How Diversity Subverts the University

Opponents of campus affirmative action typically rest their case on the immorality of using racial or ethnic categories (more delicately called “diversity”) versus treating people as individuals. That objection is certainly valid but when it comes to hiring of faculty, the damage far exceeds just violating a principle. Racial preferences deeply corrupt and will inevitably undermine academic excellence in ways that campus outsiders seldom grasp.   

To appreciate this damage, consider Brown University’s recent National Diversity Summit in which the school announced plans to double its “underrepresented” minority (i.e., black) faculty by 2025 -- from the current 9% to 18% (women don’t count here since the proportion of female faculty is already more than 50% but the plan nevertheless calls for a substantial  increase in women in science departments). Strategies included creating post-doctoral fellowships for black scholars to be mentored by Brown faculty and attracting young blacks to the Brown campus with conferences. More forceful measures will entail asking departments to develop a “diversity action plan” whose annual goals would be monitored and requiring faculty search committees to ensure a diverse pool of minority candidates. In numbers, 410 black professors will have to be recruited.   

Formidable practical problems await. Brown’s outreach plan is hardly unique, so rival schools (and private industry) will likewise be trawling the same limited talent pool and will happily poach each other’s diversity hires. Nor are these suggested recruitment tactics new or of proven usefulness. I taught for 28 years at the University of Illinois-Urbana where each of these tactics were tried and from what I saw, all failed. I also suspect that Brown administrators have not learned lesson of failure elsewhere -- why bother, since noble intentions trump everything?

Far more is involved than just wasting money chasing doom-to-fail fantasies. For one, race-based recruitment measures violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You cannot advertise “jobs only for blacks” or otherwise stack the deck. The law is explicit:

SEC. 601. No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.     

Think about this -- a willingness to defy the venerated 1964 Law to secure jobs for a handful of blacks whose main qualification is pigmentation. This is a breathtaking example of selective law enforcement and resembles the Jim Crow era of separate laws for whites and blacks.

Illegality understood, under-the-gun university administrators will invariably cheat and subterfuges will quickly become routine, à la conducting business in Nigeria. Administrators may set aside special funds to be given to departments that recruit blacks outside normal channels. Or jobs can be advertised as “conditional upon funding” which translates into “position available if a black candidate applies.” Or job postings can be written to virtually exclude whites -- “successful candidate should have experience in community organizations seeking social justice and ….” If all else fails, massage the definition of “minority” or fake a colorblind job search and exaggerate a black candidate’s qualifications. Such deceptions not only subvert academic honesty and integrity, but reward spineless but ambitious administrators. No wonder that today’s campus administrators are so Politically Correct. Integrity is a career liability when achieving Holy Grail of diversity. 

Imposing these illegal racial quotas can only humiliate the faculty. I suspect that most professors recognize the charade but will be terrified to oppose the diversity orthodoxy in public. This is the academic version of the Mafia’s omertà -- keep silent or else.  

Why should 18% of the faculty to be hired according to skin color or sexual organs? Is there some convincing raison d’état for this costly, difficult to attain goal?  According to Liza Cariaga-Lo, Brown’s vice president for academic development, diversity and inclusion, "we want to be a leader in providing the resources to support an ever more diverse student body. This is an opportunity to try to address the many needs of these diverse students by ensuring that the faculty and administration have sufficient experience and tools to be able to address their concerns.” That is, we need more diverse faculty to attract more diverse students because “Brown is a 21st Century University.”  In 2012 one Brown dean opined, “It’s also important to know that we are seeking diversity not just for the sake of diversity, but because talent and excellence come from across the nation and the world and from all different strata of society.” Hard to imagine more muddle-brained justification but hardly a whimper from a faculty long domesticated to celebrating the PC faith. More generally, if diversity is so wonderful, why must it be imposed versus being embraced voluntarily? 

This race-based hiring will subvert education. All academic departments are built around certain sub-fields that define the discipline. In political science -- my specialty -- this includes American Politics, Comparative Politics, Political Theory, and so on and within each of these, there are specific traditional courses. A Poly Sci major might be expected to take, for example, a course on Congress, one or two on Western Europe, and perhaps one on International Affairs and so on. Professors are thus recruited to fill these “slots” though, to be sure, specifics evolve over time (e.g., County Government offerings have long disappeared).

This well-established disciplinary curriculum will be in shambles when diversity appointments structure their courses around race/ethnic identity, i.e., blacks will typically teach about blacks, Hispanics about Hispanics in multiple social science and humanities departments. And, since most academic departments in today’s fiscal environment cannot just add diversity appointments and those needed to fulfill disciplinary obligations, traditional offering must be sacrificed to whatever the diversity recruit can teach. In political science this might mean forgoing courses on, say, Russia or India to fund offerings on Minority Group Politics and Latino Politics.

Unfortunately, students will never know what they have missed when diversity, not academic standards, dictates the menu of courses. I’d guess that once diversity goals are met, a student graduating with a political science major will know far more about white privilege than the Federalist Papers.

Less obvious will be the exodus from Ph.D. programs in the social sciences and humanities as fewer and fewer jobs go to white males. Why invest the time and money when universities give hiring priority to “underrepresented minorities”? This is especially true in today’s tight job market. The upshot will be fewer courses in the once standard curriculum and a shortage of smart professors to teach what remains. And let’s not forget the intellectual costs when departments are pressured into using race/ethnicity as the substitute criteria for academic excellence.  

I’ll be blunt: the cram down of diversity in faculty hiring is profoundly anti-intellectual. It just adds higher education to our growing racial spoils system and lacks any serious academic justification. To appreciate this, imagine if a governor announced that since Christian evangelicals comprised 20% of the state’s population, State U must now hire evangelicals to expose students to this currently ignored viewpoint, including teaching creationism alongside evolution. And school budgets would be tied to this outreach. What’s wrong with putting God back into American politics since, after all, the Declaration of Independence says, “…the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God….” and “…Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence….”? This is, of course, unthinkable but, apparently, nobody will dare utter a peep if the argument concerns skin color or ethnic ancestry. For American universities diversity mania is a colossal embarrassment though nobody seems to be embarrassed.