MARSCHALL: Systemic discrimination explains the rise and fall of Karl Marx at the University of Florida

Even if most professors at one university are mainstream liberals, the absence of a robust center-right voice within the faculty disproportionately increases the power and influence of the radical leftist minority.

Campus Reform Managing Editor Zachary Marschall holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from George Mason University and is an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky. 


This past week, a socialist made a good point. We at Campus Reform are just as shocked as you.

Readers of this publication and other media outlets that covered the 2020 Black Lives Matter riots are well acquainted with the charges of “systemic racism” in America’s police force. But what newsreaders and viewers may not realize is that the same leftist academics that accuse American institutions of being systemically racist are in fact perpetrators of the same type of systemic discrimination they profess to oppose.

In this case, one observant leftist University of Florida student that Campus Reform interviewed helps show how this hypocrisy works.

On Thursday, Campus Reform reported that the Young Socialist Democrats of America (YDSA) chapter at the University of Florida created a petition blaming this publication for the school’s choice to remove Karl Marx’s name from a group study room in its Library West Building.

Campus Reform reported on the “Karl Marx Group Study Room,” which was instituted in 2014, and followed up with the university after other named rooms disappeared from the school’s website.

”The room names were unintentionally removed from the online reservation page. However, only Karl Marx’s name was removed from the group study room at Library West,” a University of Florida spokesperson said.

The university’s YSDA chapter is now protesting the school on Monday, demanding that Karl Marx’s name be reinstated.

Campus Reform spoke with one YSDA member who appeared to take issue more with the university’s rationale than with this publication’s mission to expose liberal bias.

”It just seems like they are trying to make a statement without actually doing anything,” the student said.

The young socialist is right.

Marx’s relevance to Ukraine is not obvious since neither Ukraine nor Russia is a communist country. Russia is arguably the successor state to the Soviet Union, but leftist professors love to claim that the latter’s regime was never truly Marxist, so that can’t be the connection either. Right?

No. Russia annexed Crimea the same year that the University of Florida named the room after Karl Marx. Vladimir Putin’s aggression may bookend the life and times of the “Karl Marx Group Study Room” but it does not account for its demise if the same set of actions occurred near its creation.

Instead, the Ukrainian justification speaks volumes.  Its lack of logical cohesion reveals the lacking political commitment the University of Florida has to whether it is appropriate to celebrate – not just study – Karl Marx.

A ‘we have the right to’ or ‘we were wrong to’ explanation would be more logical, but nearly impossible to articulate because liberal bias is institutionalized on college campuses.

The collective disposition of the university, as a social institution, sees leftist historical figures as benign compared to their far-right counterparts due to leftism’s proximity to liberalism. Truth, according to academics, resides on the political left, so virtue can be mined from atrocities committed in the name of socialism or Marxism, they argue.

Therefore, blame cannot be directly attributed to one individual or group at the University of Florida.  That is because the institution top-down endorses the celebration of leftist thought as intellectually sound at the same time the institution is aware of its boundaries.

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A university senses that it can be an island of left-leaning thought and feelings in conservative geographical areas. That is why some universities correct their actions after alumni, parents, or the general public express skepticism, disappointment, or anger with the policies, but stop short of self-examining the conditions that led to misguided actions in the first place.

When universities acknowledge misdeeds without analyzing the cause for them, that superficial self-reflection accounts for the way problematic conditions can fester and persist within systems. Broadly speaking, the treatment of such problems in political or social contexts can be considered systematic discrimination.

In the case of the University of Florida, the Karl Marx room represents systematic discrimination against those on campus who feel disempowered to speak against leftist ideologies, or those with personal histories of persecution committed by communist regimes, as one Cuban student shared with Campus Reform. 

In media and academic discussions, the concept of systemic discrimination often arises in the context of policing and brutality against Black Americans. Systemic racism claims that there is no such thing as a “few bad apples,” but rather a system-wide problem in which even well-intentioned individuals are not innocent of the results even if they do not commit any transgression themselves.

“We must move away from the fallacy of a few bad apples to acknowledge systemic discrimination from grade school to the university; within healthcare, the economy and the criminal justice system; and within mundane, quotidian activities,” Syracuse University Professor Danielle Taana Smith succinctly wrote for a local news outlet in 2020.

According to the definition of systemic discrimination – which scholars never seem to apply to themselves – there is no excuse for a professor to claim ignorance that he or she is unaware of colleagues’ radical work or student organizations’ questionable activities.

Professors sit on numerous committees and advise countless students through research projects or organizing efforts.

When an individual applies to a university to be a professor, a hiring committee will review his or her application. As Campus Reform reported in December, those applications increasingly – if not invariably – call for diversity statements.

“In 2018, UCLA mandated that every faculty job posting require an EDI statement (the university’s reordered version of a DEI statement),” Campus Reform reported at the time. “Similarly, Cornell University requires all applicants for tenured or tenure track faculty positions to write a ‘Statement of Contribution to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.’”

Scholars must prepare and maintain diversity statements not just for initial job applications, but whenever they are up for promotion or tenure review.

Applicants for tenure-track positions often need to provide statements of teaching philosophies as well. If a future or current professor favors alternative grading systems that devalue deadlines, attendance, and writing skills, those preferences will show up in that document.

Tenured professors review their tenure-track colleagues’ teaching history, statements, and published research before granting tenure.

Additionally, both tenured and non-tenured professors have service requirements in their contracts. Service can include committee membership or participation in institutional bodies such as faculty senates.

These bodies serve as forums for faculty to express their political commitments and agendas to each other.

“The University of Notre Dame’s Faculty Senate passed a controversial resolution urging the school’s president to declare the university a sanctuary campus and refuse cooperation with ICE,” Campus Reform reported in 2017.

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Service may also include serving as faculty advisors to student organizations. Professors who publish leftist research, belong to leftist professional associations, and use service requirements to push leftist agendas are reluctant or hostile to advising conservative groups because such an affiliation is risky in an institution in which professional advancement and political ideology are interlocked.

“Conservative students across the country are facing difficulty when they attempt to start a right-leaning student organization on campus due to a lack of faculty members willing to serve as the advisor,” Campus Reform reported last semester.

Even if they do not agree entirely with a leftist resolution or student organization, liberal and progressive professors feel pressure to uphold those ideals because as social institutions, universities have systematically kept conservative and moderate voices out of their ranks through biased hiring and promotion practices.

“Unfortunately, on most campuses, conservative faculty and administrators are on the verge of extinction,” the American Council of Trustees and Alumni told Campus Reform back in September. “While one’s political beliefs should never be the basis for hiring decisions, institutions must address when students do not have equal access to educational opportunities.”

The Council’s characterization of a collective group of people too homogenous to identify and solve imbalances within its institution is the definition of a systemic problem.

Therefore, professors who claim that Campus Reform exaggerates claims of liberal bias through its reporting of a ‘few bad apples’ do not absolve themselves from the intellectual and moral rot the institutions of higher education have experienced.

Faculty and senior administrators are too embedded in the workings of the institution’s hiring, promotion, retention, and political activities to not contribute – whether directly or indirectly –to the liberal bias on campus that in turn breeds leftist indoctrination within the most radical lecture halls.

Back at the University of Florida, the explanation for the now-defunct Karl Marx room is so bemusing because no one individual – no one bad apple – was independently responsible for its initial installment.

How actions are taken in universities is the result of deliberation and collective input. Interdepartmental coordination operates within an institution that has institutionalized the direction by which political bias flows.

Even if most professors at one university are mainstream liberals, the absence of a robust center-right voice on faculty senates and steering committees disproportionately increases the power and influence of the radical leftist minority.

Systemic discrimination creates invisible villains; those peoples that create the problem but are hardly ever seen beyond the mass of good-doing individuals. From that perspective, it makes sense that the University of Florida had to outsource its justification for removing Karl Marx’s name to Ukraine.