The Weekly Dish
The Dishcast with Andrew Sullivan
Carole Hooven On Harvard's Existential Crisis

Carole Hooven On Harvard's Existential Crisis

She lost her job as a popular lecturer because she told the truth about biology.

(This week’s Dish is an abridged version. Even though we’re on our annual Christmas break, we couldn’t let the Harvard developments go un-covered. I also wrote a short piece below, “The Woke Panic Over Gay’s Resignation.” Dissents welcome as always:

Carole is back to discuss her travails at Harvard, teaching in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. She originally appeared two years ago to discuss her superb book T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us. She’s now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and an associate in Harvard’s Department of Psychology, in the lab of Steven Pinker. She’s also an active member of the newly established Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard.

We talk here about her own experience in the last few years, targeted by the woke left on Harvard’s campus, and about Harvard itself, and whether the Ivy League can be reformed. You can listen right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on loving your intellectual enemies, and how you “can’t win a fight for rights by lying about facts” — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: Carole’s popularity with students before her cancellation; her many teaching awards; her Fox News appearance; the grad student who targeted her on Twitter and terrified the senior faculty; the friends who turned on Carole; the TAs who shunned and refused to teach for her en masse; the administration that abandoned her; the sprawling DEI infrastructure at Harvard; the monoculture there; its growing disdain for the working class; how Veritas was sacrificed for standpoint epistemology; feelings over rational debate; runaway grade inflation; “decolonizing” syllabi; Katie Herzog’s report on medical schools abandoning “male and female”; how you can acknowledge nature while still respecting identities and pronouns; CRT as the enemy of liberal democracy; Gay’s testimony before Congress; the quality of her academic papers even before the plagiarism emerged; Harvard threatening the NY Post with defamation; Gay’s resignation and NYT op-ed; the NYT scapegoating James Bennet in 2020; Chait’s cowardice when I was fired at New York Mag; the Trevor Project’s redefinition of homosexuality; the pro-Hamas protesters on campus; the belated alarm by big donors; how “white supremacy” became “Jewish supremacy”; how the SAT finds disadvantaged students — but the woke want to abolish it; my debate with Harvey Mansfield over homosexuality; Harvey mentoring students from minority groups; Carole and I debating whether the the federal government should withhold funds from DEI colleges; and, as always, how Trump makes everything worse.

Browse the Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: Alexandra Hudson on civility and Jennifer Burns on her new biography of Milton Friedman. Please send any guest recs, dissents and other pod comments to Your emails on recent episodes are below.

The Woke Panic Over Gay’s Resignation

Some thoughts beyond what I say on the Dishcast above.

The most salutary aspect of this whole affair is that it has really helped expose the core disagreement in our current culture war. One side believes, as I do, that individual merit exists, and should be the core criterion for admission to a great university, regardless of an individual’s racial or sexual identity, and so on. The other side believes that merit doesn’t exist at all outside the oppressive paradigm of racial and sexual identity, and that membership in a designated “marginalized” group should therefore be the core criterion for advancement in academia.

For a very long time, many people have assumed you could keep these two ideas on campus at the same time, and somehow muddle through. But you cannot. When push comes to shove, when there is a finite number of places available, you’re in a zero-sum predicament. You have to pick between a smarter student of the wrong race and a weaker student of the right race. In the end at Harvard, being in the right race — not merit — determines your chances.

For example: If you are black and in the fourth lowest decile of SATs and GPAs among Harvard applicants, you have a higher chance of getting into Harvard (12.8 percent admitted) than an Asian-American in the very top decile (12.7 admitted). It’s rigged, which is why it was shut down by SCOTUS. When you look at these cold, hard stats — which Harvard, of course, did all it could to conceal — there is no debate. There’s a trade-off. But once you make identity a core qualification, you’re opening up a whole world of racist anti-racism.

This is the nub of it. Most Americans believe in individual merit, and advancement regardless of identity. Harvard and our new elite believe that our society is so structured as an enduring “white supremacy” that merit can only be considered after you have accounted for the effects of “intersectional oppression.” And so they discriminate against individuals on the grounds of their race before they consider merit.

We know this. Everyone in the university knows it. It was proven in the discovery documents in the SCOTUS case that exposed the systemic anti-Asian bias in Harvard admissions. And the only way to cover it all up, of course, is to abolish testing students entirely (which is what so many elite colleges and universities are now doing) or to give all students an A or an A-, making any distinctions of excellence irrelevant. That’s how you can claim, as Gay does, that “diversity” and “excellence” go hand in hand, when obviously, at some point they can and do conflict.

And let’s be honest: we can all see with our own eyes that subordinating merit to race and sex is how Gay got her position. Her work, beyond the sloppy dime-store plagiarism, would be underwhelming for an average member of any faculty in the country. But for a Harvard president, it’s astonishingly mid. When you look instead at what she has done as an administrator, which is where she has been focused more recently, you see it has almost all been about hiring on the basis of sex and race, persecuting heretical members of racial minorities, and removing paintings of dead white dudes. She is, at least, consistent.

In the Congressional hearings, moreover, she showed little gravitas, grace, or ability to think on her feet. She has largely hidden from public view since the plagiarism revelations — not a good instinct for a leader of a huge, public-facing institution like Harvard. She is, quite obviously, a run-of-the-mill woke academic, who was promoted at breakneck speed because of her race and sex, and found herself quickly out of her depth. Ultimately, of course, the responsibility for the fiasco lies with the Harvard Corporation, not Gay herself. I almost feel sorry for her personally.

The response to all this from the CRT crowd has been to insist — ever more strongly — that Gay is simply and only a victim of racism, or, in woke terminology, a victim of misogynoir. The fact that a white female university president at those same hearings lost her job before Gay did — and without any plagiarism questions — doesn’t count. The fact that a male, white university president also recently stepped down for academic misconduct, also doesn’t count. The fact that the president of Harvard violated rules that a Harvard undergraduate would be disciplined for doesn’t count. Nothing counts, in the end, except her race and sex and ideology. The defenses of her make this explicit. Which is why they have been salutary.

The more people see this for the systemic racism it is, the sooner we can throw this neo-Marxist cuckoo out of the liberal nest, and return to the airing of all ideas, regardless of the subject matter or the identity of the students. That’s what we’re struggling to get back to and, in that sense, the Gay resignation is just one skirmish in a long war for liberal democracy. But every controversy like this helps us to make our case. And each moment of truth puts a crack in the stifling, authoritarian edifice of DEI. We can bring this corruption to light. We can hold them to account. I’m certainly more hopeful about the future of liberal society now than I was a month ago.

Meanwhile, a reader dissents over my views on DEI:

I am a cradle Catholic in my 60s. Social Justice has always represented the best of my faith in action. The seven themes of Catholic Social Justice are hardly a synonym for the far left or right. They include the value of life, care for the Earth, the dignity of workers, the importance of family and community, promotion of peace, and giving of oneself to care for the sick and the poor. 

Do we as mere humans get it wrong sometimes when we implement these themes? Of course, that is part of the struggle of living. But ultimately, Social Justice forces us to ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” And I would argue that human history has yet to develop a better philosophy than that. 

I spent decades in corporate America and have hands-on experience with corporate diversity programs. Rather than forcing one narrow point of view down someone’s throat, these programs emphasize listening to everyone in the workplace, and to form teams of varied backgrounds and perspectives to offer differing views to help reach the best result. It is easy to say that every job should go to the highest qualified, but in practice, there is no scientific method to determine which applicant is best. The most talented managers form diverse teams among the many qualified applicants, and lead by example and coaching to show the team members how to value everyone’s contribution. The best businesses want to keep their diversity programs not because they fulfill some political agenda, but because they help contribute to the best business results. 

Rather than throwing out the good with the bad by turning these positive terms into something evil, let’s debate their meanings and use this debate to help us implement actions that make this a better world.

I’m afraid my reader has fallen for a woke trap. They are adept at taking words from other traditions, like the Catholic term “social justice,” while meaning something very different. There are no souls in critical theory’s version of “social justice.” There is no personal redemption. There is merely power in a meaningless world and the exercise of that power against various oppressor groups. Nothing could be further from Catholic doctrine. As for “what would Jesus do,” let me suggest that he pointedly refused a political agenda, and in his spiritual conduct, sought to get past tribal identity toward a universal caritas. Jesus’ transcendence of tribal loyalty is what critical race theory denies.

Another reader sends an example of what DEI really means:

To quote Jerry Seinfeld in a 2014 interview that popped into my Instagram feed this week, “You’re funny; I’m interested. You’re not funny; I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that”:

Here’s an email from a “mom of a school-aged kiddo” sent two years ago:

I’d like to point something out to those critics claiming that you don’t know your stuff regarding CRT in schools. It’s old hat by now for anyone in education to argue that CRT isn’t being taught. I’ve been a public school teacher for 20 years, and to all my comrades still arguing this point, I have some news: THEY’RE ONTO US! Educators, we have some reflecting to do. I know we hate doing it, because we’re busy and tired and late for bus duty.

And to the wider audience, no, CRT is not “taught,” but as Dr. Cornel West said on your podcast, “It’s a lens.” And it’s the primary lens through which many other subjects are being taught (including AP Bio, trombone lessons, gym, ALL the humanities). Perhaps that’s to varying degrees depending on your region or administration, but it’s there and for the most part, it’s not new.

Case in point: pandemic learning loss is not one of my district’s initiatives this year — it’s equity, equity, equity. Everywhere. It’s also obnoxious, obnoxious, obnoxious. Mostly because anyone who’s spent more than give years in public ed knows this is how we roll: we follow the shiny ball, invest all our time and resources in it, then drop it like yesterday’s news when the next snake oil salesman comes to town. Only this time it’s not about growth mindset or Google Classroom; it’s enforcing an ideology that will further other and disenfranchise the kids we claim to care so deeply for. 

In contrast, a reader this week “hopes to cheer you up a little about the kids today and even a few of their teachers” when it comes to DEI:

Listen to this episode with a 7-day free trial

Subscribe to The Weekly Dish to listen to this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.

The Weekly Dish
The Dishcast with Andrew Sullivan
Unafraid conversations about anything