….The first University of California campus opened in Berkeley in 1873, fulfilling a mandate of California’s 1849 constitution that the state establish a public university for the “promotion of literature, the arts and sciences.” Expectations for this new endeavor were high; Governor Henry Haight had predicted that the campus would “soon become a great light-house of education and learning on this Coast, and a pride and glory” of the state.
He was right. Over the next 140 years, as nine more campuses were added, the university would prove an engine for economic growth and a source of human progress. UC owns more research patents than any other university system in the country. Its engineers helped achieve California’s midcentury dominance in aerospace and electronics; its agronomists aided the state’s fecund farms and vineyards. The nuclear technology developed by UC scientists and their students secured America’s Cold War preeminence (while provoking one of the country’s most cataclysmic student protest movements). UC’s physical infrastructure is a precious asset in its own right. Anyone can wander its trellised gardens and groves of native and exotic trees, or browse its library stacks and superb research collections.
But by the early 1960s, UC was already exhibiting many of the problems that afflict it today. The bureaucracy had mushroomed, both at the flagship Berkeley campus and at the Office of the President, the central administrative unit that oversees the entire UC system. Nathan Glazer, who taught sociology at Berkeley at the time, wrote in Commentary in 1965: “Everyone—arriving faculty members, arriving deans, visiting authorities—is astonished by the size” of the two administrations. Glazer noted the emergence of a new professional class: full-time college administrators who specialized in student affairs, had never taught, and had little contact with the faculty. The result of this bureaucratic explosion reminded Glazer of the federal government: “Organization piled upon organization, reaching to a mysterious empyrean height.”
At Berkeley, as federal research money flooded into the campus, the faculty were losing interest in undergraduate teaching, observed Clark Kerr, UC’s president and a former Berkeley chancellor. (Kerr once famously quipped that a chancellor’s job was to provide “parking for the faculty, sex for the students, and athletics for the alumni.”) Back in the 1930s, responsibility for introductory freshman courses had been the highest honor that a Berkeley professor could receive, Kerr wrote in his memoirs; 30 years later, the faculty shunted off such obligations whenever possible to teaching assistants, who, by 1964, made up nearly half the Berkeley teaching corps.
Most presciently, Kerr noted that Berkeley had split into two parts: Berkeley One, an important academic institution with a continuous lineage back to the nineteenth century; and Berkeley Two, a recent political upstart centered on the antiwar, antiauthority Free Speech Movement that had occupied Sproul Plaza in 1964. Berkeley Two was as connected to the city’s left-wing political class and to its growing colony of “street people” as it was to the traditional academic life of the campus. In fact, the two Berkeleys had few points of overlap.
Today, echoing Kerr, we can say that there are two Universities of California: UC One, a serious university system centered on the sciences (though with representatives throughout the disciplines) and still characterized by rigorous meritocratic standards; and UC Two, a profoundly unserious institution dedicated to the all-consuming crusade against phantom racism and sexism that goes by the name of “diversity.” Unlike Berkeley Two in Kerr’s Day, UC Two reaches to the topmost echelon of the university, where it poses a real threat to the integrity of its high-achieving counterpart….
….Yet when UC Two’s administrators and professors look around their domains, they see a landscape riven by the discrimination that it is their duty to extirpate.
Thus it was that UC San Diego’s electrical and computer engineering department found itself facing a mandate from campus administrators to hire a fourth female professor in early 2012. The possibility of a new hire had opened up—a rare opportunity in the current budget climate—and after winnowing down hundreds of applicants, the department put forward its top candidates for on-campus interviews. Scandalously, all were male. Word came down from on high that a female applicant who hadn’t even been close to making the initial cut must be interviewed. She was duly brought to campus for an interview, but she got mediocre reviews. The powers-that-be then spoke again: her candidacy must be brought to a departmental vote. In an unprecedented assertion of secrecy, the department chair refused to disclose the vote’s outcome and insisted on a second ballot. After that second vote, the authorities finally gave up and dropped her candidacy. Both vote counts remain secret.
An electrical and computer engineering professor explains what was at stake. “We pride ourselves on being the best,” he says. “The faculty know that absolute ranking is critical. No one had ever considered this woman a star.” You would think that UC’s administrators would value this fierce desire for excellence, especially in a time of limited resources. Thanks to its commitment to hiring only “the best,” San Diego’s electrical and computer engineering department has made leading contributions to circuit design, digital coding, and information theory.
Maria Sobek, UC Santa Barbara’s associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity, and academic policy and a professor of Chicana and Chicano studies, provides a window into how UC Two thinks about its mission. If a faculty hiring committee selects only white male finalists for an opening, the dean will suggest “bringing in some women to look them over,” Sobek says. These female candidates, she says, “may be borderline, but they are all qualified.” And voilà! “It turns out [the hiring committees] really like the candidates and hire them, even if they may not have looked so good on paper.” This process has “energized” the faculty to hire a woman, says Sobek. She adds that diversity interventions get “more positive responses” from humanities and social-sciences professors than from scientists.
Leave aside Sobek’s amusing suggestion that the faculty just happen to discover that they “really like” the diversity candidate whom the administration has forced on them. More disturbing is the subversion of the usual hiring standard from “most qualified” to “qualified enough.” UC Two sets the hiring bar low enough to scoop in some female or minority candidates, and then declares that anyone above that bar is “qualified enough” to trump the most qualified candidate, if that candidate is a white or an Asian male. This is a formula for mediocrity.
Sometimes, UC Two can’t manage to lower hiring standards enough to scoop in a “diverse” candidate. In that case, it simply creates a special hiring category outside the normal channels. In September 2012, after the meritocratic revolt in UC San Diego’s electrical and computer engineering department, the engineering school announced that it would hire an “excellence” candidate, the school’s Orwellian term for faculty who, it claims, will contribute to diversity and who, by some odd coincidence, always happen to be female or an underrepresented minority. UC San Diego’s Division of Physical Sciences followed suit the next month, listing two tenure-track positions for professors who could “shape and expand the University’s diversity initiatives.” If the division had any specific scientific expertise in mind, the job listing made no mention of it….
….The UC undergraduates whom I met in 2012 were serious, self-directed, and mature. But they are ill-served by a system that devotes so many resources to political trivia. UC Two’s diversity obsessions have no place in an institution dedicated to the development of knowledge. No one today asks whether the Berkeley physics laboratory that developed the cyclotron had a sufficient quota of women and underrepresented minorities; the beneficiaries of nuclear medicine are simply happy to be treated.
The retirement of President Yudof in summer 2013 provides an opportunity for an overdue course correction. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that anyone will seize it. Every potential countervailing force to UC Two has already been captured by UC Two’s own ideology. The California legislature is as strong an advocate for specious social-justice crusades as any vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. The regents have been unanimous cheerleaders for “diversity” and will run all presidential candidates through a predictable gauntlet of diversity interrogation. For more than a decade, the federal government has used its grant-making power to demand color- and gender-driven hiring in the sciences. UC One’s passion for discovery and learning will fuel it for a long time yet, but it will continue to be weakened severely by UC Two.