When news first broke about Andrei Serban, the Romanian-born Columbia University professor that resigned from his job at the prestigious school due to his conviction that they were slouching towards the very communistic thought-policing that had caused him to flee his home country, my mind immediately went back to Dr. Ivan Pongracic.
Dr. Pongracic was my economics professor during my undergraduate years at Indiana Wesleyan University. While Dr. Pongracic was a fabulous teacher, entertaining and engaging, I admit I was very uncomfortable in his classroom. Not because he picked on anyone, was overly demanding, or held confusing expectations. I became troubled because of the repeated parallels he was able to draw between the communism he too had fled as a young adult, and the United States of America.
The students in my class who cared enough to pay attention would often leave class and debate his warnings and admonitions. I remember several suggesting that while there were some unquestionable similarities between what Pongracic had experienced under communist rule and what was becoming culturally embraced here in America, it was more likely a case of the good professor being hypersensitive and overly cautious than an accurate foreshadowing of things to come.
That was 2001. I wonder what Pongracic’s students are saying today.
For Serban, the issue at Columbia seemed to stem from two of the very dangers Pongracic often warned about: the undermining of merit-based accomplishment and centralized thought-policing. “It’s coming,” we would often hear. And at Columbia, it came for Serban:
Serban, the director of a hiring committee seeking to replace a retired professor, says that the dean of the art school told the committee that there were “too many white professors, too many heterosexual men” and that they should hire a minority, a woman, or a gay man.
Serban says that when he asked if they should choose a straight, white male if he were the most qualified candidate, he was told no.
Under communist rule, a person’s work ethic, effort, passion, and determination to succeed are irrelevant. Central planners decide positions that need filled, and through an egalitarian, even randomly selective process, fill those spots.
Several years ago I had a gentleman who had lived under communism in Albania come and speak to my high school government students. He told them about the day during his senior year of high school when government officials arrived and distributed file folders to each of them that outlined the occupation that the state had selected for them to fulfill in order to “serve the collective.” He, a city-dweller who had never owned a pet, was assigned to be a veterinarian. One of my students inquired if they were allowed to object. The speaker smiled and said, “If you knew someone in government, yes. If not, no.”
You can certainly understand Serban’s unease with a university regime that tells well qualified applicants to a position that they are not wanted because they don’t check off the egalitarian, intersectionality boxes that are more highly valued than expertise.
And in terms of thought-policing:
Serban also said a transgender student auditioned with Juliet’s monologue from “Romeo and Juliet.” Serban said he could not believe the student could become Juliet and his colleagues expressed displeasure with him.
No one who has been conscious over the last decade in America would doubt the fact that “displeasure” with Serban’s failure to comply with the new spirit of the age would have quickly become “dismissal.” So Serban got out, saying from a position of wisdom and experience,
“I felt like I was living under communism again.”
Dr. Pongracic would agree, having predicted it nearly two decades ago. The only question is whether enough Americans will listen to them before it’s too late.