No figure is more associated with the ideological revolution that shook elite American institutions in the Trump era than Ibram X. Kendi, the scholar of racism and the definer of “antiracism” as a worldview unto itself. So there’s a symbolic weight to the news that Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, funded by a lavish gift from the Twitter founder Jack Dorsey back in 2020, will be laying off 15 or 20 staff members — confirming the sense (among many liberals, especially) that “peak woke” is behind us, and the revolution has run its course.
Has it? By some definitions, yes. The wave of cancellations and resignations and public-monument removals has receded. The attempts to use “woke capital” to effect progressive change have met strong resistance, and corporations are losing enthusiasm for a vanguard role.
Meanwhile, there is more intellectual and political energy in anti-wokeness now, evident not just in backlash in red states but in this autumn’s roster of new books, which includes critiques of social justice ideology from the socialist left, the center left and the right. The Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action has created new legal roadblocks for Kendi-style progressivism. The mood in elite journalism is less ideologically committed and more skeptical and critical.
But any rollback is also unevenly distributed. I’ve written before about why progressive orthodoxies seem stronger in academia than in the media, but anyone who wants to understand that dynamic should read my colleague Michael Powell’s recent report on so-called diversity statements in higher education. These exemplify a different aftermath for “peak woke” — not the ideology’s retreat, but its consolidation and entrenchment.
Powell’s story starts with Yoel Inbar, a psychology professor who lost a potential job at the University of California at Los Angeles after a group of graduate students protested his opposition to requirements that academic job candidates detail their commitment to “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Professor Inbar, a political liberal, had dutifully filled out such a statement himself. But from the perspective of the graduate students, mere compliance was insufficient; his principled critique of the practice made him ideologically unacceptable.
Inbar’s personal story seems like a classic cancellation. But what my colleague’s reporting makes clear is that the spread of diversity statements isn’t really a mechanism to flush out and cancel noncomformists. It creates conformity more invisibly, by training would-be academics to advertise themselves as ideological team players and by screening out job candidates who don’t quite understand the rules of progressive discourse — who imagine, for instance, that advertising their desire to “treat everyone the same” is an adequate anti-racist commitment.
The counterargument is that diversity is an apolitical concept — who could be against it? But imagine that nearly half of America’s large universities, in response to ideological pressure groups, began asking job candidates to produce a statement affirming American patriotism — just as an apolitical concept, folks, something we can all agree is good. And then further imagine that it became clear that some answers — “I think dissent is patriotic,” or even “I love America because it’s a nation of immigrants” — were often penalized as insufficiently patriotically correct.
Most liberals would regard this as rank McCarthyism — or arguably even worse than McCarthyism, since the McCarthy-era loyalty oaths at, for instance, the University of California required only a generic affirmation of loyalty to the U.S. Constitution, not a statement of positive ideological belief.
Yet an equivalent exercise in ideological policing has thus far raised strong resistance mostly from red-state governors, tenured troublemakers and free-speech organizations; the liberal professoriate writ large has gone along with it.
There are two points to draw out of this situation. The first is about the present: Many free-speech-oriented liberals have been eager to pivot from worrying about an illiberal left to criticizing the excesses of red-state governors and school boards. But so long as bastions of liberal intellectual life are governed by ideological loyalty oaths, that pivot can only be partial, and Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott can always point a finger back.
The second is about the future. In the Trump years we saw that in an atmosphere of political emergency, when fear of populism or authoritarianism organized every left-of-center thought, many liberals struggled to resist demands of ideological fealty made by movements to their left.
Now the emergency mentality has retreated, and resistance and skepticism are easier. But what if it comes back, whether under a Trump restoration or in some other form?
In that scenario, today’s entrenchment of ideological conformity surely bodes well for tomorrow’s would-be enforcers. If liberals accept loyalty oaths under calm conditions, what will they accept in an emergency? Probably too much — in which case the next peak of wokeness will be higher, the next revolution more complete.
Gen Z Is Poised to Spend More on Debt Than Others. It Could Derail Retirement.
Young adults face mounting credit challenges
The Fair Isaac Corporation created the most commonly used credit scoring model in the country. The three-digit FICO score, which has a range from 300 at the low end to 850 at the high end, is a weighted composite of a borrower’s credit risk — that is, the likelihood that they will fail to pay back what they borrow. The scoring model includes five types of data: The most important is payment history, which amounts to more than one-third of the score, followed by the amounts owed, length of credit history, new credit and the mix of different types of credit.
While these conditions aren’t age-specific, Gen Z is at a distinct disadvantage because 15 percent of a credit score is derived from the length of a borrower’s credit history. The average credit score for adults 25 and younger is 679, compared with 714 for all Americans, according to the credit reporting bureau TransUnion. On a scale that ranges from 300 to 850, 679 is high enough to qualify someone for many loan types, including conventional mortgages, but it’s not good enough to get the best interest rates.
Young adults who are Black and Latino face even greater challenges. The Urban Institute, a think tank, found that young adults between ages 21 and 24 who live in communities that are predominantly Black have average credit scores of 597, which sharply limits their opportunities to borrow — and improve those scores.
Margaret Libby, the founder and chief executive of MyPath, a nonprofit promoting economic mobility, said that some common credit-building recommendations for young people, such as being added as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card, were less accessible for young adults of color as well as those in lower-income communities. “It’s an equity issue, it’s a real equity issue in this space,” she said.
For young adults with little credit history, other attributes of their credit score take on outsized importance. “This is one of the categories where what a young consumer can best do in this category is building their credit and building their credit history,” said Ethan Dornhelm, the vice president of scores and predictive analytics at FICO.
Sudden Closure of Art Institutes Leaves 1,700 Students Adrift
Hundreds of students and faculty members were left stunned on Friday by the news that the Art Institutes, a system of for-profit colleges, would close its eight remaining campuses across the United States by the end of this month.
The system had suffered from low enrollment since the coronavirus pandemic began. Previous challenges included a $95 million settlement after fraud allegations in 2015 and a loss of accreditation that led to the shuttering of nearly 20 other locations in 2018.
When Hannah Grabhorn, 21, a sophomore studying games, art and design at the Art Institute of Atlanta, received an email on Friday that said her school was closing, she looked for more answers online. But every page on the school’s website referred her back to the same notice. The email said that “the Art Institutes do not anticipate any further communication.”
Grabhorn said she and her classmates were informed of the closure one day after final exams for the school’s summer quarter.
“All of us were crying,” she said.
The Department of Education said 1,700 students would be affected by the decision. In addition to Atlanta, campuses are closing in Austin, Texas; Dallas; Houston; Miami; San Antonio; Tampa, Fla.; and Virginia Beach.
The Art Institutes did not respond to emails and phone requests for comment.
“There are students who thought they were pursuing an education who are now going to be left out in the cold,” said Deborah Obalil, executive director of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, a nonprofit consortium.
Traditional models of arts education have experienced contractions, Obalil said. Some schools, such as the San Francisco Art Institute, are declaring bankruptcy, while others, like the Watkins College of Art in Nashville, are merging with larger institutions to save themselves.
“We are at an inflection point,” Obalil said. “Delivering an arts and design curriculum is an expensive operation.”
The Art Institutes were often marketed as cheaper options, with some students saying they were quoted about $90,000 for a full degree’s tuition. One year of tuition at a prestigious alternative like the Rhode Island School of Design is about $58,700.
Experts said that federal rules requiring educational institutions to provide students with a “teach-out” plan for completing their degrees after a closure might not apply to for-profit schools. The Education Department has proposed a rule change to include for-profit schools in the guidelines, but the policy would not go into effect until July 2024.
“We are committed to supporting students as they explore options to continue their education or apply for a closed school loan discharge,” the department said in a statement. “We are working to post information as soon as possible.”
Teachers at the Art Institutes were also surprised by the news.
Anne Perry, an instructor at the Art Institute of Dallas, posted on Facebook that she would “grieve over its fate,” calling the school “a creative, life-giving place to work.”
“I got the message right after I had met on Zoom with a student, and we had expressed looking forward to next quarter,” Perry wrote, adding, “Now it will be a different road, for many.”
Sara Perez Sanders enrolled her daughter, Justice, at the Art Institute of Virginia Beach after Justice earned a scholarship that paid for half of the tuition. She covered the rest with money from the G.I. Bill of Rights, which began offering expanded education benefits in 2009.
“I though it was a hoax,” she said of the school’s closure. “I told my daughter to call her adviser, but the phone lines were disconnected. She was in the middle of uploading her last assignments.”
The school network traces its history back to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, which was founded in 1921. A Pennsylvania company named Education Management Corporation acquired the college in 1970 before expanding its portfolio and adding courses such as culinary arts, fashion design, audio production and video games. By 2010, the company made $2.5 billion annually, with $1.8 billion coming from Education Department grants and student loans.
Five years later, Education Management Corporation settled claims with the Justice Department about illegal recruiting, consumer fraud and other claims.
Problems only grew after a faith-based nonprofit called Dream Center Education Holdings acquired the schools in 2017. After settling a class-action lawsuit that said that four Art Institutes were misleading students into believing they were accredited institutions, all that remained of the brand was a handful of campuses.
Grabhorn, the student at the Art Institute of Atlanta, said she was in a better position than those of her peers who needed only one more quarter of school before graduating. She has a couple of months before most schools begin their spring semesters to plan her next steps. Her teachers are also looking for new jobs.
“I immediately messaged my professor, who said he was really shocked,” she said. “He asked for a testimonial.”
An Ambitious Antiracism Center Scales Back Amid Allegations of Poor Management
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, protests, looting, and anger were boiling up in the streets of Boston, a city that has played host to both abolitionists and vicious race riots. At Boston University, Black students demanded action to address campus racism.
The university had a dramatic response. It announced a few days later that it had recruited Ibram X. Kendi, the celebrity professor who had spawned a movement through his book, “How to Be an Antiracist.”
The plans were ambitious. Dr. Kendi would head up a new Center for Antiracist Research. The university would develop undergraduate and graduate degrees in antiracism. Within months, millions had poured in for a center whose mission, Dr. Kendi said, would be to “solve seemingly intractable problems of racial inequity and injustice.”
Now, a mere three years later, the center is being downsized. More than half of its 36 employees were abruptly told last week they were being laid off. The center’s budget is also being trimmed in half. The planned degree programs have not come to fruition. And the center’s news site called “The Emancipator” is no longer a partnership with The Boston Globe.
The reorganization is partly a sign of the times. Enthusiasm for funding racial justice causes has diminished as Mr. Floyd’s murder has faded out of the media spotlight and conservatives direct their ire toward efforts to diversify companies and institutions and to teach race in schools.
But the center’s struggles come amid deeper concerns about its management and focus, and questions about whether Dr. Kendi — whose fame has brought him new projects from an ESPN series to children’s books about racist ideas in America — was providing the leadership the newly created institute needed. Until the university established the center, the 41-year-old Dr. Kendi had never run an organization anywhere near its size.
On Wednesday, Boston University announced it was conducting an inquiry into complaints from staff members, which include questions about the center’s management culture and the faculty and staff’s experience with it, as well as its grant management practices.
Dr. Kendi said in an interview that he made “the painful decision” to reduce the program’s size and mission in an effort to guarantee its future, even though the center is currently financially healthy. The university said Friday that the center has raised nearly $55 million and its endowment contains about $30 million, with an additional $17.5 million held in reserves.
The bulk of the donations came from pledges made during the first year, and the university reported $5.4 million in cash and pledge payments in the most recent fiscal year.
Despite the university’s statement that it would look into the center’s management, the university’s interim president, Kenneth Freeman, on Thursday voiced strong support for Dr. Kendi, saying the professor had come to the university early in the summer with his idea for the reorganized center.
“We continue to have confidence in Dr. Kendi’s vision and we support it,” Mr. Freeman said.
But several former staff and faculty members, expressing anger and bitterness, said the cause of the center’s problems were unrealistic expectations fueled by the rapid infusion of money, initial excitement, and pressure to produce too much, too fast, even as there were hiring delays due to the pandemic. Others blamed Dr. Kendi, himself, for what they described as an imperious leadership style. And they questioned both the center’s stewardship of grants and its productivity.
“Commensurate to the amount of cash and donations taken in, the outputs were minuscule,” said Saida U. Grundy, a Boston University sociology professor and feminist scholar who was once affiliated with the center.
The turmoil comes as Dr. Kendi’s work continues to face attacks from the outside. In his books he contends that there’s no middle ground on race — everyone is either racist or actively antiracist. And he suggests that all disparities in Black outcomes and achievements are because of racism. That has ignited criticism from conservatives, ranging from some Black intellectuals to Republican-led state governments, which have banned his books from their classrooms and libraries.
Dr. Kendi acknowledged that the fund-raising environment for the center “isn’t like it was in 2020 when it was the popular thing to do.” But he added that the center still has committed funders.
And calling the changes in the center a “major pivot,” he said, “I really had to ensure that 20 years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now, the center will be around.”
The center’s new model, Dr. Kendi said, will be the first of its kind, a fellowship program for antiracist intellectuals who will be in residence at the university for nine months, participating in public events while conducting their own research.
Dr. Kendi was a professor at the University of Florida in 2016 when his book, “Stamped From the Beginning,” a history of racist thought in America, was a surprise National Book Award winner. A subsequent book, “How to Be an Antiracist,” became a best seller in 2019.
As much a public influencer as a scholar, Dr. Kendi became a flashpoint in the culture wars with his idea that to be an antiracist, one must first acknowledge being a racist.
Dr. Kendi came to Boston at both an opportune time — in the middle of the 2020 racial reckoning — and a challenging one — the early months of the Covid pandemic.
Acknowledging a difficult start-up in the midst of the pandemic — along with some conflicts among staff members who had strong and divergent ideas for the center’s focus — Dr. Kendi said he was proud of the center’s work so far.
The center says its key initiatives and accomplishments include The Emancipator; its National Antiracist Book Festivals; policy conferences on bigotry and racial classifications; 10 amicus briefs filed in racial-justice lawsuits and an antiracist technology initiative.
Even as the cutbacks were announced, the center was preparing this weekend for a meeting of 60 journalists who cover race. From the outside, though, the center’s operations appeared to be struggling. Portions of its website had been taken down.
And the center’s work, perhaps inevitably, has become synonymous with the celebrity and notoriety of Dr. Kendi.
Even as he was overseeing the center, along with a staff of administrators and academics that at one point totaled about 43 people, his business franchise has continued to grow. And some worry he has taken on far more work than can be done while running the center.
In publishing, he has spun off children’s books based on his theme. “Antiracist Baby” is geared to young children, and “How to Be a Young Antiracist,” is aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds. He has also published a guide for parents, “How to Raise an Antiracist.” His other children’s books include adaptations of work by Zora Neale Hurston. He is a contributor to The Atlantic.
In broadcasting, he has hosted his own podcast while also appearing as a commentator on CBS and cable television. He has formed his own production company, Maroon Visions, recently involved in an ESPN+ series exploring racism in sports, “Skin in the Game, which premiered on Wednesday.
He teaches an undergraduate course at B.U. on antiracism and frequently speaks at universities and conferences across the country, sometimes drawing controversy.
Dr. Grundy said that despite Dr. Kendi’s busy outside schedule, “Ibram didn’t want to give up any power.”
And in academia, where popular success can often generate pushback, his work has been criticized by some scholars who question its academic rigor and also by some on the left who worry that it has been influenced, to some degree, by the big donors who have helped create the center.
Spencer Piston, a professor of political science who worked in the center’s policy office, criticized the university’s original decision to bring in Dr. Kendi, which he viewed as a substitute for addressing more specific student complaints — including criticism of the campus police force and the lack of faculty diversity.
“It’s a failure of a particular type of corporatist university response to those same struggles,” Dr. Piston said.
Within the first year following Dr. Kendi’s hiring, more than $43 million in grant and gift pledges had flowed in, including an anonymous $25 million gift and $10 million from Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter.
Money was streaming in, but the new staff came on board slowly as the fledgling operation attempted to work remotely.
More than one former employee complained about how grants were handled, with their allegations including conflicts of interest or misleading promises to donors. The center’s staff also became engaged in a political struggle, of sorts — a debate over what antiracism should look like.
Dr. Piston, for example, questioned whether the center hewed to donor interests at the expense of interacting with community-based groups. He cited the participation of the chief executive of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which is developing a treatment for sickle cell anemia, in a center conference on public health. The company’s foundation is a donor.
Phillipe Copeland, a professor in the university’s Department of Social Work who also served at the center until he resigned in June, said some faculty had chafed at Dr. Kendi, making Dr. Copeland’s work — developing the graduate program in antiracism studies — difficult.
”There were some bad feelings about interactions people had with Dr. Kendi that made some people not want to participate and support what we were doing,” Dr. Copeland said. “I heard that a lot.”
In an interview, Dr. Kendi said that critics were using the situation “to settle old scores and demonstrate that I’m a problem or that antiracism is a problem.”
“Unfortunately we live in such a polarized, spiteful sort of reactionary moment,” he said.
Colbi Edmonds contributed reporting.
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