National Review reports on the latest fad in campus PC: “costume sensitivity consultants,” who students can contact to determine whether their Halloween costume is offensive. Apparently several colleges are creating posters and videos explaining to students what kinds of costumes they can and can’t wear, and instructing them to check with various campus officials with bureaucratic-sounding titles if they are unsure whether their outfit might offend somebody.
Conservative critics of campus political correctness are understandably lambasting the trend as another extension of extreme identity politics leftism. But there is also another angle to look at this from, which the Purdue lecturer Freddie DeBoer highlighted in an important New York Times essay last month: The way that university administration resembles a bloated corporate bureaucracy interested in managing students, rather than educating them. After all, what could be more corporate, and less related to the educational mission, than “costume consultants” and official costume instruction manuals? Here’s DeBoer:
As Benjamin Ginsberg details in his 2011 book, ‘‘The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters,’’ a constantly expanding layer of university administrative jobs now exists at an increasing remove from the actual academic enterprise. It’s not unheard-of for colleges now to employ more senior administrators than professors. There are, of course, essential functions that many university administrators perform, but such an imbalance is absurd — try imagining a high school with more vice principals than teachers. This legion of bureaucrats enables a world of pitiless surveillance; no segment of campus life, no matter how small, does not have some administrator who worries about it. Piece by piece, every corner of the average campus is being slowly made congruent with a single, totalizing vision. The rise of endless brushed-metal-and-glass buildings at Purdue represents the aesthetic dimension of this ideology. Bent into place by a small army of apparatchiks, the contemporary American college is slowly becoming as meticulously art-directed and branded as a J. Crew catalog. Like Niketown or Disneyworld, your average college campus now leaves the distinct impression of a one-party state.
As we said in a previous post on DeBoer’s thesis, “corporatization” doesn’t tell the full story when it comes to campus PC. In fact, if universities were more like corporations in some ways—for example, if they didn’t have an activist Department of Education breathing down their necks about Title IX, and if their ranks of make-work administrative positions weren’t being inflated by a constant stream of federal money—then the PC problem might not be as severe.
Still, DeBoer’s framing of enforced conformity on campus seems particularly apt here. Universities are creating “a corporate architecture of managing offense,” complete with professionally produced videos, information sheets, and administrator-consultants. The mix of politically correct ideology with out-of-control bureaucracy is particularly toxic.