A product of the American century, Belmont Hill was founded in the wake of the country’s emergence from the Great War as a major power. Despite almost failing as the Great Depression morphed into World War II, by war’s end the School had recovered, and in the war’s aftermath, as the nation assumed the role of superpower, the School flourished. Victory in the Cold War left the nation as the hegemonic power in a unipolar world, bringing unprecedented wealth to the country’s elite. Some of that wealth filtered down to the School, which was educating more than a few of their children, who now came to enjoy a campus dotted with the finest facilities.
But today, due in no small part to mismanagement of the nation’s foreign and domestic policies, the world is returning to multipolarity at an accelerating pace. The relative power of the United States—now but one of three superpowers—is shrinking, and the dominant international role of its currency is under growing challenge.
At the same time, the country is experiencing its most profound political divide since the Civil War. If the nation were to split today, most likely the School would find itself located in a state committed to the left, neo-liberal, anti-constitutional values of the woke proponents of CRT and DEI. In that world, it would likely become not a school for boys but a school for persons who self-identify as male regardless of their God-given equipment.
Admiral Rachel Levine, BHS ‘75, is the School’s most famous (and maybe only) woman graduate, a status she achieved as a consequence of treatment for adult gender dysphoria and the Biden administration’s proclivity to favor inclusion over competence. Her career, along with that of her 1975 varsity football teammate General Mark A. Milley, BHS ‘76, caught the attention of Tucker Carlson, who though sadly misinformed about the School’s athletic program, noted pointedly: “Their teammates at the all-boys school in Boston probably wouldn’t have predicted any of that [their careers].”
Far more interesting would have been the reaction of the future admiral’s teammates, not to mention the School’s administration, had her gender dysphoria surfaced while she was still a student. However, the problem of transgender students at Belmont Hill is one I leave to others. It is raised here only to underscore that the School exists in a wider societal framework that as it evolves will continue to present new and challenging problems.
More generally, Belmont Hill’s future cannot be separated from that of the nation. The School grew in size, strength and reputation under the favorable tailwinds of the American century. Now it must navigate through likely unfavorable headwinds—both foreign and domestic—associated with the nation’s loss of hegemonic power and adjustment to its place as a more normal though still powerful nation. Lee shores abound, but none is more threatening than DEI.
A Nondiscriminatory and Nondenominational School. Last June the Supreme Court delivered its decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard College, 600 U.S. ___ (2023), holding that time had run out on its tolerance of “affirmative action” in college admissions, thus putting a stop to the use of racial preferences in fostering diversity. Twenty years earlier in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U. S. 306 (2003), the Court had allowed strictly limited consideration of race in college admissions, but even then had underscored the fundamental inconsistency of affirmative action with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and most importantly had indicated that all such racially-based programs must eventually end.
In his concurring opinion in the Harvard case, Justice Thomas spoke to the heart of the problem:
The solution to our Nation’s racial problems thus cannot come from policies grounded in affirmative action or some other conception of equity. Racialism simply cannot be undone by different or more racialism. Instead, the solution announced in the second founding [the Fourteenth Amendment] is incorporated in our Constitution: that we are all equal, and should be treated equally before the law without regard to our race. Only that promise can allow us to look past our differing skin colors and identities and see each other for what we truly are: individuals with unique thoughts, perspectives, and goals, but with equal dignity and equal rights under the law.
To judge from the volume of amici briefs in the Harvard case, few if any colleges or universities took seriously the Court’s warning in Grutter, preferring instead to regard affirmative action as an essentially permanent feature of their admissions programs. No longer grounded on the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal opportunity under law, these unending programs responded to the woke belief that systemic racism is the nation’s defining feature, thrusting the white majority into eternal penance for perceived failures of their forebears. See V. D. Hanson, “Ten Reasons Why Affirmative Action Died,” The Daily Signal (July 14, 2023).
Ironically, during the two decades that Harvard and other like-minded institutions of higher education should have been working to phase out their affirmative action programs, schools like Belmont Hill and other members of National Association of Independent Schools were creating their own, putting them at the core of their DEI initiatives, which in practice are simply affirmative action on steroids.
Properly defined, diversity encompasses a wide range of backgrounds, talents, experiences, interests, etc., and all may play an important role in the admissions process and education generally. However, when it comes to race and religion, diversity may properly be achieved only as the natural result of nondiscrimination, of intentional blindness to race and religion, not by reverse discrimination no matter how artfully camouflaged.
The plain truth at Belmont Hill, and no doubt at most if not all other schools with DEI programs, is that they operate to award a racial preference to blacks. The School announced its “New Diversity Action Plan” in the Winter/Spring 2021 edition of The Bulletin. The Plan followed completion of the NAIS Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism (AIM). Intended to “guide the School through its Centennial” and to show that its “commitment to DEI initiatives is real,” the Plan listed no less than “11 different areas of focus.” Three merit comment here.
Point 3 on hiring set a goal “…to surpass the INDEX median for teacher diversity within five years.” Presumably the referenced index, which a diligent online search failed to find, is a measure of the percentage of primarily black faculty members. Whatever the index, targeting the median rather than the mean seemed odd. In any event, finding truly excellent teachers for a school like Belmont Hill is difficult enough without attaching a racial (or religious) component to their selection.
Point 4 on admissions set a goal “…to have approximately one-third of the student body self-identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color).” While the racial complexion of the state and the City of Boston in particular has changed considerably in recent years, according to the Statistical Atlas blacks represent 7.26% of the Massachusetts population and 25.4% of the city proper’s. No matter how much these figures are massaged, there does not appear any way to meet the stated 33% target without overt racial preference in admissions to Belmont Hill, which as essentially a day school draws most of its students from the city’s largely white western suburbs. Even the three Boston exam schools have not achieved a greater black enrollment than 25%.
To try achieve better racial balance, these three elite public schools have adopted an interesting approach that divides the city into eight socioeconomic tiers for the purpose of allocating student openings. However, within that framework they continue to place near total reliance on grades and an admission test (MAP Growth). Under this system, the report on total invitations by race to the exam schools in 2020-21 and 2021-22 showed that 18% and 24%, respectively, went to blacks.
Point 6 on language expressed a desire “…to help all boys and adults understand intent vs. impact regarding language use.” Misunderstandings are inevitable, but training in clear thought and expression can reduce them. Fear of being misunderstood, however, can lead too easily to self-censorship. Robust debate, particularly in an educational setting, should not be stifled by fear of committing so-called “micro aggressions,” presumably the target of the “intent vs. impact” distinction.
Related to DEI is the School’s status as a nondenominational school. Like race, religion should be irrelevant to admission. Similarly, just as the School should try to maintain an atmosphere in which all races feel welcome and comfortable, so too as regards religion. For years the School followed a policy of reasonable accommodation with respect to different religious practices, including permitted absences for observation of certain religious holidays or outside religious instruction.
As a nondenominational school, Belmont Hill should close only for local, state or federal legal holidays, and perhaps such other days as may be necessary for faculty meetings or special events impacting equally the entire student body. The recent practice of closing for certain Jewish holidays, adopted during the tenure of a Head of School of the Jewish faith, was and is a mistake. It is a religious preference that has no place in a nondenominational school.
Exacerbating this unfortunate tilt toward a particular faith was the acceptance of a gift that entailed embroidering the title of Head of School with the name of a donor. Endowed teaching positions in academic subjects have been a common practice in academia for years. But extending this practice to administrative and coaching positions is a relatively recent development. Still most institutions, and certainly the most prestigious, have refrained from monetizing the naming rights to their presidency. Presumably considerations of pride, good taste, and brand awareness have stood as a bar to diluting the school name by adding that of another when presenting its chief executive to the world.
The “George Soros President of Harvard” or “Elon Musk President of Yale” may not be as unimaginable as in earlier less mercenary times. But mercenariness has its limits even in the Ivies, some of which have been described as hedge funds with universities attached. What is more, should anyone with sufficient funds want to provide financial support to a university or college presidency, a workable alternative more in keeping with tradition exists: an endowed professorship to be held by the occupant of the presidency, who then would have two titles to use as appropriate, president and/or professor.
Following this model, the awkward moniker currently in use by the Head of Belmont Hill School—“Ronald M. Druker ‘62 Head of School”—would not have been adopted for general use. Rather, when appropriate, as for example in a strictly academic setting as opposed to a general public appearance, the Head of School might also be identified the holder of the “Ronald M. Druker ‘62 Chair in Ethics,” the subject of his principal teaching obligation.
In the School’s case, having already granted special status to Jewish holidays, identifying the Head of School with reference to the gift of a Jewish graduate deepens the impression that the School is becoming more Jewish than nondenominational. Should that perception take hold, the School’s ability to make students of all faiths feel welcome and comfortable would be compromised. Belmont Hill is not the Belmont Country Club.
Meritocracy vs. Mediocrity. The corrupting influence of DEI on American education has not been limited to admissions or to undermining the principle of equality before the law and equal opportunity without regard to race, religion or national origin.
Too often possible hurt feelings receive deference under DEI, resulting in constraints on free speech and on open and vigorous debate, the very life blood of any true education. See C. Lipson, “Restoring Free Speech at Our Universities,” Real Clear Politics (Sept. 30, 2022).
Similarly, as noted in earlier commentaries, inclusion has too frequently become the rationale for putting lesser qualified, or sometimes even plainly unqualified, persons in positions of responsibility. For a penetrating discussion of the role of human capital and western education in the decline of the West, see G. Baltar, “Why Is the West So Weak (and Russia So Strong),” (Aug. 3, 2023).
DEI programs derive from critical race theory, soundly criticized by G. Spitzer in “Understanding Marxism is the Key to Understanding Today’s Leftists,” American Thinker (July 9, 2023):
Extremist CRT advocates attack ideas that most would find universally beneficial. Why do whites (and now Asians) do better in school? To CRT advocates, it’s because standardized testing, meritocracy, and even math and logic are racist concepts that only serve to maintain the status quo. These extremists even decry diligence and promptness as “white” standards used to maintain oppression. Ultimately, if there is any “inequity” (defined as unequal outcomes), the related institutions are viewed with suspicion, sometimes comically so.
See also R. A. Bishop, “DIE training is modern Maoism,” American Thinker (July 11, 2023).
The ultimate result of DEI, and perhaps even its intended purpose, has been to weaken American education, to disparage the most fundamental principles of the American constitutional republic, to denigrate the importance of competence in all endeavors, and to elevate the acceptability of mediocrity in the service of inclusion. DEI should have no place at Belmont Hill or any other legitimate American educational institution. Its elimination should be job one in securing the School’s future and that of the nation.