In Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett’s opinion piece on the Columbia University Law Exam Delay, alongside his admonition to grow up and get a spine he states, “if you don’t like the system, go out and change it.” Unfortunately, with their demand that their exams be delayed, the Columbia Law School Coalition of Concerned Students of Color, is doing exactly that. They are asking for preferential treatment based on their self-proclaimed identity. This is group rights in action and it will be only a matter of time before other students group themselves into self-identified collectivities and demand preferential treatment or some other action, positive or negative, on the part of terrified College administrators. This means that in the central legal and political debate of whether individual or collective rights should predominate in the USA, and elsewhere, this has in fact set a precedent in favor of collective rights. It can be seen as part of affirmative action, and one that leads into the minefield of academic performance and social and ethnic class.

That prods and dangles the ghost of guilt, white and often liberal, in order to gain preferential treatment. But even that will be defined away. It will no longer be preferential treatment, but something more like “equalizing opportunity” in the words, and title, of an essay by Luke Charles Harris and Uma Narayan. As they write, “an array of factors that contribute to institutional discrimination – such as class, race, gender, and sexual orientation – should be taken into account. When several factors intersect and contribute to a process of discrimination, as in the case of a working class, Black woman, each factor should be considered.” In other words, a great matrix of group identities will in the future define you, a radical sociologist’s paradise. In the perfect world for people like the CLSCCSC, (with it’s soviet sounding acronym), or Harris and Narayan, you will be graded, employed, and treated in court depending on where you fit in this great matrix. And the guardians of this great matrix will be those who are best able to claim victimization and advocate on behalf of it’s alleged victimized groups.

It is impossible to deny the brutal injustices of the past regarding race. It is vital, however, to debate which way forward respects the principles of the US Constitution. While Jarrett’s advice to stop the whining and show some spine makes a lot of sense in today’s legal world, if groups like the CLSCCSC continue to be successful in their advocacy for collective rights, today’s legal, academic, and job market worlds will be radically different within a generation. Far more than they already are today. Collective rights cannot be ignored. But they must be framed, in the best possible sense of the word, with wisdom and restraint.

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