CNN’s Fareed Zakaria was the unlikely source of a devastating indictment of America’s Woke universities in a segment that aired on Sunday night.
The scathing monologue, filled with sensible critique and level-headed insights, bears watching in full.
“Here’s my take. When one thinks of America’s greatest strengths, the kind of assets the world looks at with admiration and envy, America’s elite universities would long have been at the top of that list, but the American public has been losing faith in these universities for good reason.
Three university presidents came under fire this week for their vague and indecisive answers. When asked whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate their institution’s codes of conduct, but to understand their performance, we have to understand the broad shift that has taken place at elite universities, which have gone from being centers of excellence to institutions pushing political agendas.
People sense the transformation. As Paul Tough has pointed out, the share of young adults who said a college degree was very important fell from 74% in 2013 to just 41% in 2019. In 2018, 61% of those polled said higher education was headed in the wrong direction, and only 38% felt it was on the right track.
In 2016, 70% of America’s high school graduates were headed for college. Now that number is 62%. This souring on higher education makes America an outlier. Among all advanced nations, American universities have been neglecting a core focus on excellence in order to pursue a variety of agendas. Many of them clustered around diversity and inclusion.
It started with the best of intentions. Colleges wanted to make sure young people of all backgrounds had access to higher education and felt comfortable on campus. But those good intentions have morphed into a dogmatic ideology and turned these universities into places where the pervasive goals are political and social engineering, not academic merit. As the evidence produced for the recent Supreme Court case on affirmative action showed, universities have systematically downplayed merit-based criteria for admissions in favor of racial quotas. Some university’s response to this ruling seems to be that they will go further down this path, eliminating the requirement for any standardized tests like the SAT that move would allow them to then take students with little reference to objective criteria.
Of course, those who would suffer most would be bright students from poor backgrounds who normally use tests like the SAT to demonstrate their qualifications. Iin the humanities, hiring for new academic positions now appears to center on the race and gender of the applicant, as well as the subject matter, which needs to be about marginalized groups. A white man studying the American presidency does not have a prayer of getting tenure at a major history department in America today.
Grade inflation in the humanities is rampant. At Yale, the median grade is now a new subjects crop up that are really political agendas, not academic fields. You can now major in diversity, equity, and inclusion at some colleges. The ever-growing bureaucracy devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusion naturally recommends that more time and energy be spent on these issues.
The most obvious lack of diversity at universities, political diversity, which clearly affects their ability to analyze many issues, is never addressed, showing that these goals are not centrally related to achieving or sustaining or building excellence. Out of this culture of diversity has grown the collection of ideas and practices that we have now all heard of: safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggressions. As the authors Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff have discussed, many of these colleges have instituted speech codes that make it a violation of university rules to say things that some groups might find offensive.
Universities advise students not to speak, act, even dress in ways that might cause offense to some minority groups. With this culture of virtue signaling growing, the George Floyd protests erupted and many universities latched on and issued statements effectively aligning their institutions with these protests. By my memory, few took such steps even after 9/11 or during the Iraq War. In this context, it is understandable that Jewish groups would wonder why do safe spaces, microaggressions, and hate speech not apply to us?
If universities can take positions against free speech to make some groups feel safe, why not us? Having coddled so many student groups for so long, university administrators found themselves squirming, unable to explain why certain groups, Jews, Asians, don’t seem to count in these conversations.
Having gone so far down the ideological path, these universities and these presidents could not make the case clearly that at the center of a university is the free expression of ideas, and that while harassment and intimidation would not be tolerated, offensive speech would and should be protected.
As CNN’s Van Jones has eloquently said, the point of college is to keep you physically safe, but intellectually unsafe, to force you to confront ideas that you vehemently disagree with.
What we saw in the House hearing this week was the inevitable result of decades of the politicization of universities. America’s top colleges are no longer seen as bastions of excellence, but partisan outfits, which means they will keep getting buffeted by these political storms as they emerge. They should abandon this long misadventure into politics, retrain their gaze on their core strengths, and rebuild their reputations as centers of research and learning.”
The CNN host’s monologue provoked reactions on X.
I don’t understand how this aired on CNN. I can’t detect a hidden agenda for this level-headed and timely bit of truth-telling. It’s virtually surreal.
— Kyle Becker (@kylenabecker) December 11, 2023
This has been going on for 70 years.
You can’t fix that problem overnight, and too few people understand the depth of what they’re dealing with.
— Karlyn Borysenko (@DrKarlynB) December 11, 2023
Fareed can sound reasonable at times.
Hopefully they’re waking up, but still don’t trust them during an election year.
— The Jess 🇺🇸 (@DeebieBrother) December 11, 2023
So, is this just CNN attempting to sound credible in an election year? Or is there legitimate concern being shown that America’s universities are breaking under the strain of radical activist ideologies?
Either way, it will take more than a few university presidents stepping down to stem the tide. What is needed is a complete ideological reorientation away from the left-wing ideologies that dominate these universities and back towards the academic excellence and intellectual freedom that is the core mission of these institutions.