At Columbia, Race Isn’t Even the ‘Subtext’

Last week, The New York Times reported on the resignation of Michele Moody-Adams as dean of Columbia University’s undergraduate college. Moody-Adams gave a perfectly reasonable explanation for her departure:

A frank e-mail Dr. Moody-Adams sent to trustees and alumni claimed that her voice had not been “taken seriously” regarding policies that would “ultimately compromise the college’s academic quality and financial health.”

Her note focused, according to the Times, “on what she and others have perceived as the undergraduate college’s shrinking role within the ever-sprawling research university.

And yet some members of the faculty have decided that her resignation was because of a lack of support for African-Americans or diversity in general on the part of the administration. They also cited the recent departure of Claude Steele, another black senior administrator who left for a post at Stanford. Steele told the Times that his leaving had nothing to do with the color of the skin.

Political science professor Frederic Harris told the Times that he wrote to Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, “to explain how the departures ‘have shaken my confidence—as well as the confidence of many others at Columbia—in the ability of Columbia to maintain diverse leadership at the top.’”

Really? Why hasn’t it shaken your confidence in the ability of Columbia to focus on undergraduate students. Ms. Moody-Adams, who has worked as a vice provost at Cornell, has a Ph.D. from Harvard, a B.A. from Wellesley, is perfectly capable, we must assume, of telling the world when she is the victim of racism. But apparently some of her colleagues at Columbia feel that either she is too intimidated by all these powerful white men around her or that she doesn’t know racism when she sees it.

Here’s June Cross, an associate professor at the university’s Graduate School of Journalism: “I’m not saying race is the issue, but it is the subtext.”

The subtext? What does that even mean? Do we need to deconstruct Lee Bollinger now? Racial animus is in the eyes of those observing it? Even absent, you’ll forgive me, the author’s intent? Or that the race issue is so subtle even the victim doesn’t see it?

Ms. Cross went on to say, “Michele Moody-Adams was advertised as, ‘Here’s our commitment to diversity.’ If you’re not going to stand behind what you say you hired her to do, what does that say about your commitment?”

So now it becomes clear. She was hired as an example of the school’s commitment to diversity. (She probably thought she was hired because of her credentials and her commitment to undergraduate education. Silly her.)

This is the problem with the liberal commitment to diversity. No one seems to care what is coming out of this woman’s mouth—which is, from what I hear from other professors and students and alumni, a very legitimate cause for concern at Columbia. She is just a token there to show the school’s tolerance and commitment to the racial rainbow. So when she disappears, the “advertisement” for diversity goes with her.

It’s tempting to say that Lee Bollinger and his ilk simply get what they deserve for their support of racial preferences. They will always be one-upped in this game. I had to laugh when I read Professor Cross’s final line.

“You don’t get a pass just because you once upon a time had your name on a Supreme Court case,” Ms. Cross said, referring to the legal battles Mr. Bollinger fought at Michigan. “The struggle to bring diversity is a daily affair.”

Yes, Ms. Cross. You have to work hard to root out those who are not true believers.

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