The Big Joke: The Harvard Radcliffe Fellowship Program and Its So-Called Openness to Varying Ideological Perspectives

Those of us who do not dwell in the halls of the Ivy League tend to assume that when people say things like this:

We seek diversity along many dimensions, including discipline, career stage, race and ethnicity, country of origin, gender and sexual orientation, and ideological perspective.

they might actually mean it. This is clearly not the case with the Harvard Radcliffe Fellowship Program, which is currently welcoming fellows.

We all know that American academia is dominated by the left. But I was encouraged when I came across that announcement and thought, “Great—maybe a tiny corner of Harvard realizes that a nation’s scholarly sector should not be populated solely by the woke.”

Silly me. The left has so completely captured academia that its version of intellectual diversity means various flavors of wokeness or modes of thinking that run the gamut from progressive to transgressive. That is about it.

The Harvard Radcliffe Fellowship Program talks a good game. It coos reassuringly about its supposed openness to varying modes of thought:

Throughout the year, fellows convene regularly to share their work in progress. Coming from diverse disciplines and perspectives, they challenge each other’s ideas and support each other’s ambitions.

Yes, the fellows may come from different disciplines but not from different perspectives to any major extent. What is happening is that a left-leaning historian gets to spend a year chatting from time to time with a left-leaning economist who gets to hang out that same year with an extremely woke poet and so forth.

If you think I am exaggerating, just note how the subjects being pushed as priorities by the program skew left:

We welcome proposals relevant to the Institute’s focus areas, which include:

Law, education, and justice

Climate change and its human impacts, especially projects that address the disproportionate impacts of the climate crisis on marginalized or under-resourced communities

Legacies of slavery

Reflecting Radcliffe’s unique history and institutional legacy, we welcome proposals that focus on women, gender, and society or draw on the Schlesinger Library’s rich collections.

Okay, I thought, maybe the category of “Law, education, and justice” offers some evidence for the program’s claim that it is open to differing ideological perspectives. Let’s take a look:

Awarded fellowships include:

Orisanmi Burton, American University. A Language of Liberation: Prisons, Letter Writing, and the (Un)Making of Carceral Subjects

Jarvis R. Givens, Harvard Graduate School of Education. The American School in Red, White, and Black

Christopher Harris, University of Iowa. Speaking in Tongues

Michael K. Honey, University of Washington Tacoma. They Never Can Jail Us All: Repression, Resistance, and the Freedom Struggle, a Memoir and History

Camara Phyllis Jones, Morehouse School of Medicine. Tools for a National Campaign against Racism

Ibram X. Kendi, Boston University. Bones of Inequity: A Narrative History of Racist Policies in America

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Harvard Kennedy School. Lessons Learned from 50 Years of Civil Rights and Wrongs

Devah Pager, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. The Consequences of Legal Debt

Rajiv Sethi, Barnard College. The Geography of Lethal Force

Kaia Stern, Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of the Prison Studies Project, Harvard University. Transformative Work on Race and Justice

Jackie Wang, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, The New School. The Carceral Laboratory: Risk Assessment and the Politics of Bail, 1898–1984

Bruce Western, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. Leaving Prison and Entering Poverty: The Boston Reentry Study

Hmm, not a lot of viewpoint diversity there even though we are told:

The strength of our fellowship program is its diversity.

I decided to take up the invitation of the program to:

Explore the broad range of Radcliffe fellows’ projects.

I toddled over to this page, in the hope of finding any trace of a non-left scholar numbering among the fellows.

We see the usual woke stuff:

…works at the intersections of cultural histories, disability studies, media theories, care ethics, and queerness. His project—equal parts memoir, live-recorded album, and visual novel digital game—illustrates how culturally hybridized pedagogies and practices of Western classical improvisation (a so-called lost art) may empower minoritized musicians to animate a spectrum of anti-racist, anti-assimilationist, and anti-capitalist agendas in the 21st century.

At Radcliffe, she will work on a book that explores the forms of racialized labor, property ownership, and inheritance that shaped plantation culture in the early Caribbean and laid the groundwork for structures of gender and race that persist into the present.

…plans to write a fourth book of poems alongside a series of essays/introspections about how working with the lyric poem could help process the surprise, confusion, and terror of entering perimenopause in a nongendered body.

…conducts research in comparative politics. She studies how, over the past six decades, American men drifted toward conservatism as a strategy to preserve their advantage, eroded by reproduction policy and labor market changes that gave women agency; her project will explain the reversal of the electoral gender gap while shedding light on the political behavior of other groups faced with a declining advantage as well as on polarization in American politics

And so forth.

One of the problems facing this country is that woke academia camouflages the fact that it bars the door to moderates and conservatives by mouthing phrases like this:

a vibrant interdisciplinary community

One would ask what good does that do if more and more disciplines (e.g., philosophy, law, most of the social sciences, certainly the bulk of the humanities and, increasingly, the sciences) discriminate against the non-woke and are monolithically left-leaning?

And then there is this:

This year’s class is drawn from 14 countries

Fine, but a leftist from Paraguay is still a leftist.

We are told that the fellows challenge scholarly conventions, illuminate the past, present, and future, amplify marginalized voices and conduct curiosity-driven research. And they do all of this in a program that is utterly devoid of anyone who does not toe the progressive line.

Who, after all, is more marginalized in academia these day than pro-life scholars, conservative women of any race, conservatives in general of any race? Are they incapable of challenging scholarly conventions—and why is that even desirable? Cornel West, for example, has thrived as a scholar by demonstrating excellence within existing scholarly conventions.

How can a program that does not include anyone who is discernibly un-woke claim to have any association with curiosity? It seems like a notably incurious operation, given the ideological sameness of the fellows, however interdisciplinary the program may be.

When confronted about the lack of viewpoint diversity in their ranks, woke-dominated institutions disingenuously respond, “It would be improper for us to apply political litmus tests.”  True. But it is also quite ridiculous to pretend that conservatives are not being discriminated against by the Harvard Radcliffe Fellowship Program. And given the cachet that the word “Harvard” carries around the world, this discrimination is a form of economic warfare against the right and a disservice to the fellows who do get into the program who would benefit from engaging with conservatives who are every bit as innovative and able as they.

And conservatives who shrug and say, “Well, like it is news that the academic left feeds it owns and starves the right…” should not consign the training grounds of future public intellectual leading lights to the left.

More transparency on the matter of how applicants to these programs are selected is called for. Harvard may be a private institution, but it gets federal money and one would think that that fact renders it vulnerable to accountability audits.

At the least, when programs like this say that they pride themselves on welcoming diverse perspectives conservatives should say, “Prove it.”

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