In 2015, Evergreen hired a new president. Trained as a sociologist, George Bridges did two things upon arrival. First, he hired an old friend to talk one-on-one to members of our community — faculty, staff, and students. We talked about our values and our visions for the college. But the benefit of hindsight suggests that he was looking for something else. He was mapping us, assessing our differences, our blind spots, and the social tensions that ran beneath the surface. Second, Bridges fired the provost, Michael Zimmerman. The provost, usually synonymous with the vice president for academics, is the chief academic officer at an institution of higher education. Zimmerman would have disapproved of what Bridges had in mind and would have had some power to stop it. But he was replaced by a timid (though well-liked) insider who became a pawn due to his compromised interim status and his desire not to make waves.That the faculty couldn't raise more objections to the purging of the provost, or take steps in committees and faculty councils to stop the usurpations, suggested the faculty had long ago abdicated powers that were properly theirs. And faculty, no matter how radical their politics, might be the fiercest protectors of the curriculum, if they'd but have kept those powers.
Having mapped the faculty and fired the provost, Bridges began reworking the college in earnest. Surprise announcements became the norm as opportunities for discussion dwindled.
The president took aim at what made Evergreen unique, such as full-time programs. He fattened the administration, creating expensive vice president positions at an unprecedented rate, while budgets tightened elsewhere due to drops in student enrollment and disappearing state dollars. He went after Evergreen’s unparalleled faculty autonomy, which was essential to the unique teaching done by the best professors.That's how it has always worked. Dress the usurpations up in pet projects that the faculty might be disposed to go along with anyway, particularly if those projects carry names such as "diversity" or "equity" or "multiculturalism." Then, once the precedent for usurping is there, start behaving like a boss.
All of this should have been alarming to a faculty in which professors have traditionally viewed administrative interference in academic matters with great suspicion. But Bridges was strategic and forged an alliance with factions known to be obsessed with race. He draped the “equity” banner around everything he did. Advocating that Evergreen embrace itself as a “College of Social Justice,” he argued that faculty autonomy unjustly puts the focus on teachers rather than students, and that the new VP for Equity and Inclusion would help us serve our underserved populations. But no discussion was allowed of students who did not meet the narrow criteria of being “underserved.” Because of the wrapping, concerns about policy changes were dismissed as “anti-equity.” What was in the nicely wrapped box turned out to be something else entirely.
[T]he “Equity Council” that [the president] had appointed and empowered shifted into high gear. It produced a document laden with proposals that tear at the foundations of a liberal arts college. It recommended, for example, using “diversity and equity in the criteria for prioritizing faculty hires.” As is clear from the minutes of the council’s meetings, this goes well beyond affirmative action, which is itself illegal in the state of Washington. Taken to its logical conclusion, this policy would mean hiring no more artists, or chemists, or writing faculty, or any faculty, really, unless their research or training could be defended on the grounds of “equity.” That would spell the end of the liberal arts college.Excellence is overrated. (Oh, wait, that's a post for another day.) "Equity," however, is whatever the people who have the power think it should be. But the administrative sycophants among the faculty went along (was it so they could continue to be invited to the right parties?)
These faculty members and their accomplices in the administration are primarily at fault. They are the adults. At an institution of higher education, it is the faculty’s job to teach, not to preach; to educate, not indoctrinate. Some of the students who became protesters will be paying off their loans for years, and for what? They were let down by an institution that imposed and nurtured grievance and propaganda rather than educating and conferring knowledge. Evergreen handed them temporary power, an intoxicating thing, instead of establishing boundaries and legitimately empowering them with insight and wisdom.Or, to use Matt "Dean Dad" Reed's formulation, the faculty often serve as Burkean conservatives. The search function at his site is bloggered right now, so I can't cite an illustration of him using the phrase more in sadness than in anger (the faculty often being the saucer that cools off overheated administrative initiatives). Meanwhile, the students were rendered unemployable because they never had to confront the evidence that might induce them to rethink their priors. And the authors had only one national news outlet to tell their side of the story. Tucker Carlson on Fox News, forsooth.
Left and Right historically disagree on the extent of current inequities in the system, and on the wisdom of solution making. Those on the Left tend to focus on the inequities in the system; those on the Right tend to argue for personal responsibility. The Left tends to see structural unfairness, and is inclined to intervene. The Right tends to see a landscape of opportunity, and fears the unintended consequences of new initiatives. Both positions have merit and, despite the frequent tenor of conversations between factions, they are not mutually exclusive. Wisdom is likely to emerge from the tension between these worldviews, uniting good people around the value of a fair system that fosters self-reliance as it distributes opportunity as broadly as possible.Yes, but that takes work. Work involves standards of performance. And standards of performance well might be oppressive. But the absence of standards is more oppressive.