Would Martin Luther King Be Able To Get A Job At The University Of Texas Today?


Thomas K. Lindsay, Ph.D.

Tom K. Lindsay, Ph.D., is a distinguished senior fellow of higher education and constitutional studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He has more than two decades’ experience in education management and instruction, including service as a dean, provost, and college president.

In the 1940s and 1950s, U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) led a movement to purge communists from positions of power. Many government employees, academics, writers, labor union leaders, and entertainers were inappropriately fired or blacklisted for the “crime” of having (or being suspected of having) a different ideology than Sen. McCarthy.

Later generations use the term “McCarthyism” as a cautionary tale about the dangers of employing political ideology as a litmus test. But today’s progressives are implementing a “New McCarthyism.” All that has changed is the target, which today is the “unwoke” (meaning all those who are not sufficiently leftist).

Unfortunately, the New McCarthyism may be coming to the University of Texas at Austin (UT). The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has obtained the university’s proposed Faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Strategic Plan (hereafter referred to as “UT’s Proposed Plan”). NAS received the proposal, it tells us, “from a UT Austin employee who shall remain anonymous.” UT’s Proposed Plan would require that every new professor hired “will include applicant commitment to inclusivity and support for diverse populations, as well as experience and future plans in these areas as a hiring criterion.” At first glance, this seems unobjectionable. Who’s against diversity and inclusivity? But in practice, the use of litmus tests means the unwoke need not apply—in violation of their First Amendment rights, which state-supported universities like UT-Austin are constitutionally bound to protect.

Since UT’s plan is only a proposal, should we be confident that it will fail to become an ideological litmus test? No, because litmus tests have already taken hold at the University of California at Berkeley, which has implemented a similar plan.

At UC-Berkeley, administrators tasked with ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion have been given veto power over which of job applicants can be considered for hiring. These New McCarthyites used their veto pens copiously—of the 893 nominally qualified candidates, over three-quarters (679) were vetoed because they were insufficiently “diverse.”

These massive vetoes suggest that the one form of diversity ignored, if not suppressed, by such litmus tests is intellectual diversity—and this baldly contradicts the assurance that appears in the very first paragraph of UT’s Proposed Plan: “As part of the academic mission of The University of Texas at Austin, we are committed to recruiting, employing, and supporting highly-qualified faculty members with a wide range of backgrounds, ideas, and viewpoints” (emphasis supplied).

To see this disparity, ask yourself the question, “Would someone who espouses the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ideas on race pass the proposed litmus test”? Regarding race relations, King famously declared in 1963, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

But King’s plea for equal justice under the law for all would be shot down by the New McCarthyites at UC-Berkeley. According to the grading rubric used by UC-Berkeley, applicants could be eliminated from consideration for “treating all students the same regardless of background.”

Today’s McCarthyites, contrary to their intentions, run the risk of destroying King’s vision for America, which depends on the country living up to the Declaration of Independence’s promise of color-blind justice. Indeed, all of King’s powerful rhetoric aimed at reminding Americans that the Declaration’s assertion that “all men are created equal” was, he argued, a “promissory note” to future generations.

Would a job candidate at UC-Berkeley who trumpeted the Declaration of Independence have a chance at a job there? Not so much. Why? For the same reason that a King-supporter’s job application would be trashed: King looked to the Declaration of Independence as the moral compass through which to bring America’s practices better into line with its highest aspirations. The Declaration, like King, contends that whatever differences may separate us (race, class, birth, etc.), pale in comparison to what we all share as human beings. This is what the Declaration’s doctrine of human equality means.

But the ideology beneath the proposed litmus test believes that what separates human beings is more fundamental than what unites them. “Race, class, and gender” are the lenses, we are told, through which all human action and motivation must be understood.

Simply put, we stand now at a crossroads. We can follow Martin Luther King and choose to live up to the Declaration’s doctrine of human equality, or we can trash its vision of equal treatment for all and replace it with the separatism-accentuating vision undergirding the proposal for litmus tests for employment.

To be sure, my concern over the likely consequences of the University of Texas proposal in no way questions its authors’ intentions. As a resident of Austin, Texas, and as a former professor and senior administrator, I’ve come to know a good number of faculty and administrators at UT-Austin. They are fine people, with the best of intentions. But good intentions, though necessary, are not sufficient in themselves for crafting sound policy. Nor can righteous indignation ever serve as a suitable substitute for reasoned scholarship and discourse.

For all these reasons, I have penned this critique much more in sorrow than in anger. To my friends at the University of Texas, I say, “Please remember your mission. Please remember that confronting ideas that we find wrong and even offensive is part and parcel of the training of mind and soul required to educate the effective, informed citizens upon which a self-governing republic ultimately depends.

I would also ask my friends at the University of Texas to remember their history. UT’s Proposed Plan cites, as justification for its ideological litmus tests, the following: “As a university with a documented history of denying equitable inclusion to qualified students, staff, and faculty, UT Austin endeavors to create an inclusive environment of teaching, research, and service in which all can learn from one another, productively interact, and share in the benefits of learning and working at a diverse university.”

Yes, UT Austin has a “documented history” of racial exclusion. In 1946, Heman Marion Sweatt, a black man, applied to the UT Law School. However, Texas law restricted access to the university to whites, and Sweatt’s application was rejected on account of race. Sweatt sued, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that the Equal Protection Clause required that Sweatt be admitted to the university.

There would have been no need to resort to the Supreme Court for racial justice had Texas earlier cashed in the Declaration’s “promissory note,” as Martin Luther King urged.

Finally, I would gently ask my UT friends not to fear the consequences of intellectual diversity and inclusivity. I ask them to remember that, without robust First Amendment protection, the Black civil rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s would never have flourished to the extent it did.

These robust First Amendment protections could now be in jeopardy due to UT’s proposal. Friends of free speech and debate—that is, friends of genuine education—can only pray that this proposal ends up where it belongs—on the ash heap of history.

Related content