Glenn Loury on the state of American universities

BW: You’ve been on campus for several decades now and you're now at Brown, which has a reputation of being, for lack of a better word, one of the most “woke” campuses in the country. What changes have you seen on campus since the time that you began teaching at Harvard to what you're seeing at Brown today? 

GL: My, that’s a very large question, which I'm loath to answer off the cuff. I think standards have gone down. You ask me, I'm going to tell you. I think, for example, in math education we're not serious. We in the United States of America are losing our edge. When I speak to one of my classes, if I do anything, that's the least bit demanding of abstract, analytical, logical framing, I'm looking at their faces and I'm made to dumb down, in effect, what I want to say. I'm not doing this subject justice, but I don't think we expect as much of our students. I don't think we demand as much. Grade inflation is a horrible corruption.

BW: To what extent do you connect the decline in standards to the fact that schools are effectively now a political monoculture? Is there something about not being around other people with worldviews that are radically different from your own and being forced to contend with them? Does that make people stupider and perhaps lazier?

GL: I think it sounds correct to me. I don't know if that accounts for the fact that if I write an equation on the blackboard during a lecture to undergraduates at Brown, a third of the class eyes will glaze over. I don't know if I can draw the direct connection there, but groupthink is the enemy of rigor. I think that's a defensible place to take a stand. So one of the things that I think has happened is that our standards have lowered. Now, another thing that has happened is that I think we're in the service of various believed-to-be-certainties about moral issues. We feel that we need to signal solidarity with them through the work of the university, through its research, through its teaching, its pedagogy, through its composition of its incumbent members and how we select and what we define to be excellence and all that. That has become captive to a certain political agenda. I mean, it's left. It's definitely left. We could go into it. And if I get specific, then I'll be written off as a reactionary.

BW: I'd like for you to get specific.

GL: The diversity thing is going to be one of the things that I'm going to say. The hostility to American interest in the world is another thing that I could point to. The impatience with the fact that when you transform moral judgments about things like gender identity overnight in a country of 330 million people, where everybody is not going to be on the same page at the same time, and the way you decide to talk about that from some lofty, supercilious, self-righteous, sanctimonious moral posture and to condemn the people who are holding their bibles or holding on to their traditions as if they were know-nothings. That smugness infects the university. But I think the diversity thing is related to the standards thing. 

So I'm just going to say this: You can't do affirmative action, maintain black dignity, and maintain the standards at the same time. That's a trilemma, you can't do all of those things at the same time, if you lower the standards for black people to admit them to elite venues of intellectual performance and the standards are correlated with performance, you assure as a statistical necessity, on average, lower performance of the blacks whom you've admitted. If you insist on their dignity, you can't be Sandra Sellers. This is the adjunct lecturer at Georgetown Law Center who was caught on an open mic lamenting the fact that most of the kids in her class who were at the bottom were black. 

BW: And she was fired and the person listening to it left.

GL: And the whole brouhaha, the whole navel-gazing conflagration that happened at the institution of Georgetown Law with a black faculty demand of the white faculty that they acknowledge their white supremacist, blah, blah, blah. It's all a cover for black mediocrity. Yes. There, I said it. You lowered the standards. Now the black kids are at the bottom, but they have to have dignity. Therefore, you immolate yourself morally. That is a disease in the university. I'm going to say it one more time: Black equality cannot be had in this way.

BW: What do you mean when you say “ immolate yourself morally”?

GL: What I mean is they’re now going to search under every bed for racist white people. Do you know that the grades of Sandra Sellers’ previous classes were audited by the law school to see whether she exhibited unfairness to black students? 

BW: So let me say back to you what I’m hearing: there needs to be some explanation for disparity beyond the academic proclivities or talents of the students. And so in order to explain that disparity, racism needs to be found.

GL: Yeah, that is what I'm saying. Reporting the existence of the disparity is ipso facto racist in the minds of these people.
By Stephen

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Professor and quant guy. Libertarian turned populist Republican. Trying to learn Japanese and play Spanish Baroque music on the ukulele.

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