The Embarrassing Responses to the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed

The Embarrassing Responses to the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed

The Embarrassing Responses to the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed

Thomas Hughes

Since the publication of Professor James Wilson and Professor Sheehan’s op-ed entitled A Mole Hunt for Diversity ‘Bias’ at Villanova, many professors have distanced themselves from the article.  Multiple departments and individual professors penned replies assuring the reader that they reject the arguments made in the Wall Street Journal op-ed.  The respondents spent many words praising their own moral virtues and informing the reader that they support “diversity” and “cultural awareness”.  However, the responses almost exclusively focus on an argument that was not made by Prof. Sheehan nor Prof. Wilson.  The original op-ed concerned the negative consequences of the new diversity questions, not whether cultural diversity itself is a good thing.  Ultimately, the responses reveal the true machinations behind University directives, as well as numerous weaselly logical fallacies used to misrepresent the original op-ed.

Particularly preposterous were some of the claims that somehow passed by whomever edited President Donohue’s letter.  One of which, that the new questions on the CATS are helpful because “Quite simply, teachers need to know who they are teaching. These survey questions are one tool to help faculty members better understand changing demographics in order to teach more effectively, and ultimately have a greater impact in their classrooms.”

First, the idea that the questions on the CATS are the only way that the University knows how diverse the student body is does not pass the smell test.  Every student at Villanova has completed the Common App, which includes a litany of questions about demographics.  Moreover, the most striking part of this claim, that if professors better understand the “changing demographics” of their classrooms, they can teach more “effectively” provides an interesting lens into the University’s long term planning.  Do we really want professors changing the way that they teach based on the immutable characteristics of the students in the class?  Is that not the definition of every “ism” or “obia” that the responding professors swear off?  Do we want an accounting professor teaching two different sections of the same material differently because one class has more African American students and the other has more nonbinary identifying students?  If that is the direction that Villanova is pursuing, at least high school students and their parents are entering Villanova with their eyes wide open and cannot complain if or when it comes to fruition.

The English Department, in unison, took a different tact to reject the WSJ op-ed.  The English Department was able to collectively toot its own horn for their, “[expanding of the] literary canon beyond white male authors.”  It shows a certain ingenuity to read an article from your colleagues about the potential side effects of questions about cultural awareness on your end of semester reviews, and to use that opportunity to boast about your changes in the required readings.  The strawman argument built by these rhetoricians allows them to substitute an easy question, ‘Is diversity good or bad?’ for the tougher one raised by the professors: What are the impacts of asking students to grade professors on amorphous terms like “cultural awareness,” “sensitivity,” and “bias?”

The most popular response to the WSJ op-ed was the one published in last week’s Villanovan.  Not only was it signed by 100 plus professors, but those professors also requested their names published as they wanted to make it clear that they were on the right side of history.  The authors begin with platitudes about how much distaste they have for any type of discrimination.  They further this bold stance by writing, “As members of the Villanova community, we believe that charges of ‘insensitivity, injustice, and bigotry’ should absolutely be taken seriously and critically evaluated.”  I’m surprised they didn’t follow this up by setting the record straight, and letting readers know how much they hate cancer and car accidents.

Not once, in the original op-ed, did Professor Sheehan or Professor Wilson request a world where they were given carte blanche to say anything without consequence.  To use progressive parlance, Professor Sheehan and Professor Wilson’s article unpacked the problematic nature of asking every student to answer three questions about “cultural awareness,” “sensitivity,” and “bias,”  The professors’ non sequitur of a rebuttal crumbles when readers realize that before the addition of the CATS diversity questions, there was not an epidemic of professors using racial epithets with impunity.

Unfortunately, the responses to the original article fail to address the issue of the diversity questions.  How is a student in a rigorous math class supposed to respond to a question asking about whether or not his instructor demonstrated cultural awareness, if the only things the professor discussed were antiderivatives and differential equations?  Is a lack of conversation about cultural awareness indicative of bias?  Do we really want students to start looking for different interpretations of professor’s conduct as being insensitive?  Who does that benefit?  Why not ask students if they witnessed the professors engage in any borderline sexually inappropriate behavior?  That has been far more of an epidemic than “bias” in Catholic institutions.

So why are these clearly intelligent and able adults cowering to the perceived mob with their moral preening?  Professors feel that if they adopt the current ideology, that will stave off the thought mob from attacking their perch.  If they keep feeding the mob with their perfunctory noises of contrition, the mob will eat them last.  However, the mob will never be appeased.  What is acceptable and what is unacceptable is moving at a breakneck speed and there will come a day when the vocal respondents will find themselves holding the new “insensitive” opinion, and they too will feel the wrath of the mob.