervaded Harvard, but the educational system at large.” Indeed. And because, as he concludes, the dei movement is essentially a political-advocacy movement, its tentacles reach far beyond the educational establishment. Educational institutions are merely a convenient and effective port of entry—the American southern border of the mind—for the project of total societal transformation. The motto of the French Revolution was Liberté, égalité, fraternité. It was the dei of its day. But what it delivered was not liberty, equality, and fraternity, but conformity, aggressive rewriting of history, and terror.
Curiously, Gay herself touched on the deeper significance of her defenestration in the headline of a bitter, self-justificatory aria she published in The New York Times: “What Just Happened at Harvard Is Bigger Than Me.” Forget the shaky grammar. Gay is right that Harvard’s travails far transcend her fate as president.
She is completely wrong, however, in her explanation of why she was forced to resign. It had nothing to do with “racial animus,” as she said in her letter of resignation. Nor is it part of “a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society.” That faith has unraveled, all right, but not because of “demagogues” attempting to “weaponize” her presidency. Gay says that such efforts begin “with attacks on education and expertise, because these are the tools that best equip communities to see through propaganda.” At stake here, however, were not “education and expertise,” but a failure, a hollowing out, of both, precisely, and ironically, by their subordination to the partisan demands of propaganda.
Again Gay is right that “trusted institutions of all types—from public health agencies to news organizations” have seen their “legitimacy” and “their leaders’ credibility” challenged. But these institutions are not victims of “coordinated attempts” by nefarious “extreme voices.” On the contrary, the crisis of legitimacy is a self-inflicted wound, the natural by-product of the institutional embrace of the ideology of dei, for which values like truth, accuracy, and competence must be systematically subjugated to politics.
Bill Ackman seemed stunned by the real agenda of dei. It is much worse than he thinks. Claudine Gay, as everyone knows though not everyone will admit, is a dei personage. That is, she was hired, groomed, and promoted by Harvard not because of her scholarship, which would hardly qualify for tenure at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. It wasn’t for her fund-raising prowess or her educational vision that she was made president of the most prestigious university in the galaxy. It was because she was a black female whose parents were Haitian immigrants. True, her uncle owns the biggest concrete company on that unfortunate island and she went to school at Exeter. But the fact that Gay grew up in a bubble of wealth and privilege is but a small liability. She may have benefited from the free market. But she did not let that impinge upon her support for the entire smorgasbord of anti-capitalist, woke attitudes about race, gender, race, climate change, race, identity politics, and . . . race.
In other words, Gay was the right kind of black. She labored both as a dean and then as president to be what one commentator called “the enforcer-in-chief of wokist orthodoxy at Harvard.” As has been widely noted, as dean she buried complaints that one Harvard scholar, Ryan Enos, had falsified data in a study about public housing. Why? Because Enos had come to the right (i.e., the left-progressive) conclusions in his study.
At the same time, Gay went out of her way to destroy the career of the economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. because, though black, he published a study showing that there are “no racial differences” in the use of extreme force by police. When Fryer was implausibly accused of sexual harassment by an assistant whom he had fired, Gay asked Harvard’s then-president to revoke his tenure. That didn’t happen, but Gay helped engineer his suspension without pay for two years as well as the shuttering of his research lab.
The point is the dei agenda is an agenda with teeth. Its operation is naturally coercive. It is the latest name for that essentially Marxist—which means essentially totalitarian—project that Gramscians looked forward to when they spoke of the “long march through the institutions.” A critical part of that march is the subordination of everything to politics. Saul Alinsky, the “community organizer” who so inspired Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, summed it up in Rules for Radicals. “All life is partisan,” he wrote. “There is no dispassionate objectivity.” Whatever else can be said about that formula, it articulates a sentiment that is thoroughly antithetical to the aims of the university—and, indeed, to a free society.
Supporters of Claudine Gay cannot understand why such a fuss was made about her plagiarism. There were even articles charging that criticism of plagiarism was simply the latest weapon in the armory of conservative polemic. In 2020, when she was a dean at Harvard, Gay was devoted to promulgating “racial-justice initiatives” designed “to address racial and ethnic equality—including faculty appointments and the addition of an associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and belonging.” (A dean of “belonging”?) That was precisely the sort of thing that led Harvard’s governing board to conclude that she was the right person “to address the very serious societal issues we are facing.”
As James Hankins, a professor of history at Harvard, noted in The Wall Street Journal, “From such a perspective, academic honesty seems to matter less than having the right progressive values, and the refusal to disclose underlying data is permissible so long as conclusions support a preferred narrative.”
To the extent that it succeeds, the ideology of dei is fatal to the project of education as traditionally understood. dei is in fact a tool in the workshop of reeducation, also called “indoctrination.” Its purview is global. In the practice of medicine, dei is the goal of the moment. The Association of American Medical Colleges enthusiastically pushes programs to advance “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Medical Education.” “Don’t back down on diversity in medicine,” they cry. It is imperative, one doctor said, to “bolster the pool” of students from historically disadvantaged racial groups. The Journal of the American Medical Association runs articles on “Strategies and Best Practices to Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Among US Graduate Medical Education Programs.”
Then there is the airline industry. As Fox News has reported, the faa has been aggressively pushing diversity initiatives that include hiring people with “severe intellectual” and “psychiatric” disabilities because such people “are the most under-represented segment of the federal workforce.” Further, it was recently reported that, starting in 2022, Boeing began to reward executives not for maintaining safety or increasing profits but for meeting dei targets. We note that the Alaska Airlines plane whose door blew off in flight was a Boeing 737. Meanwhile, Scott Kirby, the ceo of United Airlines, has said that his goal is to have 50 percent of his company’s hires be “women or people of color.”
The culture that produced Claudine Gay has infiltrated every institution of our society. Patients will die needlessly, and planes will plummet from the skies, but cheer up: diversity quotas will have been met. dei is like Soviet Communism: it caused everything else to fail until, at length, there was nothing left to fail except Communism itself.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 42 Number 6, on page 1
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