The “Affirmative Action curriculum” returns east: T. Edward Hollander, New Jersey’s higher education chancellor, has argued that college teachers should “rethink what they teach and . . . seek ways of bridging the gaps between their areas of expertise and the diverse student populations in New Jersey colleges and universities.” What this obscure language means is that Hollander wants New Jersey’s higher educational institutions to have faculty members introduce teaching “practices” and curriculum reform that reflect the contribution of nonwhites and women to this culture.
If embraced, New Jersey will be the first state system of higher education to introduce the notion of an “affirmative action curriculum.” Hollander has conceded the controversial nature of the plan, but has insisted this measure is needed and “the step is morally right.” He also noted that he would not coerce faculty to change the content of their classes. He says he plans to use the carrot, not the stick—employing a reward system for those colleges that subscribe to the new approach.
Nonetheless, there is little question that the chancellor is sending a message to the faculties in state-supported colleges and universities. He contends, “We must do that which is both morally right and educationally sound to ensure that our students are intellectually and culturally equipped to function and live in a global and highly diverse society. Our campuses must become multicultural communities which honor and respect diversity.”
The instrument the New Jersey Higher Education Department will use to foster change in the curriculum is an initial fund of $300,000 for “multicultural projects.” One need not be too imaginative to realize that “multicultural” in the present climate means feminist studies, black studies, and the prevailing orthodoxy about current affairs, including a romantic interpretation of the so-called Third World.
While Hollander rationalizes his approach as a bold attempt to recognize other cultures in the curriculum, an unexceptional goal, everyone—including Hollander, I suspect—recognizes full well that this reform represents the installation of an approach designed to appease radical sentiments on campus.
Even more important, in offering rewards for a way of perceiving issues, the state is now determining legitimacy for the “right way” of thinking. Those opposed to feminism as an ideology or those who consider the traditions of the Third World less worthy of study than the traditions of the West, will tacitly and possibly overtly be informed that their positions cannot be recognized at New Jersey campuses. One can only wonder how academic freedom will be retained in an environment where formal preference is given for a point of view.
Perhaps the central issue in the Hollander position is his implicit belief in the fungibility of subjects and culture. The essential readings of Western civilization are invariably trivialized by the assumption that a woman or a black or a voice of the Third World can by virtue of birthright replace the traditions of Western democracy and its accompanying sense of honor and tolerance. That the highest educational officer in New Jersey would propose so daring a reform in order to counter the monopoly of white Western men in the curriculum—his description—is, in my view, a manifestation of a form of Philistinism I’d hoped would remain at the elite schools like Stanford.