As Sean Carroll has pointed out, the U.S. justice department plans to sue a university, namely Southern Illinois University (SIU), because it discriminates against whites, males, and others - by establishing a wide spectrum of fellowships that are not available to whites and/or males; see the article here. Unlike Sean, I agree with the Justice Department that beyond a certain plausible level, these things simply are illegal and undesirable and it is a task for the Justice Department to act.
Not surprisingly, Barack Obama supports the discrimination, too.
Don't get me wrong: I may have been involved in increasing the fraction of females or other minorities - and maybe even females from the Axis of Evil - in our own department; by the way, some of them being very nice and attractive. ;-) But whenever my decision was twisted by similar considerations, I was very careful to check that the law gave me the right to act in one way or another in a given situation and that the decision was not manifestly counterproductive. If someone establishes several fellowships whose only purpose is to selectively choose people from certain groups that are defined by their race, nationality, or gender, and to exclude the complementary groups, then it seems pretty clear to me that the person has violated the federal laws and probably the U.S. constitution itself.
This is about the validity of very basic U.S. laws and someone's belief in some particular ideologically scientific opinions that all groups have the same average XY where XY is any observable simply can't justify a crime.
When I talk about the laws, I mean e.g. the fourteenth amendment of the U.S. constitution. The Cornell legal interpretation says, among other things:
- "A violation would occur, for example, if a state prohibited an individual from entering into an employment contract because he or she was a member of a particular race."
Helping to increase the fraction of a certain group in Academia may look as a good plan to some people, but if it contradicts the federal laws that define in what respects the people have to be treated as equal by major institutions, then there is no doubt that the U.S. laws are primary. I think that the constitution and other laws are very balanced, stable, and clear, and a violation of these rules is not right.
NSDAP was also gradually "improving" the existing system of the Weimar republic by a better "protection" of the white race from the Jews and others - who were also viewed as those who controlled the financial and retail markets and other sectors of the society which was argued to be "wrong". I certainly don't claim that the contemporary "politically correct" people are doing things at the same level, but they are quite demonstrably evolving in a very similar direction.
More realistically, I don't think that the white males are going to feel discriminated as a group, except for individual cases, in a foreseeable future. The type of discrimination that I find much more obvious is the discrimination against the conservatives. They're the true discriminated minority in the Academia, and whoever claims that they are less discriminated than the women or the blacks is either a liar, or a lunatic.
This week, I was invited to a very nice dinner in an undergraduate dormitory by two of my students. One of them is a U.S. conservative with pretty mainstream opinions (the war in Iraq may turn out to be a very positive thing; Bush is preferred over Kerry; it may be a good idea to go to Mars). When he is asked whether he feels discriminated, the answer is a resounding Yes.
In the Society of Fellows, there was one U.S. conservative among the 25 Junior Fellows or so. Please don't ask me about names in this story. During a dinner, a senior fellow has explained all of us that if the Senior Fellows had known about the Junior Fellow's politics, he could have never been accepted to the Society. This is a policy that you don't even have to hide; try to imagine how many things like that may be happening that someone does try to hide. The pattern is absolutely clear and things that are happening to the U.S. conservatives would be unthinkable in the case of any other group.
Sean Carroll is proposing a "more efficient" hypothetical way to discriminate against the white males: make their proportion at the university smaller than than the proportion in the general public. Well, I would not use the word "discrimination" for such a decision; first of all, according to available data, it would probably be a destruction of the university.
So I hope that the Justice Department will act and it won't stop with universities like SIU. Otherwise the discrimination - and a complete lack of understanding that these fellowships are violating basic constitutional principles of equality - will continue to spread. As Sean correctly says, SIU is definitely not the only university that is breaking the law. For example, Sean, Risa, JoAnne, and Clifford have expelled Mark Trodden from their spaceship because he is a white male. ;-) These policies could spread even more. And that would be dangerous.
Wendler from SIU argues that the fellowships don't violate the law because there are many other fellowships. Well, the Justice Department does not want to cancel the other fellowships, but only those that violate the law. Wendler's defense is analogous to a defense of a serial killer who argues that he did not violate the law because there are many other people in his family who have not killed anyone.