My Apologies to the Academics
You had your chance.
Last month I traveled to New York City where I was honored to receive the “Heroes of Intellectual Freedom Award” from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). This award recognizes my efforts to combat the harms of the destructive ideology that now runs rampant in the Smith College community. More importantly, it was the first time the award was given to a non-academic.
Although I was employed by an elite liberal arts institution, I was not (and am not) an academic. I was a staff member. My job was to ensure the physical well being of students, not their academic pursuits.
In recognizing a “regular” person like me, ACTA has formally recognized that the fight for intellectual freedom is not just for academics. And I personally believe what academics do at this point is of little consequence.
The reality is that this thing (some call it “social justice ideology,” some call it “critical theory,” and others call it “woke”) was created by academics. As such, there was a time, when it was still confined to the ivory tower, that academics could have pushed it back. And have been a brave few —like Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, and many of my fellow award recipients— who stood up and objected.
But it was not enough. And now the virus has escaped the lab.
This ideology has now gone on to infect every corner and every crack of our society. It is now attacking, in vicious earnestness, the load bearing pillars of our culture: Art, religion, sports, comedy, the workplace, and K-12 education. We find it in the most banal and seemingly non-political of spaces: the boy scouts, the shrink’s couch, the local library. It has even found its way into the most intimate spheres of life: our marriages, our children and even our bedrooms.
And academics may have a hard time hearing this, but I have to say it:
Higher education is not a load bearing pillar of our culture.
Academia is instead ––as my friend Jenny Holland would put it–– the cherry on top. Liberal arts institutions are the result of a culture that is functioning as it should, and our culture is not functioning as it should.
This also explains why I have little patience for discussions (no matter how astute or accurate) about Critical Race Theory (CRT). I am not interested in podcasts in which the esteemed and learned guest eloquently eviscerates Social Justice Ideology. I find no inspiration in esoteric essays that focus on the problem of “woke.”
These are academic exercises. They are not grounded in the practical world.
While many academics (and erudite journalists) are content to argue the merits (or lack thereof) of an idea, the rest of us are living in the real world. And we are not suffering from the spouting of a theory, we are suffering from the impact of the real life policies and practices this theory has inspired. I don’t care what someone thinks, I care what someone does.
I could care less what ideas Smith College administration espouses, no matter how illogical or wrong-headed they may seem to me.
What I care about is what happens when those ideas morph into real life outcomes.
I have eyes, man. I see what is happening. I see people forced to enact policies that require them to behave in a racist manner as a continued condition of their employment. I see people mandated to discuss their skin color in a proscribed, race-based manner as a continued condition of their employment. I see students and employees instructed to divide themselves into groups and committees according to skin color as a continued condition of their employment.
At Smith, I was told it was part of my job to “consider color” when working with students. When I asked what that means in practice and did not receive a clear answer, I was expected to do it none-the-less. I was denied an important work opportunity and told outright that it was because of my skin color. When I refused to engage in race-based discourse at a mandated work meeting, I was publicly humiliated in front of my colleagues, my polite refusal framed as a “power play,” and presented as evidence to support the claim that I was suffering from “white fragility.”
I also heard about the hiring committee that, when it tried but failed to hire a “person of color” for a tenure track position, was forced to attend an anti-bias training. I heard about a black staff member who, when admonished by a colleague for not doing his job, slapped his arm and said “See this? I got the color! Nobody gonna do nothing to me!” And I watched as a morally-bankrupt administration so starved for positive PR it chose to promote a false narrative over reality, forever altering the lives of several loyal, hard-working working class colleagues.
I see organizations —like Smith— so obsessed with policies intended to facilitate a feeling of “inclusion” that they create environments that are exclusive, hostile and hateful. During the pandemic, I watched, dumbfounded, as the Smith College administration placed large swaths of its employee population on unpaid furloughs whilst simultaneously pouring resources into new DEI initiatives. I saw an administration so obsessed with messaging aimed at achieving “racial justice” that the campus became a hotbed of racial hostility. And I saw staff so terrified of the very real possibility of becoming the target of racial accusations that they stopped talking to students altogether. It should come as no surprise to anyone that nurturing and supporting an environment like this hobbles anyone laboring in it. Smith’s behavior left many staff no choice but to abandon important aspects of their job, such as enforcing policies that exist to ensure student health and well being (“no, dear student, you cannot walk through the cafeteria barefoot”).
This is racial discrimination and hostility in practice, folks. And it is happening everywhere.
I have now heard from many men and women across the country who are suffering in similar environments. I look around and I see institutions so fixated on meeting “diversity” quotas that they are no longer able to fulfill their original mission statement. In the private sphere, I see families splitting, churches imploding, and children who come home from school to inform their parents that they are racist (or oppressed, depending on the parent’s skin color). Many of these parents are not in a position to remove their child from such schools, institutions they fund with their tax dollars and depend upon to educate their children.
How can anyone live, work or study in such an environment without suffering psychic damage? The answer is: they can't.
All the academic debate in the world won’t change that.
Dear academics, if you think your pontifications are somehow going to shift the tide our culture is now drowning in, you have been holed up in your ivy-encrusted offices too long. This idea, the one you created and taught to young impressionable students who entrusted themselves to your scholarly expertise has now morphed into a real life tidal wave, drowning everything in its wake.
Some of you are attempting to build new institutions, largely modeled on the same ones that created the problem in the first place. Please know, dear academics, you can build all the “non-woke” institutions in the world, but your efforts are for naught so long as the young men and women entering such institutions remain products of an ideologically deranged culture.
Higher education and “the life of the mind” mean nothing if the rest of our cultural anatomy is infected.
The truth is, academia died a long time ago. Its corpse cannot be revived so long as the rest of us remain bedridden with the terminal disease of “woke.”
If we do succeed in pushing back this tidal wave it will only happen via the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary men and women. People who stand up, at great personal and professional risk to themselves, and say “no.”
It will be because of parents like Gabrielle Clark and Andrew Gutmann, who stood up to these destructive policies at their children’s school. It will be because of teachers like Paul Rossi, Frank McCormick, and Stacy Deemar, who stood up and said “we will not teach the children entrusted to our care to scapegoat one another based on race.” It will be because of men like Brian Netzel of American Express, terminated from his job for being an older white male who dared to oppose Amex’s racially discriminatory and hostile policies, and women like Nicole Levitt of Women Against Abuse (WAA) who, when expected to participate in racially segregated “affinity groups” in her workplace, said “no thanks.”
Until We the People stand up and say “enough is enough,” we will continue our headlong plunge into the dark waters of woke, relegated to workplace environments that expect us to participate in morally and legally questionable behavior and make it impossible to do our jobs; schools that teach our children to deny the evidence of their own senses; and lives lived in increasingly disconnected communities marked not by love and care, but by division, suspicion and fear.
Thank you ACTA, for recognizing just how big this fight is. I sincerely hope more academics can shift their gaze beyond the campus wall and join us. For we are now fighting a war whose front has moved far beyond the academy gates and now threatens to take down an entire civilization.
Photo: A student studies in front of the Grecourt Gates and College Hall Courtesy of Smith College Campus Photography, Stock Imagery for Public Use
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