TUESDAY, JUNE 1, 2021
Our Town, we have a problem: Can Sarah Viren's wider claim possibly be accurate?
Professor Viren's wider claim appeared as part of her lengthy essay in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. According to Viren, there's been a whole lot of fakin' going on within American higher education, and this has been true for some time.
Viren was referring to one particular kind of faking—the kind of faking she refers to as "ethnic fraud." She described the extent of this type of faking in this remarkable passage:
VIREN (5/30/21): It’s a problem that has been known at least since 1992, when, in an early use of the term “ethnic fraud” in a newspaper, The Detroit News published an investigation into what were then known as box-checkers: students who [inaccurately] identify as Native American on their college applications...It was accompanied by a shorter piece about similar lies by Native-identified faculty. Of the 1,500 university educators listed as Native American at the time, said Bill Cross, who helped found the American Indian/Alaska Native Professors Association, “we’re looking realistically at one-third of those being Indians.”
Could that possibly have been true? As of 1992, were something like a thousand university educators falsely identifying as Native American in order to boost their careers?
For ourselves, we can't assess the extent of any such behavior. In her lengthy report, Viren focused on the case of Professor Andrea Smith, a "prominent academic" in the world of ethnic studies.
Smith is widely believed to have falsely identified as Native American (specifically, as Cherokee) in the course of her long career. Despite this fact, her career continues, as Viren reports in detail.
Has Professor Smith made bogus claims about her ancestry / identity? Viren goes into substantial detail on that question. For a more concise account of this matter, we'll recommend this report in The Daily Beast from back in 2015.
Along the way in Sunday's report, Viren cites a half dozen other specific cases in which professors seem to have been involved in varying types of "identity fraud." At one point, Viren—herself a professor, at Arizona State—described the nature of her interest in this general topic:
VIREN: When I began researching this article, I wanted to understand why stories like these seem to dominate one industry—my industry. As a white academic, I watched, aghast, as other white academics were outed for pretending to be scholars of color, both in real life and online. It seemed absurd to me at the time but also horrifying — in part because the outings coincided with a moment of national reckoning on questions of race and representation, and a number of universities, including mine, had recently committed to hiring more scholars of color. I kept wondering, as the former academic Ruby Zelzer posted on Twitter in September, “Academia, do we have a problem?”
“Academia, do we have a problem?” Viren says she found herself asking that perfectly sensible question.
Viren wondered why her industry—the industry called academia—seemed to be beset with so much fraud of this type. She also found herself saying this, as we noted yesterday:
VIREN: All of this was a little bewildering to watch from the sidelines. Academia is an industry, like journalism, that defines itself in large part by its ethical standards; we’re supposed to educate people and produce knowledge. So what does it mean that we’re also a haven for fakes?
Like journalism, academia is supposed to be defined by its high ethical standards—and by its ability to produce actual knowledge. "So what does it mean," Viren asks, when we learn that academia also turns out to be "a haven for fakes?"
With apologies—at this point, we're largely repeating material we posted yesterday. For today, we want to do a better job defining the problem facing Our Town—the problem as we see it:
Does academia have a problem in the area of "ethnic fraud?" Based on Viren's reporting, it would seem that the answer is yes.
Presumably, it's also true that the vast majority of professors are not engaged, directly or indirectly, in some sort of "ethnic fraud." Presumably, that's true in the realm of ethnic studies, and it's true in all other fields.
That said, modern academia would have various types of "problems" even if no one was engaged in ethnic fraud at all. When it comes to the ongoing breakdown of our rapidly failing society, that may be especially true in the general realm of ethnic studies, and in related fields.
In the general realm of values, Our Town relies heavily on the modern professoriate. This is especially true in matters involving gender and race.
It's strange to hear that "ethnic fraud" is as widespread as Viren says it is. But the political problem afflicting Our Town is only tangentially connected to this narrower, though deeply embarrassing, state of affairs.
Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings! Also, every time an academic makes a silly claim about gender or race, it gets reported to viewers of the Fox News Channel.
This heightens the political and cultural divide due to which our failing nation is sliding toward the sea. It subjects Our Town to ridicule. It drives other people away.
Might we speak frankly just this once? Our Town is full of silly claims and silly ideas which come to us from vaunted professors, possibly including the apparently fraudulent Professor Smith.
If none of those people were "ethnic frauds"—and surely, the large majority aren't—the damage caused by their silly ideas would be no less daunting.
Starting this afternoon, we're going to drop the question of "ethnic fraud" and focus on the question of silly ideas. Those silly ideas are everywhere in Our Town's current journalism, and those silly ideas have largely made their way into journalism from the halls of academia.
Good intentions may lie behind silly ideas, but the ideas remain silly. Nor do silly ideas start making sense if their authors are not involved in acts of "ethnic fraud."
Viren said that academia, like journalism, is supposed to have high ethics. She said that journalism, like academia, is supposed to produce actual knowledge—is supposed to be smart.
Here in Our Town, we're badly burdened by a whipsaw between these two worlds. We'll offer examples all this week, starting this afternoon.
Judging from Viren's detailed account, some of Our Town's prominent professors haven't always been super honest. But a larger problem prevails:
A larger number of our professors may not have super good judgment. And the silly judgments of academia leak out into Our Town's high-end, upper-class press corps.
In our view, the proliferation of silly ideas in our high-end press seems to be getting worse every day. (The Washington Post and the New York Times were both astounding this morning.) Meanwhile, according to experts, the die has already been been cast:
According to experts, it's too late—it's much too late—to expect this process to stop. Our nation has already split apart.
According to experts, there's no obvious way to glue its various pieces back together again. All that's left is the anthropology, these disconsolate experts have said.
This afternoon: It has ever been thus...