The DIE-ing University

Jordan Peterson’s Message to Academia & a Reflection on Merit, Inclusivity, and Being Made in God’s Image

For years, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, author of the best-selling, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, worked as a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto in Canada. Recently, however, he announced his resignation and has since decried the current state of higher education.

You most likely don’t need me to tell you who Peterson is or how influential he has been in the last couple of years. He consistently tops the charts on podcast platforms and YouTube and continues to amass listeners (and enemies) from around the world. He first gained international attention in early 2017 when he spoke out against a Canadian “speech law” that would require citizens to address trans-people by their preferred pronouns. Interestingly, the Left has often denounced Peterson as a transphobe when his actual concern was government overreach and creeping totalitarianism.

So, why has Peterson chosen to depart from academia, and what does this mean for him and the future of the university? According to Peterson, the future of the institution of higher education is in jeopardy, and in many ways, is already a “lost cause.” On college campuses across the western world, Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE) is the “unholy trinity” that dictates who gets hired, who gets invited to campus for speaking events, and eventually, who gets canned. Peterson’s concern about the Canadian government’s violation of free speech extends seamlessly to what’s happening on our college campuses. He discusses DIE extensively in his January article from the National Post, writing,

We are now at the point where race, ethnicity, ‘gender,’ or sexual preference is first, accepted as the fundamental characteristic defining each person (just as the radical leftists were hoping) and second, is now treated as the most important qualification for study, research and employment.

Peterson goes on to point out that even progressives are starting to wonder if the current approach is healthy, or even if it might be harming the people it’s intending to help, citing a New York Times piece from August, 2021. Rather than achieving equality and fighting discrimination, the DIE trinity tends to achieve only a superficial semblance of diversity and ends up alienating people from each other and embittering people against the elitists who clamor for their conformity. Peterson extends his target beyond the university and ends the article by imploring people in all sectors to resist this ideological dogma:

CEOs: signalling a virtue you don’t possess and shouldn’t want to please a minority who literally live their lives by displeasure ... Musicians, artists, writers: stop bending your sacred and meritorious art to the demands of the propagandists before you fatally betray the spirit of your own intuition. Stop censoring your thought. Stop saying you will hire for your orchestral and theatrical productions for any reason other than talent and excellence. That’s all you have. That’s all any of us have.”

Last year, I had a conversation with a teacher of mine who sat on the hiring board for a new Dean of Humanities at our Christian liberal arts university. He was late to our coffee appointment, looking a bit out of sorts, his mind clearly occupied with something. A few minutes into our conversation, he told me he was frustrated with the other members of the board. “I’ve been on the diversity and inclusivity train since the nineties,” he said. “I was one of the first to push for it.” Interestingly, however, he was upset because the board had brushed off a qualified male candidate for the position and limited their consideration to the other applicants, who were female. I’ve thought a lot about his comments in the following months. My teacher, a progressive, saw that his colleagues were actually regressive in their hiring approach by denying a meritorious candidate in obligation to the institution’s diversity quota. The female applicants were probably great candidates, too, but that wasn’t what drove their consideration. It was just by virtue of their being women.

A Hispanic friend of mine, along with his colleagues, recently had to fill out an inclusion and diversity questionnaire. “If they told me they hired me because I was Hispanic, I think I’d quit,” he told me afterward. “That’s horrible. It’s humiliating, honestly.”

So, Peterson points out how the DIE regime excludes and patronizes people, and folks are starting to wake up about it. But what is the better and redeeming way forward with all of this? Do we start seeing other people through their qualifications and achievements alone? Does skin color and gender bring nothing to bear on the human experience?

The Christian tradition teaches that every human being is precious and made in the image of God, regardless of status, ethnicity, class, or intelligence. I think that’s important to keep in the forefront of this conversation. It’s the God-image that creates the foundation of our common humanity and defines our worth. Skin color, sex, or class should never be cause for discrimination or prejudice. We all have equal value. We have more in common than we think.

But importantly, neither do merit and excellence define the worth of the human being. We all have differing abilities, talents, and skills. Some people are more qualified than others at certain tasks. Not everyone can be a LeBron James or an Elon Musk. It’s just an inescapable fact of life that we are “unequal” in a variety of ways. People have different IQs and differing abilities. We should do everything possible to create opportunities for people to flourish to their fullest capacity, but some people are simply better suited for some jobs than others. However, this should never lead us to think some people are of any higher value. As my friend Jacob says, our worth as human beings is like a chocolate shake. Everything else—achievements, qualifications, wealth, privilege, etc—are the “cherries on top.” The cherries are cool, but they’re decoration. God looks at the heart, not the cherries, to see who we are.

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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