March 13, 2004
What's Brown and Squishy?By Thomas Lifson
The New York Times reports that
an unprecedented undertaking for a university: an exploration of reparations for slavery and specifically whether Brown should pay reparations or otherwise make amends for its past.
It is personal, you see. Brown's radical chic image was considerably burnished almost three years ago when it became the first Ivy League university to appoint a female African—American president, Ruth J. Simmons. President Simmons lets the Times know that she is the great—granddaughter of slaves, and that her office is in a building built by laborers who included slaves. Thus, she has
appointed a Committee on Slavery and Justice, which will spend two years investigating Brown's historic ties to slavery; arrange seminars, courses and research projects examining the moral, legal and economic complexities of reparations and other means of redressing wrongs; and recommend whether and how the university should take responsibility for its connection to slavery.
President Simmons makes an extraordinarily candid statement to reporter Pam Belluck,
``I don't think there can be a person with a better background for dealing with this issue than me,'' she said. ``If I have something to teach our students, if I have something to offer Brown, it's the fact that I am a descendant of slaves.''
So the president of
The chairman of the new committee, James T. Campbell, a historian who 'specializes in American, African—American and African history,' avers that there will be opponents of reparations on the committee.
``You're going to have those that will hear the very word reparations and start blustering that this is just one more way that blacks are asking for a government handout,'' he said. ``And then you are going have those that say the university is just trying to whitewash things. Our hope is to carve out as large a middle as possible.''
Hmmm. One side "blusters" and the other just "says." That's evenhandedness for you.
President Simmons, for her part, is making her expectations clear:
``If the committee comes back and says, `Oh it's been lovely and we've learned a lot,' but there's nothing in particular that they think Brown can do or should do, I will be very disappointed.''
The game is probably this: have Brown admit culpability in 'profiting from slavery' because some of its early backers either traded slaves or benefited from the slave trade, and then offer up programs to divert resources to blacks, in the form of racially—exclusive scholarships, admissions preferences, hiring quotas, academic programs, etc. Then, kick the money ball into the court of the federal government, with a demand that the
But Brown should be very, very careful in establishing the principle that its benefactors' 'crimes' (legal actions which became illegal or unfashionable in subsequent centuries) require redress from the university. Here's why:
The four Brown brothers who endowed the university, and gave their name to it, owed a far greater portion of their fortune to the opium trade with
But it would never do to have
Alternatively, Brown might pay reparations directly to China. But that would never do, either. It would simply be outsourcing racial guilt, and outsourcing is bad, we are told.
But who knows? Academic fashions have a way of changing. Maybe some day Brown will appoint a Chinese—American president.