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California professors instructed not to say ‘America is the land of opportunity’
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That’s one of several phrases deemed a ‘microaggression’ at faculty leader training sessions initiated by University of California President Janet Napolitano

“America is the land of opportunity,” “There is only one race, the human race” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” are among a long list of alleged microaggressions faculty leaders of the University of California system have been instructed not to say.

These so-called microaggressions – considered examples of subconscious racism – were presented at faculty leader training sessions held throughout the 2014-15 school year at nine of the 10 UC campuses. The sessions, an initiative of UC President Janet Napolitano, aim to teach how to avoid offending students and peers, as well as how to hire a more diverse faculty.

At the gatherings, deans and department chairs across the UC system have been instructed to be careful using (read: instructed not to use) phrases such as “America is the land of opportunity” or even use forms that provide only “male” and “female” check boxes, among a long litany of supposed microaggressions listed in a document underlying the “Faculty Leadership Seminars.”

The document has drawn little scrutiny until now, when a professor in the UC system pointed it out to The College Fix. The professor chose not to attend the seminars, but myriad materials on the UC Office of the President (UCOP) website give indication as to what sort of lessons were taught there.

Other sayings deemed unacceptable include:

● “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”

● “Where are you from or where were you born?”

● “Affirmative action is racist.”

● “When I look at you, I don’t see color.”

These phrases in particular are targeted because they promote the “myth of meritocracy” or represent “statements which assert that race or gender does not play a role in life successes.” Others are said to be color blind, apparently a bad thing that indicates “that a white person does not want to or need to acknowledge race,” according to the handout, “Tool: Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send.”

In another handout, “Tool for Identifying Implicit Bias,” faculty are advised when dealing with a student or researcher that they are particularly impressed with not to express approval with compliments like “It’s clear he’s a rockstar.” The handout also describes “raising the bar” as “elitist.”

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President Napolitano’s “invitation” to deans and department chairs in January describes the half-day seminars as helping them meet their “responsibility” to create “academic climates that enable all faculty to do their best work.” The seminars are intended to help faculty identify and “interrupt” microaggressions and develop “an inclusive department/school climate,” according to the seminars’ webpage.

The seminars also taught faculty how to deal with prospective hires and existing minority faculty. According to a synopsis of the theatric production “Ready to Vote?” presented at the gatherings, a group of professors consider whether to nominate an Asian American female colleague for tenure. It’s intended to illustrate several perceived microaggressions, such as holding minority professors to higher standards than white male counterparts and not supporting their research.

Another highlight among materials for the seminars is a curious choice: a Supreme Court dissent in a decision upholding Michigan voters’ right to ban race preferences in college admissions. Its inclusion suggests to faculty that publicly approving of race-neutral admissions policies is a microaggression.

The College Fix reached out to the UC Office of the President for comment. In response to a question about how these seminars might have a chilling effect on faculty members’ ability to engage in free speech, representative Shelly Meron said in an email Tuesday that “These seminars are not an attempt to curb open dialogue, debate or classroom discussions.”

“The seminars are part of the President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program,” Meron stated. “Deans and department heads who attended the seminars could choose whether they wanted to convey the information to their faculty.”

With regard to the seemingly commonplace, innocuous quotes that are labeled microaggressions in the seminar leaflets, Meron writes:

“The quotes you referenced are taken directly from research done on this topic. We present this research literature/climate survey responses as examples so that faculty leaders can be more aware of the impact their actions or words may have on their students, and to provide faculty members with potential strategies to create an inclusive learning environment for all students.”

Many UC administrators are used to talking about promoting diversity thanks to diversity initiatives and calls to “improve campus climate” that have been legion across UC campuses in recent years. UCLA’s campus in particular has been a hotbed of activity for diversity campus crusaders.

In 2013, Carlos Moreno, a retired California Supreme Court judge, authored an exhaustive report on “Acts of Bias and Discrimination Involving Faculty” at UCLA. Just this past year, after failed attempts in 2004 and 2012, UCLA passed a highly controversial diversity class requirement that was the subject of multiple faculty votes.

College Fix reporter Josh Hedtke is a student at UCLA. College Fix editor Jennifer Kabbany contributed to this report.

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IMAGE: David Saddler/Flickr

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