From Science Matters
By Ron Clutz
More unimaginable news reported by Tabia Lee at Compact: A Black DEI Director Canceled by DEI. Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images. Thanks to Tabia Lee for revealing how toxic this ideology and its adherents have become.
This month, I was fired from my position as faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Multicultural Education at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, Calif.—a position I had held for two years. This wasn’t an unexpected development. From the beginning, my colleagues and supervisors had made clear their opposition to the approach I brought to the job. Although I was able to advance some positive initiatives, I did so in the face of constant obstruction.
What made me persona non grata? On paper, I was a good fit for the job. I am a black woman with decades of experience teaching in public schools and leading workshops on diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism. At the Los Angeles Unified School District, I established a network to help minority teachers attain National Board Certification. I designed and facilitated numerous teacher trainings and developed a civic-education program that garnered accolades from the LAUSD Board of Education.
My crime at De Anza was running afoul of the tenets of critical social justice,
a worldview that understands knowledge as relative and tied to
unequal identity-based power dynamics that must be exposed and dismantled.
This, I came to recognize, was the unofficial but strictly enforced ideological orthodoxy of De Anza—as it is at many other educational institutions. When I interviewed for the job in August 2021, there was no indication that I would be required to adhere to this particular vision of social justice. On the contrary, I was informed during the interview process that the office I would be working in had been alienating some faculty with a “too-woke” approach that involved “calling people out.” (After I was hired, this sentiment was echoed by many faculty, staff, and administrators I spoke to.) I told the hiring committee that I valued open dialogue and viewpoint diversity. Given their decision to hire me, I imagined I would find broad support for the vision I had promised to bring to my new role. I was wrong.
From the beginning, efforts to obstruct my work were framed in terms that might seem bizarre to those outside certain academic spaces. For instance, simply attempting to set an agenda for meetings caused my colleagues to accuse me of “whitespeaking,” “whitesplaining,” and reinforcing “white supremacy”—accusations I had never faced before. I was initially baffled, but as I attended workshops led by my officemates and promoted by my supervising dean, I repeatedly encountered a presentation slide titled “Characteristics of White-Supremacy Culture” that denounced qualities like “sense of urgency” and “worship of the written word.” Written meeting agendas apparently checked both boxes.
As I attended more events and spoke with more people, I realized that the institutional redefinition of familiar terms wasn’t limited to “white supremacy.” Race, racism, equality, and equity, I discovered, meant different things to my coworkers and supervising dean than they did to me.
One of my officemates displayed a graphic of apples dropping to the ground from a tree, with the explanation that “equity means everybody gets some of the apples”; my officemates and supervising dean praised him for this “accurate definition.”
When I pointed out that this definition seemed to focus solely on equality of outcomes, without any attention to equality of opportunity or power, it was made clear this perspective wasn’t welcome. “Equity” and “equality,” for my colleagues, were separate and even opposed concepts, and as one of them told me, the aspiration to equality was “a thing of the past.”
Having recognized these differences, I attempted to use them as starting points for dialogue. In the workshops I led, I sought to make space for people to share their own definitions of various concepts and then to identify common points of reference that we could rally around, even as we acknowledged and accepted differences of perspective. Without editorializing, I gave participants time to notice the differences between the perspectives.
We then came together and shared things that these two seemingly divergent philosophies had in common. The aim was to enable a conversation between two perspectives that I already saw at play in divisions on campus about how to approach issues of race.
When I was evaluated as part of the tenure process, some of my evaluators objected to such efforts to identify points of commonality between divergent viewpoints. They also objected to such views being presented at all. One evaluator, who described herself as a “third-wave antiracist,” aligning her with Kendi’s philosophy, made clear that the way I had presented her worldview was deeply offensive. Another evaluator objected to my presentation of “dangerous ideas” drawn from the scholarship of Sheena Mason, whose theory of “racelessness” presents race as something that can be overcome.
A dogmatic understanding of social justice shaped organizational and hiring practices.
Anything short of lockstep adherence to critical social justice was impermissible.
“Criticism” was only supposed to go in one direction. Contextualizing my colleagues’ views and comparing them to other approaches to the same issues, much less criticizing them, was “dangerous”; my supposed failure to “accept criticism” was, simply put, a refusal to accept without question the dogmas these colleagues saw as beyond criticism.
The conflicts were not limited to my tenure-review process. At every turn, I experienced strident opposition when I deviated from the accepted line. When I brought Jewish speakers to campus to address anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, some of my critics branded me a “dirty Zionist” and a “right-wing extremist.” When I formed the Heritage Month Workgroup, bringing together community members to create a multifaith holiday and heritage month calendar, the De Anza student government voted to support this effort. However, my officemates and dean explained to me that such a project was unacceptable, because it didn’t focus on “decentering whiteness.”
No White Crackers Wanted Here.
This sort of dynamic, where single individuals present themselves as speaking for entire groups, is part and parcel of the critical-social-justice approach. It allows individuals to present their ideological viewpoints as unassailable, since they supposedly represent the experience of the entire identity group to which they belong. Hence, any criticism can be framed as an attack on the group.
For those within the critical-social-justice-ideological complex, asking questions, encouraging other people to ask questions, and considering multiple perspectives—all of these things, which should be central to academic work, are an existential danger.
The advocates of critical social justice emphasize oppression and tribalistic identity, and believe that a just society must ensure equality of outcomes; this is in contrast to a classical social-justice approach, which focuses on freedom and individuality, understands knowledge as objective and tied to agency and free will, and believes that a just society emphasizes equality of opportunity.
The monoculture of critical social justice needs to suppress this alternative worldview and insulate itself from criticism so its advocates can maintain their dominant position. Protection of orthodoxy supersedes all else: collegiality, professionalism, the truth.
If certain ideologues have their way, compelled speech will become an even more common aspect of university life.
Faculty and staff will be obligated to declare their gender pronouns and to use gender-neutral terms like “Latinx” and “Filipinx,” even as many members of the groups in question view these terms as expressions of cultural and linguistic imperialism.
Soon enough, we may also be formally required to start all classes and meetings with land acknowledgments, regardless of how empty a gesture this may seem to living members of tribal nations. [Note: What is a Land Acknowledgement?
These are increasingly common ritual comments at post-secondary institutions. Often spoken at the beginning of a public event, they are a formal way of recognizing the Indigenous stewards of a specific territory, their ancestors, and communities.]
As my experience shows, questioning the reigning orthodoxies does carry many risks. But the alternative is worse. Authoritarian ideologies advance through a reliance on intimidation and the compliance of the majority, which cowers in silence—instead of speaking up. Engaging in civil discourse and ensuring that multiple perspectives are presented are crucial, if we want to preserve the components of education that ideologues are seeking to destroy.
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