I'm old enough to remember when "wokeness" was called "political correctness." And "DEI" — diversity, equity, and inclusion — was subsumed under the term "affirmative action," which often meant hiring, promoting, or admitting underqualified people from "underrepresented" demographic groups.
Whatever the labels, I have had several distasteful confrontations with them over the years.
When I entered medical school at the University of California, San Diego, in the 1970s, a requirement for graduation was to pass both parts of what was called the medical board exams, the "medboards." Part One tested knowledge of basic science; Part Two, clinical medicine. For several years, there had been an aggressive program of recruiting and admitting underqualified minority students who, it turned out, were able to scrape by on Part One, but many were failing Part Two.
Instead of tightening the admissions criteria, the administration's response was to lower the graduation requirement to passing Part One and just taking, but not necessarily passing, Part Two. Nary a peep was heard from the faculty.
Admissions policies based on racial quotas have proliferated among educational institutions over the years, but that might be about to change.
Late last year, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two cases that could prevent medical schools from positively considering race and ethnicity when deciding which applicants to admit. What is at issue is whether the high court will mandate a "race-blind" process for admissions to medical schools and other institutions of higher learning. I certainly hope it does.
Years after medical school, when I headed the Office of Biotechnology at the Food and Drug Administration, our administrator prevailed on me to accept as a part-time "helper" a "straight A" Washington, D.C., high school minority student who was part of an affirmative action program. It was intended to acclimate inner-city children to the working world and teach them some skills.
From the beginning, "Mandy" was a problem. She was lazy and unmotivated. It could take her an hour to deliver a file to another office in our building, and she spent a lot of time talking to her boyfriend on the phone. When I asked the administrator to remove her, she resisted, saying it would "make our numbers look bad." Eventually, Mandy got pregnant and spent even more time on the phone with her boyfriend.
Finally, one afternoon, my secretary came into my office, closed the door, and told me that Mandy was using our prepaid overnight mail envelopes to send love notes to her boyfriend. I called the administrator and told her that if Mandy showed up the next day, I would feel duty-bound to report the theft of government property to the FBI. We never saw her again.
The erosion of standards in the cause of do-gooderism marches on. The state of Delaware has just lowered the passing grade of the bar exam , which all lawyers must pass to practice law. Why? Delaware Supreme Court Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. said, "The bar exam is not supposed to be a barrier to entering the profession." Uh-huh.
Woke programs and DEI: I want no part of them, thank you. They work in synergy with the Peter Principle, which posits that employees rise in the hierarchy of an organization through promotion until they reach a level of incompetence, at which time they perform badly. With quotas and DEI initiatives, unqualified, poor-performing employees reach that level more rapidly than ever before and, even thereafter, might be promoted further. (Did someone mention Vice President Kamala Harris and press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre?)
I'm horrified by the prospect of marginally qualified surgeons, airline pilots, air traffic controllers, or Army generals getting their jobs and moving up the food chain by means of DEI initiatives instead of merit. That is an inexorable path to societal mediocrity. Or worse.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Glenn Swogger distinguished fellow at the American Council on Science and Health. He was the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology.