The Curse of Affirmative Action

    Here’s a question that fills me with morbid curiosity: If you pumped the typical white male university administrator full of several gallons of truth serum, what would he say about affirmative action?

    I suspect the results would be worth recording. Every such person knows that much of his job consists of affirming, over and over again, his “commitment” to “diversity” and “inclusion” and all the other magic words that signal no hint of a heretical thought on these issues has ever crossed his mind.

    Yet he also understands that, no matter how abject and craven he may be in the face of demands for ever more extreme forms of affirmative action, it will never be enough. Even if he caves before every demand, even if he dedicates his whole life to becoming a running dog of the diversity-mongers, he will still be cursed with the curse of being too white and male.

    He will be blamed for not scouring Earth with enough fervor to find the brilliant Latina lesbian in a wheelchair that his institution, once again, failed to hire. He will be blamed for every “incident” of “racial insensitivity” that proves his campus still fails to provide a “welcoming environment” for people who do not share the tragic legacy of his birth, in all its egregious whiteness and maleness.

    After a few years or decades of this, what yelps of frustration would emit from our beleaguered administrator if for even one fatal moment of candor he were to drop his guard and let us know how he really feels? It’s a fascinating thing to contemplate.

    I thought of this when contemplating Colorado state Sen. Peter Groff’s failed attempt to torpedo Hank Brown’s candidacy for the interim presidency at the University of Colorado. Groff had expressed the view that Brown, the former U.S. senator who was president of the University of Northern Colorado from 1998 to 2002, might not have a strong enough “commitment to” – you guessed it – “diversity and affirmative action.”

    The most typical feature of Groff’s charge is that it wasn’t based on anything Brown had done or failed to do. When asked to give examples of Brown’s lack of perfect orthodoxy on questions of affirmative action, Groff was unable to supply even one. “I’d have to go back and look at some votes or comments while he was in office,” Groff told reporters.

    Given that, in the world of university administration, a charge of failing to have a full and heartfelt to commitment to affirmative action is slightly more serious than being accused of mugging a Girl Scout, one would think that it would be necessary to actually have some evidence for the charge before leveling it.

    But one would be wrong.

    In my 15 years in academia, I’ve seen administrators, colleagues and job candidates charged with racism on the basis of absurd or imaginary evidence. One reason this keeps happening is that there are almost never any adverse consequences to such slanders.

    Sometimes, as in the case of Groff’s abortive little game, the charge has been subtle. Sometimes it’s been unbelievably crude and shameless.

    Brown, who obviously knows how to play this particular game, sent Groff a letter outlining various initiatives Brown had sponsored demonstrating his “commitment to diversity.”

    Even after losing this battle, Groff remains undeterred. “The racial climate at CU is dismal,” he told reporters. “I would hope that if (Brown) was going to be the interim president that he would make as one of his immediate steps to improve the atmosphere because right now the atmosphere is unwelcoming.”

    I can think of an immediate step that would improve the atmosphere at CU: convincing Groff to stop broadcasting baseless accusations.

    (Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)