Tag Archives: diversity in academe

Some Faculty Say Diversity Lowers Academic Quality

Harvey Mudd College has been roiled by a self-study, informally titled the Wabash report, that referred to some anonymous faculty declaring that efforts to promote diversity in the student body had lowered the quality of the school.  At first, the school tried to block publication or censor parts of the report, completed in 2015, but leaks began and The Student Life, the school newspaper, ran what it said was the full report on March 24 of this year.

In a letter to students four days later, the Faculty Executive Committee wrote: “A small number among our faculty have expressed their concern that the admission of women and marginalized students has led to a lowering of standards, but a majority of faculty members disagree. One only has to examine student performance in a wide range of courses to see that the intellectual richness we love at Harvey Mudd has been enhanced by a diverse student body.” The report has still not been officially released.

Science and math are important at Harvey Mudd, one of five liberal arts colleges in the Claremont consortium that also include Pomona, Scripps, Pitzer, and Claremont McKenna, plus two graduate schools.

A committee examining the Harvey Mudd classroom environment commissioned a study from the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College in Indiana. Two representatives from the center visited campus and conducted focus groups with students and faculty members. The reference in the Wabash report to possible student decline from diversity efforts is low-key, vaguely attributed and brief:

“…a significant number of faculty thought that Harvey Mudd students had, over time, become less capable of, and less interested in, meeting the challenge of Mudd’s difficult curriculum. While it is not unusual for us to hear faculty lament ‘the decline in the quality of students,’ what was unusual, in our experience, was that many students had heard and felt this sentiment from some of their faculty. The students had also heard that they weren’t as good as Mudd students in the past because there are more women and underrepresented ethnic minorities at Mudd now. While some students brushed off these comments, others either resented them or took them to heart.”

The report spends a good deal of time discussing the lack of student interest in the college’s honor code and even more time on students’ feelings that the pace and the amount of work required at Mudd are too heavy and relentless. The long list of student complaints included these:

“I realized there would be more flexibility in college, but it was much harder than I thought it would be.” • “You’re always thinking, what’s the next thing to do?” • “I have no extra time for anything really.” • “I know I’m not procrastinating because I don’t have the time. I worry that my shower takes too long.” • “I want to have time to go to the store, buy food, get a haircut, do laundry, but I can’t because anytime I spend doing that is time I’m spending not doing homework.” • “Usually I stop when everything is done for the next day, but there’s always more stuff to do.” • “The first semester is hard but doable. It’s not as bad because it is pass/fail. The second semester is horrible. I was working so much, and I don’t remember anything.” • “I felt like I was being clubbed in the head by problem sets.”

Faculty comments about student workload and its impact included: “Mudd has an oppressive curriculum.” • “‘Happy’ is not a common way of describing Mudd students.” • “When they graduate, a good chunk of Mudd students aren’t sure if they would do it again. • “There are no role models for students here. HMC seniors are burnt-out. They’re not inspiring students to develop good habits.” • “All students can do physics here. They just can’t do it with all the other things they have to do.” • “Play is not an institutional value here.” • “Students don’t have time to reflect or relax. “Students are stretched so thin that if any little thing goes wrong, it all blows up.”

Student protesters concentrated on more mental health services, possibly because the faculty comments on diversity lowering school quality were tucked away in an unreleased report run only in the school paper. They wanted funding for mental health services to be boosted every year by 25 percent until the 2021-22 academic year. They called for a release of the student affairs office’s budget, and additional money — $3,000 each — for six student groups that represent minority interests on campus.

The administration also should carve out dedicated spaces in the college’s new academic building for each of these six groups, they wrote. When administrators didn’t respond to the demands, the students staged a sit-in April 12.

Later that week, students organized a march around campus and presented administrators with their demands. They want five new counselors for the coming academic year, with three of them being people of color. “When administrators didn’t respond to the demands, the students staged the sit-in April 12.

Maria Klawe, the college president, compromised on some of the student requests at the sit-in. She will provide $1,500 to each of the six minority student groups, a one-time allocation, with the administrators willing to consider more in the future.

When Diversity Dictates Lower Quality Hires

Progressives at Tier 1 research universities and top liberal arts colleges sit at the summit of the higher ed hierarchy, where their eminence rests upon high standards of academic work.  But they are fervently committed to hiring and retaining more persons of color.  They have attempted affirmative action of the official and unofficial kind for a long time, but gains in the percentage of professors of color in elite departments have been disappointing.  If you listen to them, you can hear a rising dismay in their voices.  They want so much to have more non-white colleagues, but the years pass and nothing seems to change.

This is a case of bad faith.  People are in bad faith when they think and act in way that deny the reality of what they otherwise enjoy.  The behavior is to demand more non-white hiring and promotion and retention.  The reality is a combination of the meritocratic system of selective schools plus the limited pool of minority candidates.  The number of African American and Hispanic PhDs falls well below the proportions those groups constitution of the general population.  And in the humanities, Asian Americans, too, are underrepresented.

‘Inclusivity’ vs.  Prestige’

This means that superior institutions must compete vigorously for faculty of color who have the qualifications that put them into the ranks of high-achievers.  Inevitably, they must lower the bar for them, setting up a showdown between a top school’s prestige and its “inclusivity.”

It has happened recently at Dartmouth College.  A female Asian American English professor has been denied tenure even though the department’s tenure committee voted unanimously to promote her.  The headline of a story on the case at  reads “Campus unrest follows tenure denial of innovative, popular faculty member of color.”  Aimee Bahng, a UC San Diego PhD, has been an assistant professor at Dartmouth since 2009.  The titles of her various writings indicate the nature of her expertise:

“Extrapolating Transnational Arcs, Excavating Imperial Legacies: The Speculative Acts of Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest

“Queering The Matrix: Hacking the Digital Divide and Slashing into the Future”

She has also supported Black Lives Matter and was co-founder of the Ferguson Teaching Collective at Dartmouth.  In other words, all her interests fall nicely within Dartmouth’s reigning identity politics.

But the higher-ups rejected her.  Why?

Not Close to Dartmouth’s Standards

Bahng’s colleagues say that the Dartmouth administration isn’t sufficiently committed to raising ‘the number of underrepresented minorities on the faculty.  They don’t accuse the leaders of racism, but they do allege an unpleasant climate on campus and little appreciation of the special pressures and burdens faculty of color experience.  Reporter Colleen Flaherty interviews a SUNY-Buffalo professor of transnational studies who claims that people of her profile end up doing extra service work on diversity committees and programs, and they do extra work mentoring students of color who seek them out.  That cuts into their research time.  Additionally, she claims, research on race, gender, and sexuality “has less cultural capital” (tell that to Judith Butler, Cornel West….)

Nobody who turned Bahng down speaks in the story, but it isn’t hard to see why they did in fact speak out.  Flaherty includes a link to Bahng’s CV, and it displays a research record that doesn’t come close to meeting Dartmouth’s tenure standards.  All English departments at major institutions want to see a book in hand and several research articles.  But all Bahng has is a book “forthcoming” from Duke University Press in early 2017.  By itself, that counts for nothing.  We need, at the very least, a contract from the Press stating that the manuscript has passed through peer review, been approved by the board, and has a production schedule.  Bahng’s defenders don’t say anything about it, suggesting a contract doesn’t exist.

As for essays, since her hiring in 2009, Bahng has only two of them in print.

Making it all Go Away

The situation is clear. The department was willing to lower Dartmouth standards in order to meet identity needs (and, possibly, friendship).  Higher officials weren’t.   She has delivered 37 lectures, and she lists 19 fellowships and grants on the CV, but those awards and activities haven’t produced much in the way of the written word. However much Dartmouth wants more faculty diversity, the output was just too low.

I don’t think it will be too long, however, before the scruples of administrators in these kinds of situations soften.  the identity demand is growing too shrill, and in the humanities, research is increasingly meaningless.  Who cares whether someone has just published the 4,210th essay on literary transnationalism?  Soon, administrators will ask themselves whether it is worth it to insist upon strict standards of published research when they run against the diversity mandate, incense other professors, and bring on bad publicity.  A simple and quiet acquiescence can make it all go away.

More About what Candidates Can Do…

By Roger Clegg

Kudos to Peter Wood for encouraging the presidential candidates to opine – and opine wisely – on higher education issues in his article, “What Candidates Can Do for Higher Education Now.” With regard to his Item #3 (“End higher education’s destructive focus on race”), I’d like to point out two specific proposals that have been made, along the lines of the legislation that Peter discusses.

First, Professor Gail Heriot, who moonlights as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, had an excellent Wall Street Journal op-ed last year that made two important points. The first is that the “mismatch” that results from racial preferences in university admissions is an important factor in the relative dearth of African American graduates in the STEM disciplines.

But the second is that, while some of the pressure to use these preferences is self-imposed, a lot of it is not — and, in particular, much of it comes from accrediting agencies. She calls on Congress to step up to the plate and “prohibit accreditors from wading into student-body diversity issues.” Those interested in more information about what Congress should do on this can read Professor Heriot’s additional words of wisdom here and here.

Second, as long as university officials take race and ethnicity into account in admissions decisions, a bill requiring publication of the use of such preferences is necessary. Such a bill would require universities that receive federal funding to report annually and in detail on whether and how race, color, and national origin factor into the student admissions process. The Supreme Court has, alas, upheld such discrimination as constitutionally permissible, at least for now, but this is supposedly subject to numerous restrictions.

So even if some insist that taxpayer-funded universities should continue to practice racial discrimination in admissions, there’s no justification for it being done secretly and illegally – that is, without public disclosure and without taking pains to satisfy the Supreme Court’s requirements.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the relevant Senate committee and is an outspoken critic of racial preferences, ought to be supportive; so should his House counterpart, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC); the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights endorsed this approach, including “sunshine” legislation, as a recommendation to the President and Congress in a 2006 report. And Rep. Steve King (R–IA) has on more than one occasion introduced legislation like this. You can find a draft of the bill (the “Racial and Ethnic Preferences Disclosure Act of 2014″) and more discussion here.


Roger Clegg is the President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

A One-Sided Law Meeting

In the week that a new organization, Heterodox Academy, was established to press for more ideological diversity in academic life, the learned association in my own profession showed how much it is needed. The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) sent around a notice of its prospective annual meeting, highlighting its most prominent speakers. Of the thirteen announced, none is associated predominantly with the Republican party, but eleven are associated with the Democratic Party. Many are prominent liberals. None is a conservative or libertarian.

Five are judges, including Stephen Breyer, all appointed by Democrats. Another is the incoming Senate leader of the Democrats. Three others contributed predominantly to Democrats. One for whom no contributions could be found held a fund raiser for President Obama. Another worked for the Democratic side of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Clinton.

It is true that Michael Bloomberg is also speaking. He has been at various points a Democratic and a Republican and is now an independent. Perhaps the AALS thought that a single person could create diversity through his many political avatars! But seriously, Bloomberg, who has crusaded for gun control and limitations on permissible ounces in a sugary soda, does not resemble a conservative or libertarian. He ran as a Republican in 2001 for Mayor of New York City because it was the nomination he could acquire.

Now my point is not to disparage the highlighted speakers. They are all eminent men and women. Some have even taken positions friendly to ordered liberty.  Deborah Rhode has made excellent arguments for the deregulation of the legal profession. But when everyone shares largely convergent premises, intellectual discourse is stunted. And the lack of diversity is particularly embarrassing in the legal academy. As Professor Nicholas Rosenkranz of Georgetown Law School has observed about the homogeneity in law schools:

it is a fundamental axiom of American law that the best way to get to truth is through the clash of zealous advocates on both sides. All of these law professors have, in theory, dedicated their lives to the study of this axiomatically adversarial system. And yet . . . . on most of the important issues of the day, one side of the debate is dramatically underrepresented, or not represented at all.

And in my experience many of the panels at the AALS reflect the same lack of political diversity as the highlighted speakers. Indeed, the Federalist Faculty Convention, which is held at the same time as the AALS, assembles panels with a wide range of viewpoints that are more fruitful and entertaining.

The obliviousness of the AALS to need for political diversity stands in stark contrast to its relentless push for gender, racial, and ethnic diversity. Harvey Mansfield once noted that diversity in academics often approximates that in the famous Coca Cola commercial—a group of people from all over the world singing in happy harmony. For discussion of law, however, dissonant chords would create more memorable music.

Reprinted with permission from Law and Liberty