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Author Argues "Assault on American Excellence" in Highly Critical Book

August 15, 2019
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
Author Argues "Assault on American Excellence" in Highly Critical Book

In his book "The Assault on American Excellence," author and former dean of Yale Law School Anthony Kronman is highly critical of American colleges, particularly when it comes to issues of affirmative action, the renaming of buildings that honored those who embraced slavery, and political correctness.

For Kronman, affirmative action became problematic when it converted from a "political or social ideal into an academic and intellectual one, under the rubric of diversity." The extraordinarily talented young people of various origins and backgrounds that come to Yale, according to Kronman, are forced to view themselves first as members of an "affinity group" and then secondly, as individuals. As a result of this shift, "the value of the very opportunity that programs of affirmative action were originally meant to enhance is lost or reduced."

When it comes to renaming colleges, Kronman maintains that "we should live with our history, not erase it," especially when it comes to academic institutions that pride themselves on their "devotion to the truth and the cultivation of a capacity for living with moral complexity." When Yale renamed Calhoun College in 2016, it demonstrated an inability to "come to terms with its own past and that of the nation," something which Kronman claims is worth remembering. In doing so, it represented an "act of forgetfulness" and revealed Yale's incapacity to live in the full light of truth, despite how painful that might be. Rather than renaming the college, Kronman contends that Yale could have kept the name and endowed a new center at Yale for the "the study of antebellum America, housed in an expanded Calhoun complex but named for Edward Bouchet, the first African American to earn a doctorate from any university in the country (Yale, Ph.D.,1876)."

On the issue of freedom of speech, Kronman thinks that faculty and students should be devoted to pursuing truth rather than turning away campus speakers whose interests may be "narrower," more controversial, or who may offend certain groups, particularly those coming from a historically oppressed or marginalized group. Furthermore, he asserts that schools should not be able to "veto" which individuals or organizations speak on campus; the end goal should be to provide an "organized forum for criticism and competing views." Do you agree with Kronman's ideas? Why or why not?

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