WSJ: Universities Abandon Reason for a False Idea of ‘Empowerment’

This is a commentary on “Universities Abandon Reason for a False Idea of ‘Empowerment’” by Aaron Alexander Zubla which appears as an opinion article in the Saturday/Sunday, August 15-16, 2020 print edition of the WSJ.

I empathize with the thought that the new requirement is inappropriate…albeit perhaps with a different worldview.

Looking at the CSU Press Release CSU Press Release “CSU Trustees Approve Ethnic Studies and Social Justice General Education Requirement” and California Assembly Bill No. 1460 which addresses this ethnic studies GE requirement at CSU, this appears to be a case of lipstick on a pig. The stated case for academic (scholarly) and social benefit is overly optimistic…it could have the opposite effect too. Why isn’t there instead a special task force that addresses the issue at all levels of society (and globally in-between)?

Let’s return to the WSJ article…

To answer my own question about why place this un-promising requirement in a university setting, it seems to be motivated by image-based appeasement. The WSJ article describes this as “another sign of the politicization of universities” and laments that “For decades the humanities have tilted progressive.” While this matches the motions in my worldview, my perceptions of the direction are slightly different and tend towards a comedy of errors as opposed to an evil plot.

CSU could have simply offered courses in the history or political science departments to add courses which relate to sociological race issues. GE already includes these courses. The idea that a dedicated 3-unit course will benefit student scholarship is like a car salesman’s sell (they try to go over every single feature hoping that one will click – instead of listening and responding in a precise manner). And even if 10% of any class cohort retains, how have they been empowered? Knowledge without EQ is not empowerment.

How else is my worldview different? I think the scope is not sufficiently global. What if the requirement included international relations and global studies courses? What if it went beyond social justice and the direction of political winds? The challenge is not so much to become aware of the strife, but more so one of looking for positive lessons. I predict that these courses will be negatively-toned which is the switch-flipper to off for most people…especially those already with many distractions. Which makes me think…should this also include courses from the psychology department.

One last comment on the idea in the article that non-humanities subject areas (eg, medicine, accountancy and engineering) are set in supported applicable fact alone (the author uses the word “truth”). Not so. Social justice has entered these programs as well. However, they may be better models than what is being instituted by CSU where students can apply critical thinking as to whether these social issues are important. There may be no choice but to align in a GE course. Even so, how many will have learned anything?

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