Behind the Evergreen story: “equity justification” for new hires

I’ve touched already on some of the “silliness” taking place at Olympia’s The Evergreen State College. I use that term because of the lack of intellectual seriousness undergirding much of the turmoil on campus.

But the results of that silliness are nothing to laugh at.

While yelling, phoned threats, and roving students armed with bats have naturally dominated the headlines, there is a lot more to Evergreen’s troubles. The battles on campus go beyond the Day of Absence controversy or students angrily confronting a professor and the college president.

“A tension that has existed throughout the entire American academy for decades”
Professor Bret Weinstein, the biology teacher who is the focus of protesting students’ ire, wrote an important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week. He spelled out his concerns with Evergreen’s changing policies around instructor hiring and what that means for the hard sciences, which “have lived side by side with ‘critical theory,’ postmodernism and its perception-based relatives. Since the creation in 1960s and ’70s of novel, justice-oriented fields, these incompatible worldviews have repelled one another,” Weinstein wrote. He continued:

“Things began to change at Evergreen in 2015, when the school hired a new president, George Bridges. His vision as an administrator involved reducing professorial autonomy, increasing the size of his administration, and breaking apart Evergreen’s full-time programs. But the faculty, which plays a central role in the college’s governance, would never have agreed to these changes. So Mr. Bridges tampered with the delicate balance between the sciences and humanities by, in effect, arming the postmoderns.

“The particular mechanism was arcane, but it involved an Equity Council established in 2016. The council advanced a plan that few seem to have read, even now—but that faculty were nonetheless told we must accept without discussion. It would shift the college ‘from a diversity agenda’ to an ‘equity agenda’ by, among other things, requiring an ‘equity justification’ for every faculty hire.

The professor is concerned about what the move toward “equity-based” hiring policies will mean for his department and other hard sciences. Shouldn’t the primary consideration be applicants’ knowledge of science and their ability to teach it? Others, mostly from outside the hard sciences, want “equity justifications” for these hires.

Who is trying to expand power beyond their department?
Weinstein sees growing tension between the “button-down empirical and deductive fields,” such as biology, and the more nebulous social sciences and humanities. If that’s true, then it’s instructive to look at who is trying to expand their power over other departments. Are science professors trying to exert greater influence over what type of dance instructors are hired? It sure doesn’t seem like it.

Yet professors in other departments are eager to turn over greater hiring influence to the school’s Equity Council, despite concerns from Weinstein and others. Those concerns seem well-founded, if you accept Michael Aaron’s description of the threat to the sciences by the post-modern approach:

“Postmodernists, on the other hand, eschew any notion of objectivity, perceiving knowledge as a construct of power differentials rather than anything that could possibly be mutually agreed upon. Informed by such thinkers as Foucault and Derrida, science therefore becomes an instrument of Western oppression; indeed, all discourse is a power struggle between oppressors and oppressed. In this scheme, there is no Western civilization to preserve—as the more powerful force in the world, it automatically takes on the role of oppressor and therefore any form of equity must consequently then involve the overthrow of Western ‘hegemony.’ These folks form the current Far Left, including those who would be described as communists, socialists, anarchists, Antifa, as well as social justice warriors (SJWs). These are all very different groups, but they all share a postmodernist ethos.”

When even the study of cell replication or the development of Parkinson’s is viewed first through a lens of “power differentials” and politics, it’s no wonder professors like Bret Weinstein are feeling nervous. They have some pretty good reasons to be – and Washington state political leaders have some pretty good reasons to be concerned about Evergreen.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.