For a thousand years, Western universities were the champions and guardians of reason. Now, they know better.
Such is the lesson from the sorry tale of Georgetown University Law Center professor Sandra Sellers, whose career abruptly ceased to exist Thursday for the crime of being able to observe patterns.
Of course, Sellers’s remarks aren’t a shocking revelation. They’re common sense. Georgetown proudly maintains an ‘Office of Affirmative Action Programs’. What is affirmative action, if not a pledge to admit less-qualified students for identity reasons, even if it means watching them struggle in class?
Any poor soul who has hit the rock bottom of applying to law school knows that ‘Under-Represented Minority’ (URM) status is a boon for law school applications. Lawschoolnumbers.com specifically tracks it as a factor because the impact is so large. How large? Georgetown is a Top 14 law school (specifically, it’s number 14, the least elite of the elite). In 2017, PowerScore calculated that at a Top 14 school, URM status made an applicant almost six times as likely to gain admission:
‘…law schools typically give a 7 percent boost to URM applicants. In other words, a URM applicant who is exactly equal to a non-URM candidate, including all other factors we control for, is 7 percent more likely to be admitted to any law school than a non-URM equivalent. This number is a whopping 498 percent in the Top 14, 126 percent in the Top 25, and 52 percent in the Top 50 law schools.’
Georgetown is a private school and can rig its admissions however it wants, but it strikes Cockburn as unsporting to lower standards for certain groups, and then ritually execute a professor who notices the classroom ramifications.
But this sort of anti-reasoning is exactly what prevails. On Thursday afternoon, GULC dean Bill Treanor released a statement explaining the school’s efforts to combat undue noticing. In his statement, Treanor described Sellers’s comments as ‘reprehensible’, a carefully chosen term because he by no means could describe her comments as false. The fact that affirmative-action beneficiaries get lower grades has been discussed in academic papers.
In the same message, Treanor says that Sellers wished to honorably resign, but was not allowed to do so; she was fired outright to send the clear message that noticing patterns is not allowed at a school whose only supposed merit is teaching students to think like a lawyer.
But the most dreadful part of the email doesn’t concern Sellers at all. Instead, it concerns her colleague, fellow professor David Batson. Batson has not been fired, merely placed on leave until the frightfully-named ‘Office of Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action’ can determine his fate. At least Sellers destroyed her career by saying something. Batson is being destroyed merely for saying nothing. George Orwell described his predicament aptly nearly 80 years ago:
‘It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself — anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.’
All right, message sent. Georgetown has a new honor code: a student or professor will not notice trends, will not candidly comment on them in private and certainly will not tolerate anyone else who does. That is the life of the mind in 2021.
Georgetown’s sad decay into totalitarianism ought to be good fodder for the press, except that press outlets are perhaps the only places even more hostile to noticing uncomfortable truths than the average campus. Slate legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern simply described Sellers as ‘abhorrently racist’ based on…well, Cockburn can’t actually tell. Is Sellers racist for exercising pattern recognition? Is she racist for feeling bad about the pattern? Wouldn’t it also be racist to not feel bad about students admitted through racial preferences underperforming?
But Cockburn shouldn’t be too nasty. It’s hardly a surprise that Stern’s basic reasoning and explanatory powers are so poor. After all, he’s a graduate of Georgetown Law.