Pushing The Diversity Boulder Up The Hill

The “Diversity In Academe” issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education is out. And how is the quest for diversity going? Badly, as always. The number of Asian-American university Presidents remains insufficient, Middle Easterners aren’t considered an ethnic group, and paltry numbers of minority students study abroad. And those are just the minor problems.

What’s on the minds of our brightest “diversity professionals?” Here’s a sampling. I’ll provide the authors’ official titles before I list their pieces.

The Assistant Provost of Academic Affairs and Faculty Equity
“Diversity and Merits: How One University Rewards Faculty Work That Promotes Equity”

In this piece, the provost expands upon the importance of evaluating and rewarding contributions to diversity made by professors:

“Any university that is seriously committed to equity must value faculty contributions to diversity made through teaching, research, and service. If diversity is truly part of the core academic mission, it should be included in the criteria used to evaluate and reward faculty achievement. Toward this end, the faculty of the University of California’s 10-campus system, through the Academic Senate, has recently developed amendments to the instructions for faculty-review committees that give recognition to faculty work promoting diversity and equal opportunity.”

Why is this important?

“Seeking faculty members who can contribute to a university’s diversity mission is no different from seeking faculty members with technology or science backgrounds in order to build expertise in those growing areas of need.”

This, of course, is a problem because:

“Diversity work has been devalued at many research universities and not seen as legitimate academic achievement.”

Well no, it’s probably being valued in exactly the same way that other research is. When you think a university’s “diversity mission” is as important to a university as technology or science research you’re very likely to come up disappointed. I’m sure that countless underclassmen resent that kegstands aren’t seen as a legitimate academic achievement too. Anyone making the straight-faced argument that the racial/ethnic/gender identity of those present in the university is as important as their scholarship is making a mockery of everything for which the research university stands.

Yet the Provost doesn’t stop there. She goes on to propose monetary rewards for diversity research, and points out that “even nonmonetary resources like parking or office space can be engaged to reward and inspire diversity efforts.” Research for which you need to offer parking probably isn’t worth having in the first place. Yet, inherently, the job of diversity professionals is to encourage the artificial—to rig, prod, hector, and bribe towards a nebulous balance of racial, ethnic, and gender perfection that has nothing to do with scholarship. Which brings us to the task of the authors of the next piece.

Chief Diversity Officer and Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate, and a Senior Research Scientist in the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives.

They seek to explain “The Complex Mandate of a Chief Diversity Officer”

We begin with the premise that “diversity efforts are important because they are fundamental to quality and excellence in the world in which we live today.” Fundamental to what quality and excellence? Just as fundamental as science and technology research, perhaps? Not to become sidetracked from the principal purpose of the piece, pointing out what a diversity officer does.

Here are several of the choicest tasks:

“He or she also participates in the search for administrators or faculty members, perhaps expanding the pool of candidates by helping revise job descriptions and reminding search-committee members of the importance of institutional diversity.
….
..an officer might include cultural competence in all performance appraisals of administrators and staff members in his or her purview, advocate the inclusion of diversity achievements in performance review throughout the institution
….
Officers often work with faculty senates to develop new requirements for diversity in general-education courses, and with teaching centers on faculty-development initiatives to infuse diversity into other courses….”

These aren’t outside lobbyists, or employees expressing private views. They are two paid officers of the university charged with introducing and urging diversity criteria into every facet of university life. Their employers, in creating and supporting their positions, have established that diversity criteria should affect hiring, the affect to content of courses, and even influence performance reviews. A university professor or administrator simply doing your job? Mind that you don’t fail “cultural competence.” Taught a few courses, published a few articles? Well, that’s nice, but where are your “diversity achievements?” Work on them, and maybe we’ll get you a new parking spot. You thought education and scholarship were central to the university’s mission? Well, make room, universities have other interests, and continue to hire ever-larger staffs to implement them. You can hear from them every year in “Diversity in Academe.” The problems will always be severe, and more money, staff, and intrusive measures will always be necessary to fix them. And who can ever say no to Diversity? No one in the modern university.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

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