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The Problem With Elite Complaints About Elite Schools

Claudine Gay
Image CreditFDRLST / Canva

If the many left-of-center voices who’ve rightfully expressed grave concerns since Oct. 7 are serious about solving the problem, they may need to take stock of their own values.

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Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman weighed in on the question of campus antisemitism this week, reacting to some laughably bad congressional testimonies. Pressed on Tuesday by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill, Harvard President Claudine Gay, and MIT President Sally Kornbluth refused to categorically say calls for Jewish genocide violate their rules against bullying and harassment. Instead, they claimed, such a determination would depend on the “context.”

Later that night, Ackman tweeted, “If a CEO of one of our companies gave a similar answer, he or she would be toast within the hour. Why has antisemitism exploded on campus and around the world? Because of leaders like Presidents Gay, Magill and Kornbluth who believe genocide depends on the context.”

“To think,” he added, “that these are the leaders of Ivy League institutions that are charged with the responsibility to educate our best and brightest.”

Indeed.

My “Breaking Points” colleague Saagar Enjeti replied, “Ackman and those most upset over this core objection is that they are not included as marginalized within the DEI regime. This is wrong. The correct objection is that the DEI regime itself is illegitimate and unamerican.”

After Gay released a Wednesday statement vaguely claiming Harvard would “[hold] to account” anyone who “calls for violence against Jewish students,” Enjeti added, “Ackman and others leading the campaign do not care one iota about actually destroying DEI, defunding universities, destroying elite centers of power or protecting speech. They only want those institutions ideology to respond to their grievances in the same way they do for BLM.”

This raises an important question: Will Ackman and other powerful Democratic donors now spend their considerable resources dismantling the vast ideological infrastructure that brought us to this moment, where university presidents dodge questions about genocide with confounding legalese? What about all the establishment Republicans who’ve expressed their outrage? Will Mitch McConnell take a sledgehammer to academia’s nonsense?

Unlike, for instance, Black Lives Matter or the spectrum of LGBT causes, Israel is one of the very few issues on which elite opinion is genuinely split. This is what explains the revolts of White House interns and The New York Times union, while also explaining the revolts of John Fetterman and Bill Ackman. (It also explains strange patterns in corporate media coverage.)

Enjeti’s cynicism is warranted because reckoning with the conditions that brought us here requires reckoning with the consensus position on Western civilization taught in academia, popular culture, and now much of the business sector. It ultimately requires reckoning with moral relativism.

For some campus radicals, of course, antisemitism is motivated by a deep-seated hatred of Jews. Magill, Gay, and Kornbluth are motivated by a relativist position on the West, which holds that Western values are soaked irredeemably in whiteness, racism, sexism, homophobia, and more. To the cultural relativist, this erodes our moral credibility but not, for example, the moral credibility of allegedly oppressed populations in, say, the Middle East because their violations are rational reactions to imperialism.

This central argument now dominates K-12 education, academia, popular culture, and often media and business. Does it make sense? Not at all. In Dominion, Tom Holland persuasively argued we’re basically fish who don’t know we’re wet, swimming in the waters of Christian ethics. After Oct. 7, Ayaan Hirsi Ali announced her conversion from atheism to Christianity in part by citing Holland’s work.

While Ackman marveled “that these are the leaders of Ivy League institutions that are charged with the responsibility to educate our best and brightest,” it’s worth emphasizing the same people have been leading all our institutions for years now. The students taught to believe their worldview are starting to hit critical mass in the adult world, but they’ve been wreaking havoc for a very long time.

This is the “double standard” Jonathan Haidt wrote about on X, posting, “As a professor who favors free speech on campus, I can sympathize with the ‘nuanced’ answers given by U. presidents yesterday, about whether calls to attack or wipe out Israel violate campus speech policies.”

“What offends me,” he continued, “is that since 2015, universities have been so quick to punish ‘microaggressions,’ including statements intended to be kind, if even one person from a favored group took offense. The presidents are now saying: ‘Jews are not a favored group, so offending or threatening Jews is not so bad. For Jews, it all depends on context.’ We might call this double standard ‘institutional anti-semitism.’”

The “oppressor/victim frame” Haidt identifies is not relegated to elite universities. It defines our culture, especially in younger age brackets. Its foundation is made of sand, not stone. It immiserates individuals and communities. It’s ahistorical and immoral. And, again, it’s everywhere.

All this is to say, if Ackman and Larry Summers and the many left-of-center voices who’ve rightfully expressed grave concerns since Oct. 7 are serious about solving the problem, they may need to take stock of their own values. Many of us have been doing the same over the last decade. It’s better late than never.

As Enjeti said, “The correct objection is that the DEI regime itself is illegitimate and unamerican.” “Diversity, equity, and inclusion” is fairly recent branding that made radical cultural leftism palatable to corporatists who now answer to millennials in middle management and Harvard-educated journalists. Fundamentally, though, it’s not much different than the Pulitzer-winning 1619 Project that made its way into the “paper of record” and classrooms around the country.

America cannot build a future on this house of cards, so we should all get serious about inspecting our foundations.


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