OPINION: The Race Against “Racism” In Universities Has Gone Too Far

UCLA suspended Professor Gordon Klein last spring for refusing to give Black students free passes on the final exam to account for the trauma caused by the murder of George Floyd. The university made the decision to suspend Klein under duress after over 20,000 students signed petitions demanding his firing. In response, Professor Klein recently filed a lawsuit against UCLA. In another instance, geophysicist Dorian Abbot was barred from speaking at MIT to give a talk on climate change because he wrote an article in Newsweek criticizing affirmative action policies. The obvious lunacy of a student petition leading to Klein’s suspension and the fact that Abbot’s opinion on affirmative action has nothing to do with geophysics reveal how absurd and extreme the woke left can be. These and other examples prove that their blatant shutdown of all dissenters, disguised as a fight against racism, is a cancer that must be stopped.

For starters, the woke left has been responsible for more than just firings and cancellations. In some cases, their actions threaten peoples’ lives. According to an article Professor Gordon Klein wrote entitled “Why I am Suing UCLA,” he embraced Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for a colorblind future when he graded all students’ final exams not based on their identity but their performance. But looking at the aftermath, the 20,000 signatures were just the tip of the iceberg of backlash. In addition to his suspension from UCLA, Klein received death threats and was forced to accept police protection as a consequence.

Moreover, the incident dealt him a serious financial blow. According to Newsweek, “He was dropped from consulting jobs at law firms and other corporations and...his reputation was tarnished as a result.” Klein suffered this unfair treatment simply for trying to treat his students fairly.

Thankfully, Professor Dorian Abbot’s case at MIT was far less devastating, but still had a major impact on restricting free speech. Abbot expressed in his article that “[Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policy] violates the ethical and legal principle of equal treatment and treats persons as merely means to an end, giving primacy to a statistic over the individuality of a human being.” For this statement, MIT cancelled Abbot. He was barred from giving a talk on geophysics, which had nothing to do with race or affirmative action policies. That the woke left would take issue with him weighing in on one subject over his positions on something entirely unrelated speaks to the pervasive nature of their ideology. They want power over every sector of society, and they’re willing to do anything to get it.

This problem of seeing everything in terms of power is one of the major issues of the woke left’s worldview. Racism is still a problem in this country and we should take action to address it. However, not everything about America is racist, and simply holding power does not mean one should use it to cancel whatever one dislikes. Shutting down a geophysicist for his comments on affirmative action does nothing to combat racism; it is simply an immoderate exercise of power.

The woke left uses its immoderate exercise of power to promote “equity”, or equality of outcome. We must not destroy higher education as we know it to promote “equity”. In fact, the idea that equality of outcome must occur in every circumstance is dangerous. It is in fact, inherently Marxist. And, as congresswoman Liz Cheney put it, “A century of history has shown where [Marxism] leads.” In the hands of tyrants, Marxist regimes have led to the deaths of millions. Ideas have consequences, so Marxism remains dangerous, especially when Marxist ideas are openly embraced and opposition silenced.

Inequality of outcome is often used as an argument to make systemic racism appear far worse than it actually is. Admittedly such inequalities reveal some serious concerns, such as African-Americans being three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana convictions than Whites, despite nearly identical marijuana usage. However, most of the statistics do not clearly reveal present-day racism as a primary cause of such inequalities. Other factors, such as socioeconomic differences and historically racist policies such as Jim Crow laws, have contributed greatly to the inequality between Whites and African-Americans, but that does not prove that systems within the United States are inherently racist today.

Improving equality of opportunity would ensure that the legacy of Jim Crow does not hurt Black people today without hurting other people’s opportunities. Sadly, racial barriers do still exist in the United States. According to the Brookings Institute, “It is not that racial progress has not been made. It is that the United States has yet to make enough progress.” Nevertheless, the goal should always be equality of opportunity, rather than equity.

Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson puts the distinction succinctly: “Equity is a whole different ballgame [than equality]. It is predicated on the idea that the only certain measure of ‘equality’ is outcome, educational, social, and occupational.” He follows: “The inevitable consequence of encouraging that diversity and giving it free play in the world will thus be an exacerbation of inequality, rather than its elimination. If equity were the goal, then diversity would have to be done away with.” As Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is the popular catchphrase, it is quite ironic that two parts of the name contradict each other.

Ideas promoting equity over equality are embraced by a small yet very loud minority. In both Abbot’s and Klein’s cases, the cancel culture forces behind these unpopular ideas go to the extreme by suppressing legitimate and popular points of view. Even The Atlantic acknowledges that, “[Professor Abbot’s case] suggests that the scope of censorship is continuing to morph and expand.” Professor Abbot states clearly: “woke ideology is essentially totalitarian in nature: it attempts to corral the entirety of human existence into one narrow ideological viewpoint and to silence anyone who disagrees.”

Universities should be hubs of discussion of all ideas, both popular and unpopular. Looking at Claremont, there are concerning statistics in this regard. According to a Gallup Poll, “90% of students [at Pomona College] surveyed believe that the campus climate prevents them from saying something others might find offensive.” College Pulse’s Free Speech Rankings reveal that many universities fail to protect free speech. However, there is good news. For instance, in College Pulse’s rankings, Claremont McKenna College was ranked first out of all colleges in promoting free speech. As the first in the nation, CMC has an important role as a leader in protecting free speech and facilitating important discussions, race and beyond. The Claremont Colleges can fight the good fight in protecting intellectual diversity among universities. Only then can the complex issues regarding racism truly be understood and slowly but surely solved.

Race relations is and will continue to be a controversial topic, but only with free discussions a greater understanding can be truly achieved. The suspension of Gordon Klein and the shutdown of Dorian Abbot signify that the race against racism in universities has gone too far. Nevertheless, there is hope on the horizon, and colleges that embrace free expression will both gain a greater understanding of race relations and avert any extreme cancellations.