THE SPINE NOVEMBER 30, 2007
Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom are old and good friends of mine. Almost everything they say or write has an odd thought in it -- an odd thought that challenges and provokes and puzzles. They turn cliches upside down. They are the betes noires of conventional liberal thinking in the academy and especially conventional liberal thinking about the academy.
Today, they had a piece in the Wall Street Journal on the plight of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It is a widely-acknowledged tenet of conservative thinking on education on that HBCUS are a thing of the past. Yet, the Thernstroms observe that, perhaps because of their racial homogeneity, "almost no students at HBCUs gravitate to black studies, gender studies and the like" and that "their academic conservatism may be the secret to their success." In what will surely surprise my readers, the Thernstroms conclude:
In a free society, many private and public institutions will have a distinctive profile. Group clustering is not necessarily unhealthy; indeed, it's an inescapable feature of a multiethnic nation. No one worries that there are "too many" Jews at Yeshiva and Brandeis, "too many" Catholics at Notre Dame and Holy Cross, "too many" Mormons at Brigham Young. And so it should be with Howard, Fisk and Mississippi Valley State. That's what democratic pluralism means.
Amidst the calls for the end to HBCUs, there appears to be a double-standard. If these students are succeeding, what's the fuss?