Review of Heather Mac Donald, The Diversity Delusion

April 2019

Heather Mac Donald, The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2018. (Hardcover, 278 pages.)

Heather Mac Donald, a trained lawyer and a distinguished fellow at the Manhattan Institute, enlightens us with The Diversity Delusion. It is a well-researched, well-argued critique of the postmodern campus and, increasingly, the broader society, where political correctness, including race/gender hustling often runs amok. The “unwoke” are frequently persecuted, while others are cowed into silence.

Unfortunately, Mac Donald recently experienced this tyranny firsthand when she was scheduled to speak at Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, California. A planned discussion of her previous book, The War On Cops (highly recommended, by the way) was too much for little cupcakes, who behaved like spoiled brats by throwing a tantrum. Naturally, they called her a “fascist” and a “racist”. The beat goes on.

Security concerns forced Mac Donald to live stream her speech to the audience from a vacant auditorium. Of course these intolerant radicals were entitled to express their views. But they had no right to prevent Mac Donald from speaking or to prevent an audience from hearing what she had to say. At least they didn’t succeed in cancelling the event, a travesty all too familiar to Charles Murray, Ann Coulter, Ben Shapiro, and others.

An obsession with gender and racial diversity, but, alas, not the diversity of ideas, is a big part of the problem. Instead of focusing on individuals, diversity emphasizes the individual’s larger group, with all the perceived baggage that goes with it, and extends outside of an individual’s control. Scabs are ripped off old wounds and we are too often reduced to a collection of warring tribes competing for spoils, each pitted against all and all pitted against whites, Western civilization, and, increasingly, Asians, who disproportionately benefit from the merit principle and equality of opportunity and who are oftentimes discriminated against by affirmative action student admissions policies, which stress proportional equality of outcome by identity group. Indeed, Asians have taken Harvard University to court over that institution’s discriminatory, dare I say racist, admissions policies, where members of their communities applying with higher SAT (Scholastic Aptitude/Assessment Test) scores are frequently rejected in favour of others less qualified.

Mac Donald speaks truth to power by setting her sights on the burgeoning campus diversity bureaucracy, which believes it advocates for the oppressed, but is actually a wasteful extravagance. Hiking university budgets to accommodate diversity bureaucrats’ six figure salaries may ultimately be offset by reductions in teaching staff and course offerings (with adverse consequences for standards), plus larger classes and higher tuition costs, which places a university education financially out of reach for more students.

Mac Donald adds that contemporary Western culture is the least patriarchal in history, a claim that is hard to dispute, although there is always room for improvement. She critiques the so-called “campus rape crisis”, a phenomenon seemingly based on an assumption that all males are dangerous sexual predators. Accused parties are too often denied due process and deemed guilty until proven innocent. Furthermore, the bar constituting sexual assault is lowered to include groping, either unwanted or later regretted, and sexual couplings with later regret. Also, seemingly consensual sex while intoxicated may qualify as sexual assault or rape because the female “victim” really wasn’t rational enough to give consent. Apparently, the fact that people choose to get drunk and must know that it impairs their judgment is lost on the campus kangaroo courts adjudicating these claims. There are also vendettas where the spurned party is hell-bent on revenge and doesn’t mind destroying someone’s reputation in the process. Methinks it is best if a university’s responsibility is limited to referring sexual misconduct allegations to police and the justice system, where qualified people can conduct a proper investigation.

Bureaucratizing campus coupling with dating dos and don’ts has also become de rigueur, with Mac Donald referring to Columbia University’s mandatory “Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative” program. The late great Tom Wolfe could not have dreamed this up for one of his satires. Then again, maybe he could have.

Finally, affirmative action admissions policies at universities, while often well intentioned, mean lowering standards to accommodate minority applicants. And those admitted with lower SAT scores are ill prepared for academic rigour and more apt to fail.

Yet Mac Donald contends that the problem often stems less from racism than from minority (especially African American and Hispanic) children disproportionately falling behind in the early elementary years and never catching up. More familial and cultural emphasis must be placed on the importance of education, especially reading, writing, and math, while children are young. If gaps are not prevented or overcome in elementary grades, it may be too late by the time a child reaches high school. Forget about success at university.

Proportional representation admissions policies privileging the less qualified might also necessitate the dumbing down of curricula so that fewer fail. This is always problematic, but especially so for professional schools, who then graduate more doctors and lawyers who provide inferior service to patients and clients, and more engineers who build less structurally sound bridges.

Yet valid points emphasized by Mac Donald and others are too often ruled out of bounds. Indeed, a young computer engineer at Google was actually fired for his memo attributing male dominance in STEM fields to a tendency, not an absolute rule, for men and women to differ with respect to assertiveness, drive, and orientation towards things rather than people.

But Mac Donald is right to stress that science and technology require the best people available. Emphasis on identity group quotas, a luxury we can’t afford, undermines our ability to compete in a global marketplace. Generally higher SAT scores in math account for whatever advantages males might have in engineering and technical fields. Conversely, women dominate in more people oriented professions, given their generally higher verbal skills.

Of course, drilling down to individuals yields exceptions to general tendencies. Some individuals from underrepresented minorities will excel, not fall behind in math in the early grades, and some individual women will be superior in STEM oriented courses. Furthermore, Mac Donald stresses that high tech companies and engineering firms successfully competing to survive understand it is wildly irrational and certainly economically counterproductive to discriminate against supremely qualified female or minority candidates because of gender or skin colour.

Condemnations from diversity cults are not limited to Western civilization and white men, but extend to white women, gays, and minority group members who refuse to fall in line with politically correct groupthink. And Mac Donald laments how such traditional values as self-discipline, hard work, education, civility, child rearing within an intact relationship, and respect for authority seemingly merit scorn.

But what is to replace our civilization? Can the diversity and multiculturalism crowd make a cogent case for some other system being superior to the West, or are they merely nihilists? Are there other civilizations which do a better job tolerating diversity of race, religion, and opinion? Why do so many from other parts of the world literally risk life and limb to come here? Unfortunately, intimidating, bullying, and cowing the politically incorrect into silence (even by violent means) is much easier than employing the time and effort to assess, formulate thoughtful counterarguments, and engage in constructive debate.

This does not end well. Students marinating in a toxic stew of critical race, gender, and LGBTQ propaganda eventually graduate into the “real world”, where they extend their pernicious influence. Schools and universities, the media, corporations, civil services, the non-profit sector, even professional athletes and sports pundits are politically correct now. And people are rightfully afraid of running afoul of this totalitarian orthodoxy because it can actually get them publically shamed, even fired from their jobs. Just ask Rick Mehta, James Damore, or Curt Schilling.

What to do? Mac Donald laments how many eighteen year olds enter university ignorant of the Western canon and remain so (albeit cloaked in victimhood) when they leave four years later. She stresses that the university’s purpose is to transmit knowledge, including the linking of great thinkers of the past with the future. More emphasis ought to be placed on the masters who influenced America’s founders and their ideals, including opposition to tyranny and support for representative democracy and the rule of law. Breaking our links with the past increases the potential to reject a civilization built painstakingly brick by brick over centuries. Ronald Reagan was absolutely right when he warned that we are always one generation away from replacing democracy with tyranny.

Mac Donald also mentions extension courses established by Tom Rollins under the title Great Courses, which include lectures in literature, philosophy, music, history, math, and the sciences by ideologically diverse academics, unencumbered by identity politics. This market driven program has experienced growing pains, but might be valuable as a supplement, assuming costs for students are not prohibitive.

A possible antidote, not mentioned by Mac Donald, is student centred. With or without classroom indoctrination, it can never hurt if students are cognizant of footnotes and bibliographies in their texts and other readings and pay attention to ideas, thinkers, and worldviews discussed in class or in texts, then find supplementary writings (hopefully from differing perspectives) in the library or by using Google. When Googling, bear in mind that more conservative or libertarian perspectives might (or might not?) be buried in later pages.

Also, Jordan Peterson recommends DIE avoidance, which means staying away from courses using such words as diversity, inclusion, or equity in their descriptions. They do not educate, they indoctrinate.

Finally, the National Association of Scholars (NAS), an organization devoted to academic freedom, freedom of speech, and the Western canon, is always looking for members, including undergraduates who share its philosophy. Its quarterly publication, Academic Questions, is an outstanding counterweight to politically correct postmodernist dogma. And one need not be American or involved in the university or think tank scene to join. The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) performs a similar role in Canada.

On a concluding note, Heather Mac Donald does an excellent job highlighting the scourge of political correctness and its progeny, diversity (or is it the scourge of diversity and its progeny, political correctness?), while also championing Western civilization. She rightfully condemns the significant bullying and intolerance found on campuses and beyond, which largely targets those with views not deemed politically correct, and which leaves us all more fearful and less free. Possible antidotes including additional student research, DIE avoidance, and NAS membership might be useful supplements to Mac Donald’s powerful thesis.