‘The Diversity Delusion’ by Heather Mac Donald
Many commentators on higher education agree that something disconcerting is happening on college campuses. At elite schools across the country protestors have silenced campus speakers, condemned liberal values of free speech and tolerance, and sometimes even used violence. Amidst this background Heather Mac Donald has sounded emergency: In her new book “The Diversity Delusion,” she argues that this is the end of higher education as we know it, and even worse, the crazy colleges now risk taking the whole culture down with them.
In acerbic and irreverent essays, Mac Donald rails against left-wing dogmas that seem ubiquitous on university campuses. She is determined to show not just that there are zealots in higher education, but that their closely held beliefs are false. The notion, for example, that one in four or one in five women are raped on college campuses is, she writes, the result of dubious polling. It is activists, not serious social scientists, who are behind these inflated numbers.
And despite the constant genuflection to affirmative action, Mac Donald believes it does not actually benefit blacks. She argues in favor of the mismatch hypothesis: When, due to affirmative action, students are admitted to schools they are not academically qualified for, it ultimately disadvantages them. According to Mac Donald, they would be better served going to a school suited to their academic abilities.
By juxtaposing these critiques, Mac Donald offers a near exhaustive primer for anyone looking to a debate a dogmatic undergraduate. But for those already familiar with both sides of the debate, the book may be less useful. She parrots well known critics of campus sex culture and Title IX procedures like Christina Hoff Sommers, Emily Yoffe, and Camille Paglia. In reviewing the “mismatch hypothesis” Mac Donald presents some provocative studies but does not offer any novel interpretations.
While Mac Donald succeeds in bringing attention to a troubling trend on many campuses, her book is in spite of itself not really about American college education: It is about a few egregious cases of intolerance and dogmatism at a small set of well-endowed elite schools including UC Berkeley, Columbia, and Duke.
For example, in a well-known 2017 case, conservative writer Charles Murray spoke at Middlebury. Protestors silenced Murray and ultimately assaulted a professor. Conservatives and liberals agree that such cases go too far. Indeed, even Cornel West penned a letter after the Middlebury incident in support of the values of tolerance and open-mindedness.
The controversial question is to what extent these incidents are representative of a much broader trend. Mac Donald assumes, without enough argument, that one can generalize from these incidents to the culture at large. Still, regardless of the breadth of her argument, Mac Donald does succeed in describing repeated problems of intolerance and dogma in institutions supposedly committed to intellectual openness and the pursuit of truth. Whether or not there truly is a national trend, anyone who cares about education and the pursuit of truth should be disturbed by these events.
Max Diamond is an investigative reporter at RealClearInvestigations.