I survived the Gonad-Melanin wars

People should be rewarded based on what they do rather than who they are.

If you ever want to see a white dude humiliate himself you should watch the video statement released by the overpaid president of my town’s state university.

A storm of student hysteria had erupted on campus in response to a white fraternity kid who was photographed in black face. The poor frat boy had no idea that black face was racist. He was in a fraternity competition in which the members were assigned to color teams: the blue team, the green team, etc. The naïve frat boy who unwittingly painted his face black had been assigned to…you guessed it: the black team.

The president released an apology video in response to student demonstrations and campus uproar. Cognizant of the requirements for keeping his mid six-figure salary, the president mournfully confessed to the viewers of his video: “I am well aware of my white privilege.” You could call the president’s stance “pandermonium.” His pandering was painfully obvious. The epidemic of Political Correctness was at its height.

The seeds of the current malaise were planted back in the 1970s when Affirmative Action programs took over in government, then spread to the university and to corporate America.

In this malaise, identity is king. Formerly, individuals were rewarded on the basis of smarts and achievement….and yes, at times on the basis of belonging to the favored group of white males. Now a new collection of favored groups was called for: people of color, women, gays and lesbians, transsexuals, immigrants, the “historically underrepresented” and so on, with new “oppressed groups” invented regularly and added to the list.

Now retired from the agitated halls of academe, I decided to inventory the events of my decades-long career. I made a list of events in which the disease—-today called identity politics—-had played havoc with fairness and decency. I was startled by the length of my inventory. What follows is a recounting of a few of these events.

Self-Imposed Campus Segregation

During my time in college, a Black Student Organization demanded—- and administrators assigned—-a blacks-only student lounge. This was a precursor to today’s safe space movement. That is, administrators bought the argument that due to institutional racism, black students felt unwelcome on campus and thus needed their own space.

Shortly thereafter, talk arose of the need for a Gay Men’s Lounge, which would also need to be accompanied by a Lesbian Lounge. I wondered if there were enough rooms on campus to accommodate the groups that would come forward to demand their own safe spaces. To say nothing of the message the university was sending to its students: “Segregation is back and that’s OK. And it’s best to separate from people who are different from you.”

Today many colleges have graduation ceremonies segregated by race: one for black students, another for Latino students. Of course, in the service of “fairness” white students don’t get a whites-only graduation. They’re already privileged.

The Lady Seemed Fair….at First

As a graduate student at a major US university I applied for a part-time work-study job. The lady who interviewed me seemed fair enough until she told me that I was competing with a black student. (I am white.) Although I was well-qualified for the job, she explained, she leaned toward hiring the black student because, well, he was black. She hired him and turned me down.

Years later, it occurred to me that I could have asked the nice liberal lady who decided to hire the historically underrepresented candidate, “Were the parents of the black student slaves?”

Perhaps his great grandparents had been. But my parents had been slaves—-no question. I have the papers from Germany to prove it. My mother and father had been imprisoned in ghettos and concentration camps and forced to perform slave labor under inhumane conditions far worse than those faced by my competitor’s great-grandparents. (Unlike southern slave masters, the Germans who enslaved my parents did so with the intention of working them to death to save the cost of transport, gassing and burning.)

We Have to Hire a “Fill-in-the-Blank”

Right out of my doctoral program, I applied for faculty positions in schools across the country. I had just completed a PhD from one of the most prestigious doctoral programs in my field. I had several years of teaching experience. And I had even published three peer-reviewed academic papers, a feat that at that time was unusual for a recently minted PhD. One of my papers had presented data to support a ground-breaking theory and had generated a stir and a series of follow-up publications in my field.

But something was wrong. One school after another turned me down. The recruiters were always vague about the reasons for the rejection. I heard a lot of “You’re not a good fit for our program.” But from colleagues already on staff in those schools, I heard the inside story.

To meet their Affirmative Action goals, the schools had to hire a minority.

One insider told me the low-down: “When you see a new faculty announcement that says we need to recruit a professor who is able to teach in our Cross-Cultural Curriculum, that means we intend to hire a black or Latino.”

After months of heart-rending rejections I finally found a position in an obscure program in Florida. Located in a city with a majority Cuban-American population, this school could afford to ignore the pressures of Affirmative Action. Most of their faculty members were Cuban, and that was good enough to sate the Affirmative Action demons, leaving a space open for a white boy like me.

The Trouble with the Dean

By the time I had been teaching for two years at a small college, I had added a number of professional publications to my vita. This placed me in a good position to move up to join the faculty of a larger, more prestigious university. So I wasn’t surprised when Dean Bogle responded to my application for a teaching position by inviting me to an interview. The interview was to take place in the Dean’s suite at the hotel of the annual convention in our discipline.

I showed up to the suite on time. The Dean arrived an hour and a half late.

The moment I began to speak, the Dean cut me off, “I am not going to interview you. I have appointments right now.” The Dean offered no explanation. No apology.

I was left wondering: Why had they placed a national advertisement for a person with my qualifications? Why, after a review of my credentials, had they invited me to an interview in a distant city—-an invitation which led me to expend considerable time and money on travel and lodging? And why the sudden change of heart?

I learned the answer some time later in a conversation with a colleague who was on the faculty at Dean Bogle’s school. The women faculty at Bogle’s school, incensed at the lack of gender parity on their faculty roster, was pressuring the school. “This year we have to hire a woman,” my informant said. And they did.

The reason for adding me to their interview list—-even though they had no intention of hiring me—-was to document that they had done a comprehensive national search. This documentation was an insurance policy against a charge (or law suit) of bias in hiring.

I was just a stooge.

A Special Issue for Special People Only

For a number of years I served as a member of the editorial board of the leading professional journal in my discipline. Our primary task was to review articles submitted for the journal and make recommendations for or against publication.

I recall the outburst of a woman member of the editorial board, a person with a doctorate who taught at a prestigious university. We were discussing an article written by a male author. When the board recommended in favor of publication, she cried out, “Damn! Yet another publication for a man!”

I wondered to myself, what if I had made a comparable statement about a female-authored paper?

On another occasion, the editorial board was asked for our recommendation on a petition made by a special interest group of blacks and Latinos within the professional society. The group gave itself the self-important name of the National Council on Minority Affairs.

The Council’s petition was an eye-opener, even for our liberal profession. The Council asked that the editorial board agree that, for an upcoming Special Issue on “Persons of Color,” only persons of color would be permitted to submit articles for consideration.

We decided against the request.

In today’s more politically correct era, I imagine the editorial board would have seen nothing wrong with excluding white authors.

Full-on Political Correctness

By the time I joined the faculty of a large state university in the late 1980s, the Liberal Arts and Humanities were already deeply steeped in political correctness.

Ours was a newly designed academic program. In order to provide a rationale for favoring black and Latino students, the curriculum designers created a mission statement that called for educating students in Cross-Cultural Work.

I always thought that odd. Yes, our students and faculty were drawn from a variety of races and ethnic backgrounds. But we had virtually no international students. Almost all of us had been born and raised in the US. We all had one culture: American.

The Cross-Cultural angle was a ploy to facilitate the admission of racial minorities. That helped the department to reach its Affirmative Action goals, and garner more funds from the school of which we were a part.

Pretty soon the students got wind of the true nature of our admissions process. If you were black or Latino, you got in. Period.

I recall one meeting between the faculty and prospective students. A bright, articulate black woman informed the group, “I won’t attend this program because I don’t want to be picked just because I’m black. I have decided to attend another school that has accepted me based on my qualifications.”

In subsequent semesters I came to appreciate her brave comment.

There was the time the Student Thesis Committee met to grant awards to the best student theses. The chair of the committee seemed a bit embarrassed as she explained our task: “Well, we need to come up with the six best theses: two written by black students, two by Latinos, and two by white students.” No one on the Committee objected.

Then there was the time the Faculty Search Committee selected a short list of three candidates to fill a faculty vacancy. We then sent our list up to the dean’s office for her final recommendation. We heard nothing for weeks.

One day the Director informed the faculty that Dr. Sanchez was coming to campus to be interviewed for the faculty vacancy. I was puzzled. The Search Committee had rejected her. She had not made it to our short list. She had no teaching experience and no publications, while the candidates we had recommended had both. We were told that the university’s Affirmative Action Officer—-a Latino—-had reviewed the three recommended candidates we had selected. But mysteriously, our recommendations were set aside. Instead, Dr. Sanchez was invited to campus and the department scheduled interviews with all of us. I don’t know the details of how that came to be.

Dr. Sanchez got the job. The students seemed to like her. But in her many years on the faculty she never published a single essay, literature review, or research paper. She did manage to eke out one article that was nothing more than a transcript of an interview with a retiring Latino professor. This article appeared in an in-house journal of sorts that some members of our department had started as an outlet for faulty publications. That way we got to “publish” our own work and that of our colleagues.

The Miracle of the Magic Thesis

The department assigned me as Research Thesis Advisor to a black student in our master’s program. Walter was pleasant enough, but almost never showed up to thesis meetings or handed in assignments. When I finally managed to coax a pair of paragraphs out of him, it became obvious he was unable to organize his ideas or write more than a short paragraph that made sense. And here I was supposed to guide him in writing a graduate-level research thesis. Impossible.

At the time I also had a white woman student who failed to complete her work. When I asked the Associate Director if I could flunk her, his first question was, “Is she white?” She was, and I was given permission to flunk her out of the program.

Not so easy with Walter. I was informed that, despite his total lack of performance, I was required to give him an Incomplete grade every semester, which would allow him to continue in the graduate program. If he didn’t come up with an acceptable thesis this semester, he would be added to my regular workload next semester. He would continue to be my responsibility semester after semester—-for up to five more years—-until he completed the thesis course. This was an unsubtle message to me: If you don’t pass all your students along, your workload will increase every year.

I discovered at that point that Walter had been admitted to our graduate program “by mistake.” He still had two Incomplete grades from his undergraduate program. Both were courses that provided the background knowledge for conducting a research thesis. His lack of completion meant he was ineligible to enter our graduate program. And yet here he was, having now completed all his graduate coursework with the exception of his thesis. Later it turned out that other minority students had been advanced in violation of university requirements. When these “errors” were discovered, the powers that be held emergency meetings and managed to graduate the students…somehow.

The reaction of the program’s director was enlightening. I recounted to him the sorry details of Walter’s failure to produce a single usable paragraph for his thesis. Without the slightest pause, the director told me, “Well, Walter will just have to find someone to write his thesis for him.”

The next day I phoned Walter.

“You’re in trouble,” I told him. “It is the end of the semester. If you don’t hand in a completed, usable thesis by the end of next week, I am flunking you.”

Right on deadline, Walter appeared at my office with a neatly typed and bound thesis in hand. It was no masterpiece. But the study it described was well-executed and the document itself was nicely organized and clearly written.

I didn’t ask any questions. Walter passed the course and graduated on time.

When a Minority is Not a Minority

In the liberal Faculty Field Guide to Deserving and Non-Deserving Minorities, the Jews always come up short.

Although the director of the department was Jewish, as were several of the faculty members, the topic of Jews rarely came up. But I did experience two disturbing incidents that suggest that these elite professors do not consider Jews to be a legitimate minority.

I decided one day to attach a small color poster of Israel to my office door. The next morning all that was left were two corner pieces. Overnight someone had ripped the poster from my door.

That day I attached another Israel poster to my office door. Again, it was ripped off my door before the following morning. This went on for several days and several more posters.

Finally, I made an announcement about this at the faculty meeting. No one was interested in hearing my complaint. Not even the Jewish faculty members. The group belittled my concern and advised me to ignore the episode.

I am certain that if a poster of an African or Latin American nation had been ripped from the office door of one of our minority faculty—-there would have been a ruckus.

Years later, I heard a far-left pundit defend the anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan. The pundit claimed that it was not necessary to condemn Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism. After all, she continued, “Jews can’t be hurt.” I imagine what she meant was that Jews are Oppressors and Oppressors can’t be victims. Maybe that was what my faculty colleagues believed.

When a Country is Not a Real Country

I was serving as Guest Editor of a Special Issue on Israel. (I had chosen the topic.) The department director insisted that I have Arab “voices” that is, authors, in the Special Issue. Fair enough. I managed to include an article written by an Israeli Arab and it added to the value of the Special Issue. But I am willing to bet that if I had been editing an issue on Israeli Arabs, the director would not have thought it necessary to insist I include Israeli Jews.

Then something strange happened.

In the Introduction to the issue I had included two short paragraphs on the history of modern Israel—-how it came to be the nation state of the Jewish people. This was background information that readers needed to have in order to understand the papers in the issue.

The director refused to print these two paragraphs. They were the only paragraphs she objected to.

I never did get a coherent reason for her objection. I did note her defensiveness in defending her position. She told me that as the wife of a man whose parents had survived the Holocaust, she couldn’t possibly be against Israel.

I think otherwise. I think she belonged to that subset of Jews who believe that we should not tell the history of modern Israel because Jews do not deserve a country. To them Judaism is just a religion. And besides, there were Arabs living there already. Professors like this director—-who know little about the history of Israel or the Middle East—-can’t shake their belief that Jews are usurpers.

In protest, I removed my name as Guest Editor of the Special Issue.

We Practice Inclusivity by Excluding You

Recently I glanced at the official website of the graduate program that granted my advanced degrees forty years ago. Things have changed from the days when students were admitted and evaluated based on academic performance.

The website declares that the school’s mission is to promote human rights and social and economic justice. It talks of cultural humility and anti-oppressive practice.

The school has morphed into a human rights advocacy organization.

We are told that the school strongly encourages student applications for admissions from “persons of color; persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender; and persons with disabilities.”

The school has formed a Students of Color Coalition to work on issues of interest to students of color. Then there is the Committee on Diversity which monitors the climate on campus and investigates incidents in which students feel slighted or harmed. School administrators have “increased the diversity” of the school’s two Advisory Boards.

The school schedules Cultural Dialog Sessions for students and staff to talk about issues of diversity, power, oppression and the ever-dangerous privilege.

The school offers a large number of scholarships and fellowships for “traditionally under-represented” groups.

The school’s curriculum is infused with the topics of diversity, inclusion and justice. The school requires that all students read and discuss a book on race and social injustice.

The website informs prospective students of three school activities to which ONLY students of color are invited: a special on campus “visit day” for recently admitted students; a luncheon; and an Annual Spring Dinner for current and newly admitted students.

Then, without a hint of irony, the website declares that the school’s priority is to promote diversity and inclusion; to create “a community where every person feels welcome [sic], valued,….

Should someone tell these people they have just told most students that they are unwelcome at three major school events? And that many prospective students will be disadvantaged in admissions and scholarships if they belong to the wrong group?

A Brave New World

Over the past 40 years, well-meaning college educators and administrators have transformed liberal arts and humanities departments in colleges and universities across the nation. What was once a noble educational enterprise has become an indoctrination program.

The ideology that has informed this process is a deadly serious business with harsh penalties for any student, faculty member or administrator who doesn’t play along. It rewards people on the basis of their gender and race. For both these reasons, I refer to the movement behind these efforts as the Gonad-Melanin Wars.

My story highlights the pervasiveness of the new ideology. It is an ideology fraught with danger. It promotes the racist and sexist idea that people should be treated according to assumptions about their racial and gender group, rather than their individual talents and accomplishments. It degrades our democratic institutions and the rule of law. It leads to an inevitable increase in inter-group resentment. It violates our competitiveness by picking the person from the “right” group rather than the person with the right skills.

It violates a basic premise of our American way of life: that people should be rewarded based on what they do rather than who they are.

Note. I have changed the names of the individuals described in this post in order to maintain their anonymity.

About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors. Dr. Berger also blogs at: https://realbulletpoints.wordpress.com/
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