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« 2Blowhards: The Brand | Main | Some Documentaries »

September 09, 2004

Whither (or Wither) Illiniwek?

Fenster Moop writes

Dear Blowhards:

At Fenster's old site, he blogged several times about the controversy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign over the school's mascot, one Chief Illiniwek (note: extremely sensitive souls may wish to skip the picture below).

illiniwek.jpg

Do I have to summarize this for you, dear Blowhards, really? If you don't know the plot line by now, you can probably guess it. It's about as predictable as a Steven Seagall action film. The "Chief" has supporters (athletic types, majority of students, majority of Illinois residents) and detractors (Native American groups, sympathizers with same).

My main post on the controversy is here, though you can find more updates at the site.

I have my opinions about the symbol. But that was not my main beef. Rather, what I found of interest was the odd interplay of public policy and educational policy that the Chief's presence kicked up. The state legislature has been dragged in and accreditation agencies are up to their necks in it, too.

As far as public policy is concerned, I think it is entirely appropriate for public bodies like legislatures to take a position on something like this when a public college is involved. The problem here, of course, is that if such a process were run fair and square, Illiniwek's detractors would almost certainly lose. The Chief is a pretty popular guy. But, as we know, identity politics do not require a majority to prevail, or at least to create gridlock. It's viewed as sufficient to play a trump card on the basis of victim status, irrespective of the votes.

The more interesting issue comes in, though, in the somewhat arcane world of college accreditation. As I wrote before:

The North Central accreditation agency reviewed the university in 1999--part of its regular 10 year accreditation cycle. Its final report did not hang the institution up on the Illiniwek issue, but it did establish a five-year review, at which time the Illiniwek issue was to be revisited. It hung its concern on the diversity angle, and devoted 8 pages of a 35 page report to the issue. Seemingly a very big deal!

These midpoint reviews are not uncommon, though in my experience agencies use such a short leash approach only when quite significant issues are at stake. Does the diversity angle of Illiniwek rise to this level of educational concern under accreditation standards? Or is the educational matter in itself . . . political?

In 2003, with the five year review coming up shortly, the commission published a Statement on Diversity. Read it. It's interesting. I still can't tell if it is a brilliant bit of diplomacy, an example of the worst kind of mealy-mouth hypocrisy, or both. I tend toward the latter view. Note that the statment makes clear that it is not policy--but that it is almost policy in that it might inform policy.

Hmmm. . . . I don't think a buck stops at that thought.

Note also the last paragraph:

The Commission recognizes the value that member institutions place on their histories, traditions, and missions and the effect of such factors on their policies and practices. Therefore, the Commission does not prescribe a set of actions to address issues of diversity. However, through its Criteria, the Commission does expect its member organizations to evidence positive responses to issues of diversity and to show the relationship of those responses to the integrity of their operations.

Sounds to me like this was a shot across the bow. I doubt the commission wanted to actually engage in combat. How could an insitution like Urbana-Champaign actually lose accreditation . . . over a mascot? But, with the review coming up, the agency may have figured that rattling the chains was a good idea, the better to soften up the university's position. Student majorities have favored tenure for the chief; in-state polling suggested resistance to the idea of tying univeristy funding to dropping him.

Prior to the visit, anti-Illiniwekkers staged a sit-in to demand a meeting with commission reps. This was followed by pro-Illiniwekkers demanding the same. So the commission held a wide-ranging set of meetings and will be drafting a report shortly."

Let's face it: the college culture in general has "taken a side" on diversity and multiculturalism. That is, one can describe the prevailing ethos, and how it is in sync with, or more typically out of sync with, values found in the broader culture.

Within reason, that's not always bad. You can argue that colleges ought to be given wide berth to be somewhat out of the mainstream in terms of prevailing values. There's a virtue, after all, in the diversity of institutions in a vibrant culture. No one would want the military to share the soft values that are fairly dominant in the larger culture.

But accreditation is still supposed to follow standards, dammit. Diversity is at best an emanation from a penumbra with respect to accreditation standards which, appropriately enough, deal with matters of core concern, such as educational soundness and financial viability. Moreover, institutions are given a great deal of flexibility in describing how they meet the standards.

Nonetheless, North Central seems to have steamed on, rattling more sabers and making an educational mountain from an educational molehill.

Well, here's the latest.

"A resolution that seeks to ''publicly celebrate'' American Indian culture on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus was approved by the school's trustees today on a voice vote.

The resolution makes it university and campus policy to preserve and celebrate the state's American Indian culture and traditions. University President James Stukel says it's a necessary step toward resolving the long debate over the school's mascot, Chief Illiniwek.

Stukel says the resolution is designed to help Illiniwek opponents and supporters find an agreeable solution. He says the resolution doesn't remove the Chief but it also doesn't guarantee the symbol's survival".

Now is that ever mealy-mouthed! A resolution that says nothing, in the hope that such a nothing approach will create common ground.

Best,

Fenster


posted by Fenster at September 9, 2004




Comments

There are few institutions that can begin to approach the cosmic mealy-mouthedness of a university. I wonder what makes them so easy to roll from a P.R. point of view? Do they confuse spinelessness with principle, or are they just terminally insecure?

They should take a leaf from Gov. Schwartznegger's playbook on the "girly-man" controversy and explain that the purpose of the mascot is not to humiliate anyone. And if anyone is humiliated, well, they're girly-men. QED.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 9, 2004 07:44 PM



I can see you'd rather be right than president, of a university anyway.

Posted by: fenster on September 9, 2004 07:47 PM



That reminded me of this little NY Times story:

October 14, 1996, Monday

METROPOLITAN DESK


Women Seen, Or Just Used, Through Art


By JOYCE PURNICK (NYT) 814 words
A FEW days ago, three women wandered over to Riverside Park at dusk to look at the new statue of Eleanor Roosevelt. ''Nice,'' said one of the women. ''Looks just like her,'' said a second. ''It shows her quiet. Thinking. Good,'' said the third.

The statue, by the sculptor Penelope Jencks, shows the former First Lady leaning on a boulder, her chin resting in her left hand, her eyes looking inward. She is wearing a sensible coat over a sensible dress. Her hair is in a bun on top of her head, as it was. She looks strong and intelligent. As she was.


The three elderly women, who would have been in their 20's when Mrs. Roosevelt left the White House in 1945, smiled small smiles of approval -- three of many who have been pleased at the chance, for a change, to celebrate a fine, forthright statue of a woman.

To a fourth visitor in the park that day, the scene brought to mind another statue, another woman and another time. It was the 1950's, the place was Queens, and the woman was a busy mother who seemed sometimes to live in the family's Chrysler, driving her children to doctors and dentists and music lessons and what is now known as ''play dates.'' Then it was just called going over to a friend's house.

The woman would often drive past a large statue just outside Queens Borough Hall, and her face would tighten and her voice would go cold. ''They should take that thing down,'' she'd say. ''Degrading. For the government to sanction that? Imagine the message that sends. Terrible.''

Her daughter, peering out the window, would stare at the elaborately carved slab of marble that so angered her normally smiling mother.

There on the corner of Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike stood a huge, muscular young man in a fig leaf, brandishing a sword and stomping on two writhing figures, one a mermaid-type woman naked to the waist, the other a nymph or some other mythical figure.

The statue, as it happens, has a name. It is called ''Civic Virtue.'' As the little girl in the car found out many years later, the victorious youth is supposed to represent virtue, and the vanquished females at his feet are supposed to symbolize vice and corruption. One New York Times article from 1922 said that the ''righteous youth'' is ''besieged by two alluring sirens but is represented as triumphing over their wiles.''

WHICH is why this statue has been controversial since its introduction to New York 74 years ago. A check of The Times's microfilm library shows that when Mayor John F. Hylan unveiled ''Civic Virtue'' -- not in Queens, but in its first home in City Hall Park -- there was such an outcry that he held a public hearing, that time-honored method of trying to placate critics.

The sculptor, Frederick W. MacMonnies, was ''a bit wrathy,'' wrote The Times (yes, ''wrathy'') -- ''half amused and half provoked.'' His statue, he said, was meant to be treated allegorically. ''Temptation,'' he said, ''is usually made feminine because only the feminine really attracts and tempts.'' And would there have been such a fuss, he asked, if he had portrayed a woman stepping on a ''male tempter?''

Despite the anger and the hearing, the statue stayed in City Hall Park until 1941. Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses wanted to get rid of it, and the Queens Borough President, George U. Harvey, was glad to put it at his new Borough Hall.

The current Queens Borough President, Claire Shulman, tried to move ''Civic Virtue'' in the late 1980's and made some progress: she got inquiries from some cemetery directors, she said last week. But Ms. Shulman had to drop her effort when she (and presumably the cemetery directors) learned that moving the righteous lad and his temptresses would cost $250,000.

SO ''Civic Virtue'' still stands on Queens Boulevard, where it stood 40 years ago, when the woman in the big car would scowl at it from the driver's seat. A visit to the statue over the weekend revealed that it is one neglected mess. It is covered in pigeons and their leavings. It is surrounded by garbage, weeds and graffiti. Its fountain is waterless, and the marble is so deteriorated that it is hard to tell just what it is.

Moreover, unlike the sensitively rendered Mrs. Roosevelt, ''Civic Virtue'' had no visitors. Nobody gave it a passing glance. As if it wasn't there.

Public censure through neglect: a most fitting demise, even better than removal. The accidental feminist from the 50's, who would have been 82 today, would surely have been pleased. Her daughter is.


Posted by: winifer skattebol on September 9, 2004 10:58 PM



Poor statue! I generally like the work of MacMonnies, and am very fond of allegorical sexy stuff. Too bad it's out of fashion!

Fenster -- It seems like the "diversity" thing has become as nutty a fad on campuses as the "sexual correctness" thing was a decade or so ago. Is that a fair impression? And why are schools and colleges so prone to falling for (and going a little nuts over) these fads? What's your best guess about this? Something institutional? Something in the temperament of academics? Some weak link in the chain? Something to do with funding processes I know nothing about?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 9, 2004 11:20 PM



I'm a bit confused about how "diversity" came to be the overarching virtue of our culture in such a short time. A few years ago I was aware of this value of diversity, but in those intervening years it seems to have grown into a behemoth of a thing-- Perhaps it's indicative of what I consider my own maturation, or maybe it really has somehow completely permeated everything.
Every speech, letter, debate, and prayer that I hear around here is a paean to diversity. Really, is diversity all that great? In the paper here there are urgent and passionate letters for greater diversity, when will there ever be a day when it's "good enough"? And if these people truly care so much about diversity, when a group of them pull through a tough project together, do they ever reflect "It was great we were so diverse" rather than, "It was great that we worked hard and got the job done"?
I can't help but see the thing as a mental disease. If only I could spread around my own moral contagions.

Posted by: . on September 10, 2004 02:02 AM



I wonder whether that statue is still there. The date on the article said 1996.

Yay for politically incorrect art!

Posted by: lindenen on September 10, 2004 02:30 AM



As far as I can tell, the same thing has happened to "diversity" as happened to "feminism," "multiculturalism," and "postmodernism." In each case, in an informal sense: what's the prob? Fair play for the gals, being open to the variety of cultures, not getting hung up on overrationalized coherence, not dumping on people because they're different -- all seems not just harmless but sensible and pleasant.

But each one's been turned into a cause, and has hardened into an actual dogmatic program. As it turns out, you can't count yourself an official "feminist" unless you answer yes to a long checklist of credos, for instance. Same thing with diversity. And it does seem to have happened in supershort time, doesn't it? It's turned into an outright industry.

Peter Wood's written an interesting book about it, Diversity: the Invention of a Concept. He traces the history of the dogmatic/political use of "diversity" back to the Bakke decision in the '70s. I couldn't find an interviews with Wood, but I did find a couple of pieces by him, here and here. Seems informed and sensible. I'd be interested in hearing how Fenster reacts to Wood.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 10, 2004 09:57 AM



I smell a straw man.

Posted by: David Sucher on September 10, 2004 10:21 AM



And I sense a Sucher-move! Namely, David likes diversity; dislikes the fact that some people dislike what's become of it; and so argues that it hasn't been turned into dogma, thereby denying that it's become a problem.

Hey, I like diversity in the loose sense myself! But denying a) that it's hardened into dogma, and b) that the dogmatic version has become a problem, seems a little futile to me. If an admittedly shrewd debating move.

Here are some figures that Peter Wood cites -- from an MIT Management Study, by the way, so there's no, or minimal, political bias:

American companies spend about $8 billion each year on “diversity training,” some $400 to $600 million of which goes to “diversity consultants.” As we know from the many large companies that filed amicus briefs in the University of Michigan cases, the ritual refrain is that “diversity is a good investment.” But such evidence as we have strongly suggests the opposite ...

That evidence comes from Thomas A. Kochan, a professor of management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. A report by Fay Hansen in a recent issue of the business journal Workforce describes Professor Kochan’s five-year study of diversity programs at four large American corporations “with well-deserved reputations for their long-standing commitment to building a diverse workforce and managing diversity effectively.” The results? As Kochan puts it, “The diversity industry is built on sand…The business case rhetoric for diversity is simply naïve and overdone.” ... The claims that a company’s commitment to “diversity” results in a more creative and more productive workforce just can’t be backed up ...

In the cautious language of their report: “The empirical literature does not support the simple notion that more diverse groups, teams, or business units necessarily perform better, feel more committed to their organizations, or experience higher levels of satisfaction.” ...

So maybe diversity programs don’t deliver to the bottom line. Perhaps they are financially wasteful but otherwise harmless? Seemingly not. Although Kochan steers around the topic, it appears that aggregate increased commitment to diversity by companies does correlate powerfully with a couple things—namely increased charges of racial harassment and law suits.

Is there really a plausible way to argue that the multibillion-dollar diversity industry doesn't exist? I mean, I can see arguing that its existence is a good thing, or something not worth getting upset about. But I'm not sure I can see how it's possible to argue that it doesn't exist.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 10, 2004 11:01 AM



And I smell a rat, something really stinky, like J.Jackson and his Rainbow coalition settling out of court with accused companies for bribes in various legal form in exchange for withdrawing discrimination/no diversity charges.

Do you want to hear a personal anecdote on a topic?
About 8 months ago my son was writing essays for the 6 colleges he applied to enter Engineering Program this fall. They all sent him proposed topics of the essays, mostly touching on his reasons for choosing the major. One institution was very original though. The topic they offered was called "How diversity in America (or lack of such) affected your life?"
That was Columbia University (how many of you have guessed it right?). It was number 6 on my son's preference list and the only school to immediately reject him upon receiving the essay. (Carnegie-Mellon, UoM and Georgia Tech were very pleased to offer admission).
I guess he didn't fit Columbia vision of Engineer...

Posted by: Tatyana on September 10, 2004 11:39 AM



Sure, Michael, but why do discussions of "diversity" seem so often to start off with a mocking of issues like Chief Illiniwek? The laughing tone which usually accompanies discussions of multi-culturalism, diversity etc etc -- and interestingly enough very often by white males -- underscores the reasons why these diversity is still an issue.

Do I think that a lot of the conventional thinking around diversity etc etc is stupid and wrong-headed? You bet I do.

But I can't get behind the giggling which I hear in the counter-attacks.

Posted by: David Sucher on September 10, 2004 12:50 PM



RE diversity: here's an excellent example of why I no longer give money to my alma mater:

http://www.brynmawr.edu/news/2004-08-26/Intercultural.shtml

Roger Kimball gave a great talk upon this topic at Columbia a few months back.

RE tradition: Anyone out there still believe in preserving the distinction between "I shall" and "I will"? I just copyedited a ms. in which I made this change, and was treated like the "creature from another planet."

Posted by: winifer skattebol on September 10, 2004 01:08 PM



Another thought about "multiculturalism":
why can't a South Bronx kid read and enjoy HEIDI, just as I did? Why does she have to read a specially-written children's book about crack addicts on an inner-city basketball court for "relevance" to her own "multicultural" experience?

Posted by: winifer skattebol on September 10, 2004 01:24 PM



David:

True, "snickering" can degenerate into the demeaning, and I am the last to say there are no real racists out there who may use anti-multicult tirades to achieve their ends. Honestly, though, I don't see much of this, at least in the quarters I hang out in (in fact I see a lot more of the opposite: demeaning attacks on anyone who would challenge orthodoxy).

I think I have etymology on my side when I say that ridicule is a proper response to the ridiculous, and a great deal of what passes as diversity and multicult falls into this latter category, IMHO. As such, the recourse to humor is inevitable and irresistable. Indeed, it's the very wet blanket humorlessness of this particular catechism that invites a rebalancing response, as a dearth of yin invites a bit more yang.

Posted by: Fenster Moop on September 11, 2004 07:35 AM



Birds of a feather flock together and don't flock with birds of a different feather. Which doesn't make them bigot birds. It's just what they do. It's their nature. And to the inevitable, "Well, humans aren't birds:" there IS such a thing as human nature; which, as regards race, does not break the pattern of the rest of the animal kingdom.

Oh sure, humans will tolerate diversity. But to demand that they celebrate it?! It puts them in a pressure cooker; with the inevitable explosion.

Posted by: ricpic on September 11, 2004 08:17 AM



Let alone to devise institutional pressures to impose it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 11, 2004 08:20 AM



And another thing ...

Why do they get to define what "diversity" is? This has always griped me. Why is diversity defined as having to do with (by and large) race and sex? There are bazillions of other ways of slicing and dicing humanity.

What if I approve of "diversity" and even approve of imposing and enforcing it? But what if I prefer another way of defining it?

What if my preferred way of defining diversity has to do with, say, curly hair and not-curly hair? Or "likes Robert Altman movies" and "doesn't like Robert Altman movies"? Or "vegetarian" and "non-vegetarian"?

Heck, I'm just as bright as the current diversity-o-crats. Why does their definition of diversity get to prevail, and not mine?

Another thing: why is diversity in their terms supposed to be always and everywhere a good thing? We take it for granted that, for instance, cities and towns have certain characters: techies cluster in Silicon Valley, movie people cluster in L.A., arty lefties cluster in Greenwich Village. Most of the time, this is thought to be cool and even desirable, so long as there's a little openness and flow -- opportunities to move between 'em. There's no law against being an arty leftie and living in Silicon Valley, but none of us find it suprising or offensive that most arty lefties would prefer to live in Greenwich Village instead. Many people find life more rewarding if they've got easy access to people with whom they share a little something that's important to them.

Now, why shouldn't we expect this to be the case where other categories are concerned? Perhaps, I dunno, people belonging to the category of "recent arrivals from Iran" cluster together in a particular section of Brooklyn -- why shouldn't they? It does mean that those blocks probably aren't terribly diverse in the conventional sense, and it certainly does mean that the rest of the country is a little less diverse (where "recent arrivals from Iran" are concerned) than it otherwise would be. In what way is this a bad thing? Heck, ethnic neighborhoods (and arty neighborhoods, and highclass neighborhoods) are traditionally part of what's attractive about cities.

So long as there isn't a law against, say, arty people settling in Silicon Valley, or against "recent immigrants from Iran" settling where they want to, why should we even pay these matters much mind? Except to find them interesting, of course.

Will there be difficulties? Sure. An arty person who moves to Silicon Valley is likely to have a hard time. A straight male who moves into a heavily lesbian neighborhood isn't going to have the easiest time of it. There'll be instances when, who knows, a Chinese gang of teens will beat up an Italian kid passing through their turf. So the cops and courts get involved and straighten a few things out. I find that much preferable -- looser, freer, more full of genuine diversity -- to having a multibillion dollar industry (and mucho judicial pressure) trying to constantly enforce an unattainable and abstract "diversity" and "tolerance" everywhere and always.

Anyway, the kind of diversity I prefer is one where ethnic neighborhoods exist, arty neighborhoods exist, Iranian-immigrant neighborhoods exist, nerd-istans exist, college towns exist, etc etc. I much prefer that to the party-line diversity that requires that everyplace be the same, if only because it actually lets people get on with their own lives as they see fit. But I prefer it for many other reasons too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 11, 2004 10:37 AM



I agree that stuff like does deserve a degree of ridicule:

Bryn Mawr - Intercultural Affairs

The Office of Intercultural Affairs is dedicated to implementing educational and cultural programs that improve campus climate and enhance community life at Bryn Mawr.

Through its programs, the office takes a proactive position in helping community members understand how "us" and "them" are defined; how culture and experience shape behavior; and how relationships across differences of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class and disability are constructed. The office provides direction and education on recruitment and retention issues for the Bryn Mawr community.

"how relationships across differences of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class and disability are constructed." Give me a break. People don't need training in how to be friends with "other" people.

My mother was a school teacher and used to hoot (and amuse us) by reading examples of "educationalese" which sound a lot like this stuff. Well-meaning but pompous. Different name, same tune. I attribute part of it to society's need to maintain Keynesian "aggregate demand." It's a form of make-work to keep well-educated people busy and off the streets.

As I see it, this diversity/muliculturalism is also just part of the swing of the pendulum; all cultures have a history of racism to live down and diversity stuff is just over-enthusiasm at attempting (and it is to our great credit in the USA that we are moving in that direction) to successfully evolve beyond it.

More to the point, however, there is still is a fair amount of bigotry in the USA and attempts to ridicule anti-bigotry education (which is how I view this stuff) plays more into the hands of bigots than changes society. That's the way I see it anyway. And there's just something a bit annoying about well-educated white Christian males -- nothing personal here --sneering at diversity training. As a prep school idiot I once knew told me: "Hey! Don't be so sensitive. Go ahead and make fun of us Mayflowers. We can take it."

The only problem with that is that jokes about WASPS simply don't sting; they are mild -- madras shorts and wonderbread are one hot topic! -- and the recipients only smile benignly because they have been on top and they know it and you know it and so the joke can never haved any bite.

And if it doesn't hurt some, it's neither yoga nor humor.

Posted by: David Sucher on September 11, 2004 03:39 PM






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