Op-Ed

UC Berkeley’s descent from place of learning to victimology hothouse

Even before its students rioted in the streets, distressed that right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos would dare to open his mouth in their presence, UC Berkeley presented a visual illustration of the academy’s decline from a place of learning to a victimology hothouse. Within walking distance on the Berkeley campus are emblems of both a vanished academic world and the diversity-industrial complex that ousted it.

Emblem 1: In Bauhaus-era typography, a quotation from Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo adorns the law school’s otherwise brutalist facade.

“You will study the wisdom of the past, for in a wilderness of conflicting counsels, a trail has there been blazed. You will study the life of mankind, for this is the life you must order, and, to order with wisdom, must know. You will study the precepts of justice, for these are the truths that through you shall come to their hour of triumph. Here is the high emprise, the fine endeavor, the splendid possibility of achievement, to which I summon you and bid you welcome.”

No law school today, if erecting itself from scratch, would think of parading such sentiments, first uttered in 1925, on its exterior. Cardozo’s invocation of “mankind” is alone cause for removal, but equally transgressive is his belief that there is wisdom in the past and not just discrimination. He presents learning as a heroic enterprise focused not on the self but on the vast world beyond, both past and present. Education is the search for objective knowledge that takes the learner into a grander universe of thought and achievement.

Stylistically, Cardozo’s elevated tone is as old-fashioned as his complicated syntactical cadences; his exhortation to intellectual mastery is too “masculinist” and triumphal for today’s identity-obsessed university.

His celebration of the law overlooks the teachings of critical race theory, which purports to expose the racial subtext of seemingly benign legal concepts. And he fatally omits any mention of “inclusion” and “diversity.”

There’s not a trace of the heroic on the Berkeley law school’s website today; the closest it comes to any ennobling inspiration is the statement: “We believe that a Berkeley Law degree is a tool for change, both locally and globally.”

But this bland expression of progressive ideology is positively Miltonic compared with the bromides on display just meters away from the law school .

Emblem 2: UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity and Inclusion has placed vertical banners across the main campus reminding students of the contemporary university’s paramount mission: assigning guilt and innocence within the ruthlessly competitive hierarchy of victimhood. Each banner shows a photo of a student or a member of the student-services bureaucracy, beside a purported quotation from that student or bureaucrat. No rolling cadences here, no exhortations to intellectual conquest. Instead, just whining or penitential snippets from the academic lexicon of identity politics.

“I will acknowledge how power and privilege intersect in our daily lives,” vows an Asian female member of the class of 2017. Just how crippling is that intersection? The answer comes in a banner showing a black female student in a backward baseball cap and a male Latino student, who together urge the Berkeley community to “create an environment where people other than yourself can exist.”

A naive observer of the Berkeley campus would think that lots of people “other than yourself” exist there, and would even think that Berkeley welcomes those “other” people with overflowing intellectual and material riches. Such a misperception, however, is precisely why Berkeley funds the Division of Equity and Inclusion with a cool $20 million annually and staffs it with 150 full-time functionaries: It takes that much money and personnel to drum into students’ heads how horribly Berkeley treats its “othered” students.

A member of the student-services bureaucracy reinforces the message of continual oppression on her banner. “I will be a brave and sympathetic ally,” announces Bene Gatzert of University Health Services. Cardozo saw grandeur in the mastery of the common law; today’s campus functionary sees herself in a heroic struggle against the ubiquitous forces of white-male heterosexual oppression.

One of Berkeley’s likely oppressors offers a suitably groveling banner: “I will think before I speak and act,” promises a white male student from the class of 2016. Ordinarily, such a vow of self-control might seem like a bourgeois virtue worthy of Ben Franklin. In the current academic context, however, it means: “I will mentally scan the University of California’s official list of microaggressions before I open my mouth.”

The head of the bureaucracy that created the banner campaign weighs in with her own banner. “Respect the full humanity of others,” urges Na’ilah Suad Nasir, the vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. This admonition would be appropriate when trying to mediate, say, between warring tribes given to slaughtering each other’s members. But the assumption that Berkeley’s pacific students are at risk of seriously violating one another’s humanity, beyond the ordinary slights of everyday social interaction, is absurd. What this seemingly gratuitous admonition really means is: “Do not violate any politically correct taboo.”

Cardozo invited students to the life of the mind. The diversocrats who have commandeered the American university invite students to a cultural reeducation camp where they can confess their political sins or perfect their sense of victimhood.

Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal, from which this essay was excerpted.

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