There is a fun discussion at WSO about this post. Aston Gonzalez, who started the thread, does not seem to be my biggest fan.

What I think you’re missing is Kane’s blatant sarcasm and mockery of the Africana Studies program.

I am not mocking the Africana Studies program. I am mocking Williams for thinking that doubling (?) the size of the Africana Studies program does as much to increase “diversity” on campus as would spending the same amount of money on increasing the range of ideological views among the faculty.

Now, there are a lot of messy details in this dispute. Williams did not used to have an Africana Studies program at all. It used to be called Afro-American Studies, which is, as Professor Joy James can explain better than I, not the same thing. I also do not know if the budget has doubled. But you can be sure that Professor James did not take a pay cut when she left her position at Brown to come to Williams. Tenured Ivy League professors do not come cheap, either in terms of the salary they merit or in terms of the resources they require. A glance at the program’s homepage demonstrates that some serious money is being spent.

But the central point is that just because you think that Williams should spend more money on X and less on Y does not necessarily imply that you think money being spent on Y is being wasted.

These were his words: “The fact that KC isn’t at Williams is one of the worst faculty outcomes of the last two decades. No worries, though. We have a new department of Africana Studies. Who needs ideological diversity among the faculty? That would be too confusing for the students!”

He is chastising the College for not hiring a Poli Sci prof. who, in his eyes, believes and teaches from a different point of view. I completely understand and see the merit in that.

Good! Perhaps Gonzalez and I are closer to agreement than he thinks we are. We both agree that Williams benefits from having great teachers like KC Johnson and Joy James. We both think that, in addition to their qualities as superb teachers and researchers, Johnson and James bring something else to the College. In other words, even if they taught, say, chemistry, Williams would be pleased to have Johnson and James. But the fact that Johnson has a unique ideological viewpoint and that James has an expertise in a specific academic discipline means that they are even more desirable than their “raw” teaching ability would suggest.

Fine. All is rosy. But does Gonzalez understand that resources are limited, that Williams can not hire 500 professors, that choices must be made?

Imagine that Morty announced tomorrow that he was doubling the size of the Classics Department, that he had hired away a famous professor from Yale, that two new assistant professor positions had been created and that several new visiting positions and a lecture series were being funded.

Who could be against such wonderfulness? Could Gonzalez be so anti-Grecian (?) that he would deny the value of studying Greek literature? Is he so anti-Roman in his thinking that he might fail to see the value to Williams of more classes in Classics? I hope not!

Instead, I hope Gonzalez would see, not just the wonderfulness of the new additions, but also what those resources might have gone to instead. I hope that he would be aware of both what is seen and what is not seen.

At that point, we can have a conversation about the costs and benefits of the different ways that Williams can spend its money. There are benefits to doubling the size of Africana Studies. But are the marginal benefits of doing so — given that Williams already had a fine program with dedicated teachers — greater than the marginal benefits of adding the first contingent of non-liberal faculty? I don’t think so.

In the same thread, Daniel Blinder writes:

I do agree that more professors with viewpoints not conforming to the liberal norm would be good to have. I don’t consider myself conservative, but I’m also less liberal than a lot of people here.

Andrew Wang agrees:

Africana Studies is fine, but at the same time, the vast majority of faculty teaching in such fields are liberal and left-leaning. As an individual who does not always subscribe to the prevailing wisdom of liberal academia, I would find it refreshing to bring in experienced, well-respected, and skilled faculty who were NOT always left of center.

Agreed. On the margin, the thing that Williams needs most is ideological diversity among the faculty, i.e., a few conservatives/Republicans/libertarians.

However, my problem with his statement is how he discounts the entire Africana Studies program, and implies that its mission, purpose, and existence pale in comparison to that of one allegedly unique prof.

This is not what I believe. In fact, I expect to become more of a Joy James fan over time. I hear, from students, that she is a demanding professor who requires her students to think clearly and work hard. That’s my kind of Williams professor! The Williams professors/programs which I hold in contempt are the ones that do not require serious work from their students. Science gut courses for non-majors are the worst examples.

What angers is me is how Kane frequently, as Andrew W. said, “would rather see us return to the good ol’ days when we studied the works of “dead white men” to the exclusion of everything else.”

Life is short so I don’t expect Gonzalez to read what I write. But he shouldn’t pretend to know what I think if he isn’t going to take the time to find out. If students prefer Frantz Fanon to The Federalist Papers, if they would rather read Rigoberta Mench´┐Ż than Plato, then more power to them. I may, on occasion, mock students for making these choices, but I will always defend their right to make them. The College should teach the courses and topics that students want to take (chosen from the universe of serious academic fields) and not the courses and topics that I (or Aston or the faculty) want students to take.

Indeed, this desire to respond to student preferences is one of the reasons that I do not like small, specially focused departments like Africana Studies. Better, I think, would be for these professors to be housed in large departments so that it would be easier to shift them around as student interests change. But this is a side issue to those raised by Gonzalez.

Yet the great irony here is that Gonzalez demonstrates the very need for greater ideological diversity among the faculty by his incorrect assumption that anyone, like me, who would criticize the increase of Africana Studies must be in favor of requiring that students read more Dead While Males. Some conservatives, it is true, do argue that. But many (indeed, most conservative Ephs) don’t. If Gonzalez actually had a conservative professor — someone who like Sam Crane or Marc Lynch taught her classes non-ideologically but who added her viewpoint to the public conversation on campus — he might realize that we aren’t all alike.

The debate on WSO includes this:

Little known fact: Reading exclusively Western literature does not promote diversity because all dead white men agreed with each other.

To which Gonzalez responds with “Amen.” Please tell me that this is irony!

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