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Alexander Mercouris…Dutch MH17 report’s “elephant in the room”…Ukrainian BUK missile launchers active in East Ukraine right before tragedy

A comprehensive look at the Dutch MH17 report, the shortfalls of the inquiry, its legality and what lies ahead, as the West continues to slowly drip feed information on the tragic event in an effort to cover up its war and aggression in Ukraine.

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In the weeks leading up to the publication of the Dutch Safety Board’s report into the MH17 tragedy, the drum beat from the Western media was that it would say MH17 was shot down by a BUK surface to air missile launched from militia controlled Snezhnoe.

In the event, when the report was published, it confirmed that MH17 had been shot down by a BUK surface to air missile, but failed to identify the precise launch point.  

It instead identified a huge area extending over 320 square kilometres, from any part of which it said the BUK missile could possibly have been launched, whilst admitting that more forensic tests were needed to confirm this.  

Whilst Shezhnoe lies just within this area, at the time of the tragedy the area was a bitterly contested war zone, and it is simply impossible to infer that it was definitely the militia who launched the missile from this area, if it was indeed from this area that the missile was launched.

Almaz-Antey, the BUK missile system’s manufacturer, continues to insist – as it did previously – that the launch point was not in this area at all, but was at Zaroshchenskoye, a settlement 7 kilometres south of Shakhtorsk, which was controlled at the time by the Ukrainian army.

To those of us familiar with the Western media, the disappointment at the failure to pinpoint the launch point was obvious.

The report received little coverage, and was quickly relegated to the back pages.  By the following day as a news story it was dead.

Tjibbe Joustra, the chair of the inquiry, was so obviously embarrassed that after delivering the report he refused to take questions.

Instead he spoke to some Dutch journalists in the corridors of the Dutch parliament building where – away from Russian journalists – he did say the BUK missile was launched from militia controlled territory.

In doing so Joustra went beyond what is in his own report.

What happened that prevented the report giving a precise answer to this critical question?

It is not in fact difficult to reconstruct what happened, though one has to go to Russian sources to do it.

The Russian aviation agency Rosaviation says the first draft of the report did identify Snezhnoe as the launch point.

When the Russians were provided with the first draft, they vigorously complained that their input was being ignored.  According to some reports, they took their complaints directly to the head of the International Civil Aviation Organisation(the “ICAO”).

It seems that as a result the report was watered down, leaving the precise launch point unidentified.

In the process the Dutch Safety Board has hidden behind the claim that under ICAO rules it lacks the authority to determine the precise launch point.  This is a claim it has made before, and which is often made by its defenders.

Supposedly its report is a purely forensic report limited to the question of what caused the crash – a BUK missile or some other malfunction or object – and which is not concerned with who launched the BUK missile and from where it was launched.

This claim is based on a misreading of Annex 13 to the Convention on Civil Aviation, which sets out the rules and procedures for air accident investigations.

Annex 13 prohibits an air accident inquiry from apportioning blame or liability, and says that these are questions that need to be dealt with separately.

That however reflects the fact that an air accident inquiry conducted under Annex 13 is set up to establish how an accident happened.

It is not a court of law, able to decide legal questions.

Blame and liability are legal questions, which only a court of law, not an accident inquiry, can determine. 

Annex 13 in no way limits an accident inquiry from carrying out a full and thorough investigation of an air crash to establish how it happened.  On the contrary it requires it.

Nor does Annex 13 prevent an accident inquiry from interviewing witnesses.  On the contrary paragraph 5.4 of Annex 13 specifically provides for it.

Nor does Annex 13 say an accident inquiry cannot identify persons whose actions might have led to the air crash.  As it happens the report does identify some of the persons who were responsible for the MH17 air crash, namely the Ukrainian authorities, who it says failed to close the air corridor through which MH17 was flying as they should have done since the air corridor lay over a war zone.

The report avoids using witness evidence, with responsibility to obtain such evidence being passed to the Joint Inquiry Team (“JIT”) that is carrying out a parallel criminal probe.

This brings to the fore the precise relationship between the Dutch Safety Board, whose inquiry was conducted under Annex 13 and whose report has just been published, and the JIT.

The Dutch Safety Board’s inquiry originates from UN Security Council Resolution 2166, passed immediately following the tragedy, which requires “a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines” (ie. Annex 13).

Resolution 2166 makes no reference to an investigation undertaken by a body like the JIT.  That investigation was set up independently soon after Resolution 2166 was passed, without reference to the Security Council, by a group of states including the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Ukraine following private discussions between each other (Malaysia joined several months later).

The setting up of a second inquiry under a veil of secrecy before the “full, thorough and independent international investigation” set up by the Security Council had even begun its work is extraordinary and points to the error made by Australia’s inexperienced foreign minister Julie Bishop when she proposed Resolution 2166.

She failed to realise that an inquiry set up by the Security Council under “civil aviation guidelines” would mean an inquiry in which the Russians had a say.

That is why the Russians – to Bishop’s surprise – voted for Resolution 2166 and why a few weeks later, probably following angry recriminations behind the scenes, an entirely different inquiry independent of the Security Council and not bound by “international civil aviation guidelines” and from which the Russians were excluded, was hurriedly set up.

What that has meant in practice is that the Dutch Safety Board has decanted responsibility for the more difficult work it ought to have done to the JIT.  In order to justify doing that, it is hiding behind a narrow interpretation of Annex 13.

As it happens so far from being prevented by Annex 13 from identifying the launch point the report discusses the question at length and even solicits technical advice about it.

If it was Russian intervention that knocked the inquiry off its intended course, have we nonetheless learnt anything from its report?

It is now clear beyond doubt that MH17 was shot down by a BUK surface to air missile.

Those who have persisted with the SU25 theory need now to accept this fact.  The shrapnel evidence is conclusive, and they are arguing with Almaz-Antey – the BUK missile system’s manufacturer – not just with the Ukrainians and with the Dutch Safety Board.  That is a hopeless position to take, and those taking it risk losing credibility and becoming marginalised in any further discussions about this tragedy.

We also now know that the BUK missile used to shoot down MH17 was an older version of the missile, still used by the Ukrainians, but not apparently by the Russians.

The report has accepted Almaz-Antey’s first claim that the BUK missile was of a type the Russians stopped making some time ago.

Based on further analysis Almaz-Antey now says the BUK missile was an even older variant than they originally thought, which stopped being made as long ago as 1986 (ie. before the USSR broke up).

Regardless of which variant of the BUK missile was used, if it is indeed the case that both of these types of BUK missile are no longer used by the Russian military, then the Russian military’s direct involvement in the tragedy becomes extremely unlikely and can for practical purposes be excluded.

The report has not adopted Almaz-Antey’s latest finding on the age of the missile, possibly because it came too late for it to be included in the report or – more probably – because the Ukrainians reject it.

The information that the BUK missile that shot down MH17 was an early generation missile no longer in service with the Russian military does not however prove that MH17 was shot down by the Ukrainian military.

It leaves open the possibility the militia captured the missile from the Ukrainians, as some reports suggest and as the German intelligence agency the BND apparently believes, or that it was taken out of a reserve stock of old missiles held somewhere in Russia and was smuggled across the border.

The report casts doubt on the claim the militia captured an operational BUK missile launcher at a Ukrainian military base.  The Ukrainians say the launcher the militia captured was not operational.  Western intelligence sources appear to agree.

As for the claim that the claim that a BUK missile launcher was smuggled across the border, that claim remains completely unsubstantiated, and we now know from the report that despite the size of the BUK missile system Western intelligence had no information before the tragedy that the militia possessed such a system (see below).

The report shows how busy the air corridor through which MH17 flew was at the time of the tragedy.  It seems a large proportion of the aircraft using the corridor were Russian, which argues against the Russians supplying the militia with a BUK system, which might put their own aircraft at risk.

To conclude, the fact the BUK missile that shot MH17 down was an old version of the missile apparently no longer used by the Russian military does tend to point to the Ukrainian military, but does not conclusively prove their involvement.

In all other respects the report is unsatisfactory.

It does not identify the precise launch point.

It makes no mention of the US satellite imagery US Secretary of State Kerry in an interview given 3 days after the tragedy said the US has in its possession.  

The report does not even say whether or not this evidence even exists or whether the Dutch Safety Board has asked to see it.

There are suggestions this evidence is so highly classified it cannot be disclosed or even discussed.

The report however refers – albeit at second hand – to radar evidence from NATO AWACS aircraft provided to the Dutch Safety Board at its request by the NATO command.  That evidence presumably is also classified.

There may be a good reason why the NATO AWACS evidence has been declassified to the point where it can be discussed in the report, whilst the US satellite evidence has not been declassified so that it apparently cannot be discussed or even mentioned in the report.  However if so we do not know what that reason is.

The elephant in the room that the report refuses to see is however the Ukrainian BUK missile launchers we know from Russian satellite imagery were present in the area at the time of the tragedy.  

Attempts to discredit the Russian images of these launchers have been made by the Ukrainian authorities and by Bellingcat.  They have ended in abject failure.  The presence in the area at the time of the tragedy of these launchers is incontrovertible.

The report in fact admits that the Ukrainians were known before the tragedy to have had anti-aircraft systems capable of shooting down MH17 in the area.  The report does not however say that some of these were BUK missile launchers.

The report makes no reference to these launchers though their relevance to the question of how MH17 was shot down is all too obvious.

The silence about the Ukrainian BUK missile launchers contrasts oddly with the report’s lengthy discussion of the anti-aircraft systems the militia was believed to possess before the tragedy took place.  Inconclusive speculations about militia anti-aircraft systems were apparently considered more worthy of inclusion in the report than incontrovertible evidence of the presence of Ukrainian BUK missile systems, despite the fact that it was a BUK missile that shot MH17 down, and despite the fact the Ukrainians have a previous history of shooting down civilian airliners with such missiles.

As it happens the report confirms that neither the Dutch nor it seems the intelligence agency of any other Western power believed before the tragedy that the militia possessed anti-aircraft systems capable of shooting MH17 down, even though other Ukrainian aircraft had been shot down in the previous days over the same area, and even though the area was under the close observation of Western intelligence agencies.

The silence in the report about the Ukrainian BUK missile launchers continues the pattern of Western silence about these launchers that has been evident ever since the Russians first revealed them in their intelligence presentation of 21st July 2014.  It is doubtful that more than a tiny fraction of the Western public knows about them.  If it did it would radically alter the Western public’s view of the tragedy.

However the single greatest flaw of the report is its failure to take heed of the Russian technical advice – specifically that of Almaz-Antey – even though it is the properties of a Russian weapons system – the BUK missile of which Almaz-Antey is the manufacturer – which is being discussed.

In the case of Almaz-Antey insult is added to injury by the way its advice is misrepresented in the report so as to make it seem that Almaz-Antey has corroborated the Dutch Safety Board’s view that the missile was launched from within the 320 square kilometre area the Dutch Safety Board identifies as the probable launch area.  Almaz-Antey actually pinpoints the launch point as being outside this area, but the report makes no mention of the fact.

Even if Almaz-Antey’s objectivity as a Russian state company is doubted, its expertise as the BUK missile’s manufacturer ought to grant its opinion a measure of attention and respect.  It should at the very least be the subject of comment and discussion, even if it is in the end rejected.

One senses that the Dutch Safety Board was intimidated by Almaz-Antey’s expertise and was afraid to take Almaz-Antey directly on, but could not accept Almaz-Antey’s advice because it contradicted the Dutch Safety Board’s pre-formed opinions about the tragedy.   It therefore simply ignored the advice.

The result is an incomplete and inconclusive report.

What happens now?

Now that the Dutch Safety Board has released its report, the focus shifts to the criminal probe being undertaken by the JIT.

Since this probe is being conducted under a veil of secrecy – with Ukraine having a veto on release of any information – we know very little about it.  Supposedly it will report some time next year, with the suggestion that this is taking longer than was originally anticipated.

Since we know so little about this investigation it is impossible to assess the quality of the evidence it possesses.  It does not so far seem to include the witness evidence of the political and military leaderships of the two sides, or of the personnel of the various military units, or the log books and communications records of the various military units involved, which look to me essential if a successful prosecution is to be brought.  There is no information of this evidence being collected, as there surely would be if it was.

Certainly a successful prosecution would have to rely on evidence significantly stronger than the vague conclusions about the launch site in the Dutch Safety Board’s report, and the social media images and the probably in large measure fabricated radio intercepts beloved of Bellingcat and Elliott Higgins, to stand any real prospect of success in any remotely impartial or independent court.

Assuming there is enough evidence to bring a case, to which court would it be brought?

Since the alleged crime was one that is supposed to have taken place on Ukrainian territory, if a prosecution is brought, the courts with jurisdiction to try it are the Ukrainian courts.

No one takes that possibility seriously.  An attempt to set up an independent tribunal was however blocked in the UN Security Council by the Russians, who were never consulted about the setting up of the JIT and who consider it a device to undermine the inquiry set up by Resolution 2166, which they voted for.

In a recent Crosstalk programme for RT in which I participated, the scholar and writer John Laughland suggested that moves might be underway to conduct the prosecution before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Whilst that is a possibility, there would be significant legal difficulties.   The Rome Statute under which the International Criminal Court was set up does not give it jurisdiction to try crimes committed during internal conflicts.

A way round this might be found, but there would be a risk that in that case that might lead to calls for crimes committed during the conflict by the Ukrainian government to be put under the International Criminal Court’s scrutiny as well.  Needless to say that would not be something the Western powers would welcome.

There must also be some people in Washington uncomfortable with the idea of treating the accidental shooting down of a civilian airliner over a war zone as a crime, given that it is something the US has done in the past itself and could conceivably do again.

The uncertainty about which court would try any case the JIT brings – assuming such a case is ever brought – is a reflection of the hurried and secretive way in which the JIT was set up, with no one thinking the implications through.

There must be some people in Washington and Brussels who are by now wondering whether bringing a case is worth the trouble, given how thin the evidence is likely to be, especially at a time when efforts are underway to de escalate the Ukrainian conflict.

The fact that assurances have to be given repeatedly to reassure the Western public and the families of the victims that the resolve to bring the perpetrators to justice remains unchanged, is a sure sign such doubts exist.

One way to get round the difficulty – and to avoid the embarrassment of simply dropping the case – might be to bring charges against lesser people on the grounds that the more important people who were supposedly responsible are either dead or beyond reach.

It is anyway inconceivable that the Russians – who have repeatedly made it known that they will never extradite anybody – will surrender anyone accused of a crime to the JIT or to any court considering a case brought by it, and that fact alone makes it unlikely a trial will ever take place.

Regardless of what happens to the JIT, one case is already underway.

This is the case Almaz-Antey is bringing before the European Court of Justice against the sanctions the European Council has imposed on it.

As of now, on the basis of Almaz-Antey’s presentation and in light of previous precedents, that case looks undefendable.

It will be interesting to see if the lawyers who advise the European Council are of the same view, and if they take any steps to settle it.

There is a third case that is now round the corner.

Prior to the shooting down of MH17 the Ukrainians claimed the Russians had shot down two of their aircraft: an AN26 transport and an SU25 ground attack bomber.

These aircraft were flying in the same general area in which MH17 was shot down.

The Ukrainians say these aircraft were flying at an altitude of more than 6,000 metres, much higher than short range man portable anti aircraft missiles (“MANPADS”) of the sort known to have been possessed by the militia could reach.

The Ukrainians claimed these aircraft were shot down by the Russians using either a Pantsir surface to air missile or an air to air missile launched by a MiG29 fighter.

Those claims are almost certainly untrue.

As the report says, examination of the wreckage of the AN26 suggests it was shot down at a much lower altitude than the Ukrainians say, almost certainly by a MANPADS missile.

The Ukrainians however refuse to retreat from these claims.

By doing so they have hoisted themselves on their own petard.

By claiming some of their aircraft were shot down from a much higher altitude than a MANPADS missile can reach, the Ukrainians have opened themselves up to criticism in the report that they should have closed the airspace through which MH17 was flying to commercial aircraft.

This criticism almost certainly exposes the Ukrainians to claims in negligence from the victims’ families.

It is likely Western governments, who the report says were given this information by the Ukrainians but who also failed to warn their aircraft to stay away from the area, are now exposed to claims in negligence as well.

There are difficulties of sovereign immunity and jurisdiction in the way of bringing such claims.  Ways round these obstacles however almost certainly exist.  It is a certainty there are lawyers looking for those ways as I write this.

If or rather when claims in negligence are brought, it will be interesting to see if Almaz-Antey is called as an expert witness.  If that happen then the situation will become, as the lawyers say, very interesting.

 

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Arizona Senator Jeff Flake Opposes Vote on Kavanaugh Until Leftist Accuser Has Her Say

The end of the Republic inches closer as Identity Politics knows no bounds: Republicans join the fight to delay Brett Kavanaugh confirmation vote.

Alex Christoforou

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Via The Gateway Pundit


FLAKE OUT — ARIZONA SENATOR OPPOSES VOTE ON KAVANAUGH

Anti-Trump Senator Jeff Flake, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an interview Sunday evening that until he learns more about the sexual assault allegation regarding Brett Kavanaugh, he is “not comfortable voting yes” on Kavanaugh.

It’s Flakes last chance to poke President Trump and the country in the eye before he rides retires and likely finds a job in the liberal media.

Via Mike Cernovich:

Kavanaugh’s accuser is a far left anti-Trump activist.

Via Zerohedge


Over the past few days, what appeared at first to be a merely token resistance to the nomination of Trump SCOTUS pick Brett Kavanaugh has morphed into something entirely more menacing. And for the first time since Kavanaugh’s name was first floated in June, his nomination may be in jeopardy.

After allegations of decades-old sexual improprieties first surfaced last week, it looked as if Kavanaugh would easily surmount this obstacle. But we have to give the Democrats credit: They have lined up their dominoes perfectly. And on Sunday, they set their plan in motion when the Washington Post published an in-depth interview with Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. The story detailed a blow-by-blow accounting of Ford’s allegations, as well as her explanation for why she neglected to share her experience until decades later. Tellingly, the story also noted that Democrats have been sitting on the story since July, and that Ford only decided to out herself after some unscrupulous members of the Judiciary Committee shared her identity with the press – or at least that’s what California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office alleges.

While the allegations are relatively tame by #MeToo era standards (the incident allegedly unfolded when Kavanaugh was 17), it has apparently been enough for Democrats and a handful of turncoat moderate Republicans to successfully shut down a planned Thursday vote of the Judiciary Committee. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake effectively shut down the vote last night when he revealed that he wanted to hear more from Ford before voting. Without Flake, the Republicans’ 11-10 majority on the Judiciary Committee shifts to a 10-11 vote in favor of the Democrats. While Committee Chairman Charles Grassley has said he’d like the vote to proceed as scheduled, media reports say he is quietly working to organize a private call involving Ford and curious Senators in an effort to help mitigate their concerns.

But looking further ahead, Republican leaders might have more difficulty as Tennessee Republican Bob Corker – who is not a member of the Judiciary Committee but could still hold up the final confirmation vote – said Sunday that he’d also like to see Thursday’s committee vote delayed.

Here’s more from Bloomberg:

“I’ve made it clear that I’m not comfortable moving ahead with the vote on Thursday if we have not heard her side of the story or explored this further,” said Flake, who has the power to stall consideration if all Democrats on the panel join him since Republicans only hold an 11-10 majority on the committee. Flake’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Corker of Tennessee, who isn’t a member of the panel but whose vote is critical to confirmation, also doesn’t want the committee to vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation until Ford’s allegations can be heard, said his spokeswoman, Micah Johnson. The senator wants the allegations to be heard promptly, she said.

The backlash intensified late Sunday when Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski told CNN that Thursday’s hearing should be delayed.

“Well, I think that might be something they might have to consider, at least having that discussion,” Murkowski.

[…]

“This is not something that came up during the hearings. The hearings are now over. And if there is real substance to this it demands a response.”

However, at least one of the Senate’s reputed moderates has stood up to the Democrats in an interview with the New York Times, castigating them for withholding this information until so late in the process (remember: Feinstein justified this decision by saying she had referred Ford’s allegations to the FBI, who reportedly added them to his background check file).

“What is puzzling to me is the Democrats, by not bringing this out earlier, after having had this information for more than six weeks, have managed to cast a cloud of doubt on both the professor and the judge,” Collins told The New York Times.

Collins asked if Democrats believed Ford, “why didn’t they surface this information earlier,” and if they didn’t believe Ford, “why did they decide at the 11th hour to release it?”

“It is really not fair to either of them the way it is was handled,” Collins said.

Collins comments come after Ford spoke publicly about the alleged incident for the first time during an interview with The Washington Post that was published on Sunday.

On Monday, in the latest sign that Ford could appear at an embarrassing public hearing, Ford’s attorney, Debra Katz, told “Today” that her client would be willing to testify publicly before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “She’s a credible person. These are serious allegations. And they should be addressed.”

The White House, for its part, is standing by Kavanaugh, and allowing the Senate to sort things out. According to Bloomberg, Kellyanne Conway said Ford should not be “insulted and ignored” in what appears to be an attempt to beat the Democrats at their own virtue-signaling game.

Still, according to a White House spokesperson, Trump isn’t giving an inch. Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim, citing WH spokesperson Kerri Kupec, reported that Judge Kavanaugh “categorically and unequivocally” denied this allegation: “This has not changed. Judge Kavanaugh and the White House both stand by that statement,”she said.

In fact, as Axios reports, Senate Republicans could “play hardball” by calling on Ford to testify before Thursday’s scheduled vote. Though Republicans wouldn’t surprised if Ford holds a press conference or gives a TV interview, which Axios says “would raise the stakes considerably.” Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, has repeatedly called for an FBI investigation and a postponement of the vote

To be sure, the Democrats’ goals here are obvious. After Sen. Corey Booker’s “selfless” decision to release unauthorized documents about Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush Administration failed to even delay the process, Democrats have now played their Trump card – no pun intended. Their goal: Delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation at least until the Oct. 1 mark – the beginning of SCOTUS’s next term – to put a halt to any controversial decisions that could reverse important precedents. Of course, their ultimate goal is to stonewall the White House until after Nov. 6, when a few victories in the midterms might allow them to sink Kavanaugh’s nomination once and for all.

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University announces “White Awake” safe space for white students

The University of Maryland at College Park has set up a new diversity support group to create a “safe space” for white students to discuss their feelings.

Campus Reform

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Via Campus Reform:


Update: After publication of this article, University of Maryland-College Park changed the name of the group to “Anti-Racism and Ally Building Group,” along with a shorter description, which reads,  “Do you want to improve your ability to relate to and connect with people different from yourself? Do you want to become a better ally? Members will support and share feedback with each other as they learn more about themselves and how they can fit into a diverse world.”

In a statement provided to Campus Reform on Friday, the university explained the name change: “Our Counseling Center acknowledges that we did not choose the right words in raising awareness about this research-based initiative, and how this group has been perceived is counter to the values of inclusiveness and diversity that we embody. Therefore, we are renaming the group to better reflect our intention and values.”


The University of Maryland at College Park announced Friday a new diversity support group to create a “safe space” for white students to discuss their feelings about “interactions with racial and ethnic minorities.”

The support group, called “White Awake,” will help white students who may “sometimes feel uncomfortable and confused before, during, or after interactions with racial and ethnic minorities.”

“This group offers a safe space for White students to explore their experiences, questions, reactions, and feelings,” the description explains. “Members will support and share feedback with each other as they learn more about themselves and how they can fit into a diverse world.” The description asks students if they want to “improve [their] ability to relate to and connect with people different from [themselves]” or if they want to become a better “ally.” The new group is now one of four in the university’s “Diversity Issues” program series.The group is being led by Noah Collins, who works for the UMD Counseling Center, and will be held once a week. Collins specializes in group therapy and is interested “especially in the areas of racial and cultural awareness,” according to his faculty bio.The safe space has been met with harsh criticism from students on social media.

“I am ashamed over the execution of white awake nor do I fully understand its clause. ‘How they can fit into a diverse world’? Why do they need to attend therapy sessions on how to be a decent human being in society?” a UMD student wrote on Twitter. “Why do they need to have these sessions to learn how to coexist?”

“Just like classes. You can’t take one class and feel like you have all understanding over a certain subject,” the student added. “It takes practice, it takes problems, it takes more than one course, so ‘White Awake’ has good intention but I am skeptical over the fairytale result.”

Campus Reform reached out to Collins and UMD for comment but did not receive a response by time of publication. If and when a comment is received, the article will be updated.


Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Grace_Gotcha

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Harvard Prof: Merit-based admissions ‘reproduce inequality’

Professor Natasha Warikoo is displeased that students she interviewed are motivated by “self-interest” instead of social justice.

Campus Reform

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Authored by Toni Airaksinen of Campus Reform:


A Harvard University professor claims in a new academic study that merit-based admission processes at elite universities “reproduce inequality.”

Harvard education professor Natasha Warikoo draws on interviews with 98 white, native-born students at Harvard, Brown University, and the University of Oxford in “What Meritocracy Means to its Winners: Admissions, Race, and Inequality,” published in the journal Social Sciences.

During interviews Warikoo conducted between 2009 and 2011, these students were asked to sound-off on whether they felt their school had meritocratic admissions and if they supported affirmative action. Many answered the second question affirmatively and hailed the benefits of a diverse student body.

But Warikoo seems concerned with students’ responses. Analyzing data from these interviews years later, Warikoo points out that students’ approaches to diversity suggest that they’ve “internalized” the tokenistic rhetoric of the school admissions office, even if they had disagreed with policies like athletic recruitment or legacy admissions before coming to campus.

“Unlike in other campus domains in which there is a history of social protest among college students, in the realm of admissions, students seem to agree quite strongly with their universities, and come to even more agreement rather than critique upon arriving to campus,” she writes. “They suggest that most actors in elite institutions espouse views that reproduce their elite status, rather than engaging in symbolic politics or protest.”

According to Warikoo, “US students espouse a collective understanding of merit,” but only “value collective merit for its impact on themselves, not for social justice, or for the collective good of society.”

“They are not espousing, for example, a vision of multiculturalism that emphasizes group identities and the need to support ethnic and racial groups in society, as many scholars define multicultural state policies,” she elaborates.

Notably, Warikoo addressed the same issue in her 2016 book The Diversity Bargain, which criticizes white students for understanding “the value of diversity abstractly, but [ignoring] the real problems that racial inequality causes.”

White students “stand in fear of being labeled a racist, but they are quick to call foul should a diversity program appear at all to hamper their own chances for advancement,” Warikoo claims in that book, asserting for instance that white students “reluctantly agree with affirmative action as long as it benefits them.”

Her new study, too, criticizes white students for believing in meritocracy and supporting affirmative action, suggesting that white students only support affirmative action for selfish reasons.

One white student, Naomi, was criticized for saying “diversity is really how you learn here,” as Warikoo suggested that Naomi only valued diversity because it added to the “collective merit” of her cohort of students.

Warikoo also reports that “some students used the collective merit framework to express support for legacy admissions…even while lamenting the inequality legacy admissions engenders.”

She bemoans that, ultimately, the students she interviewed were more motivated by “self-interest” than a commitment to social justice.

“They value collective merit for its impact on themselves, not for social justice, or for the collective good of society,” she writes. “They are not espousing, for example, a vision of multiculturalism that emphasizes group identities and the need to support ethnic and racial groups.”

According to Warikoo’s interviews, students who attended elite high schools “no longer see a large number of their peers gaining admission to the likes of Harvard, Brown, and Oxford,” which they interpret “as evidence that the system is fair, even while ignoring the fact that students like them and their peers are vastly overrepresented at elite universities.”

The professor suggests that when the legitimacy of how they obtained seats at elite institutions gets called into question, students only become more convinced that they deserve to occupy those seats.

“This paper shows how admissions systems often reproduce inequality not only by how they select students, but also by defining ‘merit’ for admitted students in ways that will reproduce inequality in the future,” she concludes.

Warikoo claims that schools have “unequal” admission processes because black, working class, and first-generation students are underrepresented in student bodies. To fix this, Warikoo recommends that elite universities employ an “admissions lottery,” which the schools would use to randomly admit students who meet certain minimum standards.

“An admissions lottery would shift the meaning of selection from an absolute sense of merit—the best of the best—to an understanding that admission is somewhat arbitrary,” she predicts.

Warikoo’s study was published in the journal Social Sciences, which boasts of a “rapid peer-review” system. While most articles take months if not a year to be accepted, Warikoo’s article was accepted by reviewers in 48 days.

Though Warikoo initially agreed to answer a few questions by email, she ultimately did not respond to Campus Reform. Harvard University also did not respond.

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