The High and the Low

I wrote the following in response to questions about my statement on Race Theology at Williams College.

Higher education – particularly higher education at elite schools like Williams College – has been colonized by the race theologians. They don’t yet run the whole institution, but they have established firm beachheads in the administration and among the faculty, particularly in studies programs (traditional departments still being somewhat hostile to their aims). From these positions, the race theologians control the socialization of students and use campus unrest as a tool to lobby for more administrators like themselves, more funding for their causes, and more studies faculty.

None of this is at all hidden or conspiratorial. Much of it is even eagerly publicized. Williams has an Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, staffed with professional activists and people experienced in the lawfare and community organizing that activists bring with them. Their special organ for interacting with the Williams community, and students specifically, is the Davis Center. On their website, we read that the Center “initiates and supports dialogue about and action toward access, equity and inclusion at Williams and elsewhere.”

These are among the institutional foundations of the permanent protest, and it must be a prima facie assumption that whenever student groups engage in actions that rehearse the rhetoric and support the goals of these administrative organs and their faculty allies, there is a deeper power process at work. This is especially the case when the activists decry only nebulous violence and oppression, with no specifics; and when the demands that they submit include increased power, funding and staff for the coordinating institutional elements of Wokery.

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Williams College is not unique. The woke cancer from which it suffers is also hard at work devouring most other institutes of higher education in the Anglosphere. The tactics of the race theologians and their prospects have, however, changed since 2016. Before we consider why and how, it will help to study some typical examples from an earlier, simpler age.

In January 2005, Harvard President Lawrence Summers made impolitic remarks about gender differences at a Diversity Conference that provoked sharp rebukes across the elite press and within his own university. Within a few months he agreed to resign as president, finally stepping down on 30 June 2006. It turns out that Summers was already widely disliked among Harvard faculty, among other things for his political affiliations, suspected corruption, and an earlier fight he picked with Cornel West. The outrage over his comments was merely the last in a long line of faculty revolts against his leadership, distinguished from the others only in that it succeeded. Curiously, Summers enjoyed a great deal of support among the students until the end.

Five years after Summers’s resignation, Occupy protests erupted at college campuses across America. These, too, tended to enjoy substantial faculty support and took aim directly at upper administrators and the financial practices of elite universities. Occupy Harvard, for example, complained about the high salaries of investment officials at the Harvard Management Company, deplored Harvard’s private equity ties, criticized Harvard’s investments, and in general fulminated against the financial practices of the University and its entanglement with political and financial elites. Like many other schools faced with Occupy protesters, Harvard deployed the police against them and undermined them internally. Within a few months they had been entirely rolled up. The Harvard Crimson editorialized repeatedly against the Occupiers and the student body remained largely opposed to them.

This brings us to the 2015/2016 protests at the University of Missouri. These involved prodigious amounts of Wokery. From the beginning, however, beneath all the rhetoric about racism, an animating feature was widespread discontent with the Mizzou president, Tim Wolfe. He was seen as an outsider and a businessman, and his appointment disappointed many within Mizzou who had hoped an academic would get the job. Once again, faculty participated in the protests, which culminated in increasingly sharp demands for Wolfe’s resignation. Among other things, Wolfe was charged with a failure to reform alleged racism in the Missouri system. He ultimately stepped down.

These were organic movements in classic leftist mode. They featured 1) prominent faculty involvement; 2) the targeting of the president and or other upper administrators, usually as an aspect of 3), an anti-elite, anti-corporatist drive among the activists. A curious fact of the Harvard actions is that students were not very receptive to the activist message – far less receptive, in fact, than many of their professors. Nevertheless, you could say that all of these protests involved elements of the low (students, junior faculty) and the middle (tenured faculty) against the high (administrators). We will call this Type 1 Activism.

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Type 1 Activism is still around, but increasingly it is no longer a major force in the permanent protests of higher ed. It was already on its way out during the Mizzou fracas. These days, the low and the middle are no longer necessarily opposed to the high. Indeed, it often happens that the high forms an alliance with the low against the middle. This is Type 2 Activism.

Among the best-studied examples of a Type 2 protest happened at Evergreen State in 2017. Shortly after his 2015 appointment, the new Evergreen president, George Bridges, began a campaign to expand his administration. If the faculty had responded with a campaign to resist his efforts, we would’ve found ourselves immediately in a Type 1-style event. But, times had changed, and Bridges forestalled faculty opposition almost completely. He deployed his diversity administrators, and woke faculty contingents, to persuade the skeptical professors of this small state-funded liberal arts school that his administrative reforms were the necessary means of fighting racism at the college. Intimidation from an activist wing of the student body, supported by several woke faculty and diversity brigadiers, cowed most of the professors into accepting the reforms. This was an archetypal Type 2 protest, clearly revealed as such via the staggering incompetence of Bridges and his victorious administrators, who lost control of their activist allies. The unfolding cultural revolution in a teacup was live-streamed, including a remarkable meeting between Evergreen State senior staff and student activists, where the high and the low can be seen openly brainstorming about how to muzzle recalcitrant faculty and push through the final items of their reform agenda.

The Evergreen protests are are enormously helpful for understanding Type 2 Activism and what is happening on college campuses – and, increasingly, the world – right now. Here is the first of an excellent three-part documentary on what happened at Evergreen. See also the incredibly detailed and rich studies of Benjamin Boyce, an Evergreen alumnus; first part here.

Superficially, the Type 2 Evergreen-style protests appear identical to the older Type 1 activism, like that at Mizzou. A lot of the rhetoric is even the same. But the power relationships are totally different. In this newer style of activism, the upper administration is no longer the target. The faculty and departments are. The economic aspect, typical in Type 1 actions, is mostly suppressed. The complaints revolve instead around racism almost exclusively.

A few things happened to make these new, Type 2 high-low protests feasible and attractive to participants. An important pre-requisite was the failure of Occupy Wall Street after 2011, and an ensuing shift of emphasis within the permanent campus protest away from economic issues (where victory seemed increasingly elusive) towards race and gender advocacy (which could even be corporate-friendly). The left and its retreat from economic demands is an old and complex story, of which this is merely the latest chapter. On the other side, different elite factions became far more closely integrated with each other following the 2016 populist backlashes of Brexit and Trump’s election. The intelligentsia increasingly allied with elite press and corporate interests against perceived reactionary enemies in Middle America. The corporate world did its part to cement the alliance by embracing Wokery on a broad scale. All of this muted activist aversion to the corporate entanglements of their colleges and universities, which was so central to protests in the Type 1 model. And so the administration assimilated the permanent protest and began using it to chip away at departments and faculty in the middle.

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Within colleges like Williams, departments and administrators compete with each other for resources. These are almost always zero-sum games. A line granted to one department is a line denied to another department. Expansions to the administration are very often perceived to happen at the expense of the curriculum. When I started out in academia, faculty resentment of the ever expanding administration was a common complaint that you heard everywhere. People lamented that energetic fundraising, particularly at schools hungry for status, corporatized and cheapened the academic environment.

It is not just about resources or culture. As administrators have grown in numbers and authority throughout the twentieth century, they have found themselves in conflict with the faculty and departments they oversee. I do not think it is an accident that the growth in academic administration has also seen the proliferation of Studies programs and constant demands for things like “interdisciplinarity.” In ways direct and indirect, these represent assaults upon the integrity of departments. Campaigns to diversify the faculty, like that led most recently by Denise Buell, the most divisive Dean of the Faculty at Williams in recent memory, have this consequence: They expand the Studies programs naturally, but they also increase the woke faculty contingent across the board, because the preferred way of ensuring minority hires is to advertise jobs in woke subfields.

These new faculty then arrive at the school, knowing exactly to whom they owe their employment and where their loyalties lie. Thus administrative Wokery expands its reservoir of faculty allies.

There are secondary aspects too. Administrations exercise wide-ranging oversight over departments, particularly with respect to hiring and promotion. These are powerful mechanisms. But the departments have important protection, among them subject expertise. Only departments really understand their curriculum and the research of their members. Wokery is a whole area of fake knowledge that only woke administrators and woke faculty command. It allows administrators to interfere in departmental affairs that would otherwise be opaque and closed to them. It is a means of extending their authority into new realms.

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An important feature of Type 2 protests is that they are not really about what they claim to be about. You can see this in the demands that they issue. Consider, by way of comparison, the Mizzou protests of 2015/2016. Those actions were also full of Wokery, but they were fully in the Type 1 mode. They mainly wanted the president to submit to ritual humiliation and resign. At the very end of their demands, they added two roughly sketched funding requests: one for more mental health professionals and the other for more social justice funding.

What about the CARE Now protestors? After their lengthy and histrionic assault on free expression at Williams College and repeated, wholly unsubstantiated complaints of violence against black and trans people on campus, they submitted a hilarious multi-page administrative memo that is the perfect example of Type 2 activism and what it amounts to.

Almost every moment in this document rewards study. Let’s take, arbitrarily, Point 3, about funding for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity (OIDE):

We demand the College increase funding to the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity (OIDE), meant to be directed to the Davis Center, to reflect the growing number of minoritized students on campus and address the OIDE’s responsibility to the faculty.

The manifesto goes on to indulge in absurd budgetary specifics, lamenting funding shortages at the Davis Center and staffing concerns, including the problem of “two full-time, underpaid and overworked staff members.” They want all pending funding requests approved and four full-time staff at the Davis Center. These are to include “a permanent administrative assistant and a senior hire.” More broadly, they want more funding for OIDE “in direct proportion to the growing number of minoritized bodies on this campus.” They also want “a more robust grievance process within the OIDE with the intent of backing victimized faculty members” – i.e., more power for the administrators of OIDE to exercise their foul oversight of the faculty.

Somehow, we have left the world of violence against black and trans bodies for the humdrum biosphere of administration, illuminated by fluorescent lights, smelling of bad coffee, where people talk in anodyne tones about budgets and staffing and take notes on their College-issued iPads. Other units on campus submit requests to the administration outlining their needs for administrative assistants and staffing and the like; these are approved or denied by prevailing authorities. But the woke have an additional avenue, namely disruptive campus-wide protests, that repeat their internal demands and cast these in the guise of leftist advocacy, of diversity, inclusion and equity.

After these demands were issued, the Williams Record published an article on 24 April 2019 that casts an interesting sidelight on Point 3 and its origins. They interviewed then-acting Davis Center director Bilal Ansari, who commented and expanded on these demands, as if he himself had been a party to their composition.

The reporter asked Ansari, for example, how it was that the Davis Center staff were “underpaid and overworked.” He replied:

The overworked feeling is in my observation a consequence more of low morale and people working here not wanting to be here … This year has been particularly difficult and fraught emotionally with campus crises almost weekly for students, staff, and faculty. So when you are working in a department that is understaffed (due to leaves) with compromised morale across campus and on the frontlines of campus student affairs it can really feel like you are overworked. That is honestly the situation from my observation.

Ansari’s attempts to distance himself from this exegesis (“in my observation … from my observation”) are perfunctory. Point 3, it is clear, expresses directly the requests of the Davis Center for more money and more people, and the frustrations of its staff.

Ansari continued:

The greatest cause of my concern is that we not forfeit the fight by undermining the arduous relationship work of institution building for the convenient disruptive work of institution bashing.

Note that obtrusive we. Let us give this an obvious gloss: After many months of CARE Now protesting, Ansari and his staff felt overworked from their time on the “frontlines,” and had begun to worry that their efforts would not pay off – that is to say, that “institution building” (i.e., more stuff for Ansari’s organization) would be neglected if the CARE Now protestors failed to submit appropriate memos complete with funding requests, in favor of continued “disruptive … institution bashing.” Imagine thinking you are spearheading the revolution, only to find that your paperwork is due to Mandel’s office by tomorrow at 3pm. Here we have direct insight into the kinds of discussions that must have been unfolding among student activists and their administrative minders late in the 2019 Spring semester.

Stepping back a bit: An interesting feature of the demand letter is its total sidelining of the speech issues that were supposedly at the heart of the protest. Aside from a few digs on the first page, the problem is wholly ignored. The problem, I would suggest, is that it is hard to attach requests for more stuff to a negative, oppositional manifesto (“no free speech!”). And so CARE Now leaves its foundational issue behind, in its place providing nothing but a laundry list of miscellaneous requests just like Point 3, that reflect the institutional appetites of protest-adjacent faculty and administrators. More studies professors, more Title IX coordinators – it is by now very predictable.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that the CARE Now protestors enjoyed support and protection from the administration. Mandel herself wrote that she and her senior staff had decided that the memorializing antics of CARE Now were to enjoy special tolerance, and for a few days it even seemed as if they were willing to violate state law on the activists’ behalf. Even after that battle was lost, the administration continued to cede CARE Now protesters remarkable consideration. Not anybody – not even faculty – can hang massive racially charged banners at the entrance to Hollander Hall and expect them to last more than five minutes.

Acquiescing to Type-2 protest demands like these merely increases the power of woke faculty and administrative factions responsible for protecting, coordinating and supporting future protests. It spreads the cancer further; and further spread is the only thing the cancer wants.

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Not all Type-2 style activism gets picked up by high-side allies. The increasingly stale demands to BOYCOTT WILLIAMS ENGLISH are a good example of a low-side protest that still awaits adoption and endorsement from people in power. This is what happens to departments that install too many woke junior faculty too soon.

This brings us to a final instructive episode, namely Dorothy Wang’s spat with the English Chair Kathryn Kent. Prof. Love, you’ll remember, was an assistant professor of English. Her absence in protest of totally fake violence and racism at Williams College thus became a means of continuing the assault on Williams English, and the particular and intense racism that foolish and silly people held to lurk within its ranks. Wang accosted Kent in front of some students, while Kent was on her way to a meeting of the English Department. Wang demanded to know whether Kent and her colleagues would be discussing Love’s leave and a “longstanding history of hostility towards faculty of color” within the Department. Kent, understandably annoyed, said there had already been “sufficient conversation around Love” (you can taste the understatement there) and that Love’s complaints were “about the College” and not specifically about English. Wang continued to provoke Kent until the latter lost her temper. The student witnesses complained loudly about Kent’s affront to a professor of color, and the administration happily involved itself.

Let us note all of the things that make this a classic Type 2 event: A departmental chair is the target; the low side of the alliance (student witnesses) the source of its energy and direction; the facilitator a Studies professor. From it we learn a little about the faculty allies the CARE Now protesters had accumulated in the course of their efforts, and how these allies hoped to use that protest for their own purposes.

Kent engaged in ritual self-abasement and retained her position. She survived as Chair because the movement to subvert Williams English awaits high sponsorship. Nevertheless, it is a slow burn responsible for various controversies like this, all of which do nothing but confirm the most central tenets of Wokery, that is to say the specter of invisible racism; and the alleged rightness and truth of diversity, inclusivity and equity.

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Ideologies – and often, religions too – are secondary to power. They explain prevailing power relationships, and justify the actions of the powerful. Race theology, or Wokery, as enacted at universities, is merely an establishment religion that explains and justifies the high-low alliance, via which a) administrators hope to enact their agenda upon the middle and defend themselves against attack from their subordinates, and b) some students and junior faculty hope to gather some of the prominence and privilege of the middle ranks for themselves. The content of race theology bears the unmistakable marks of the power relationships that have established it and ensured its success.

It is fairly easy to imagine a parallel universe, in which anti-Communism is the elite fixation. The students are ever ready to agitate against Communism. Administrators claim that their highest goal is to root out Communism among the faculty. A lot of faculty are hired into anti-Communism Studies departments.

The first thing to disappear in such a regime, of course, would be any actual Communists. Thus the anti-Communist religion of the administration and the students and junior faculty must develop unusual new doctrines about Communism. Many people, they decide, are Communists without even realizing it. Our discourse is so saturated with Communism that Communist impulses are everywhere. Communism is specifically rife anywhere that remains beyond the reach of the anti-Communist administrators and activists. The hard sciences? Very Communist. Other traditional departments? Rather Communist. Anything not explicitly anti-Communist? Probably Communist-adjacent.

To be a labeled a Communist as a professor, or to be slurred as a Communist department, is of course to fall under the jurisdiction of anti-Communist administration, and so the faculty engage in anti-Communist liturgies and write anti-Communist papers and stay up late at night grappling with their internal Communist tendencies. Some faculty get together to request a pay raise, and all hell breaks loose. This is Communism Itself. Anti-Communist student organizations rise up to oppose the endemic Communism of the faculty. Administrators ensure their protests are protected and speak darkly about longstanding problems of institutional Communism within academia. The anti-Communist protestors demand that Communists be rooted out once and for all. Under the cover of this righteous crusade, they submit a list of demands that adds up mainly to more stuff for them and their anti-Communist allies.

That is where we are, right now.