Binghamton’s Diversity “Experiment”

Anyone who follows college sports knows the basic outlines of the fiasco that befell Binghamton University’s men’s basketball team. A few years after making the transition to Division I and building a new arena, Binghamton hired a new coach, Kevin Broadus, who recruited low-character, academically challenged “students” who happened to be talented basketball players. The team won a conference championship, but shortly thereafter everything collapsed: several players were arrested (on crimes ranging from selling drugs to making purchases from a stolen credit card) and revelations of academic improprieties emerged. In the aftermath, the athletic director was fired, the head coach was “reassigned,” and the president “retired.”
The new SUNY chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, commissioned a study chaired by Judith Kaye, former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals. The Kaye Report revealed such things as how Binghamton, a university that claims to be academically elite, granted transfer credit for such courses as “Introduction to Bowling.” But the most striking element of the report is how defenders of the rogue program—both during Broadus’ tenure and subsequently in the investigation—tried to play the “diversity” card to undermine those who wanted to uphold even token academic standards at Binghamton. That, of course, is a very familiar storyline, even if it usually doesn’t appear in the kind of context we saw at Binghamton.
In its opening section, the report from Kaye—who, after all, is hardly a card-carrying right-winger, and who provided the required paean to the university’s “admirable” commitment to admitting “disadvantaged youths” who needed “second (or more) chances”—nonetheless declared, “we have noted the suggestions of ‘racism’ that have at times been raised to resist questioning, and expressions of concern, about various aspects of the program.” (All of Broadus’ problem recruits appear to have been minorities.)

Broadus’ players disproportionately migrated to a Binghamton unit, the College of Community and Public Affairs, that isn’t exactly an academic powerhouse: it gives undergraduate degrees in “human development,” and graduate degrees in social work. Nonetheless, even in these non-rigorous classes, basketball players performed very poorly. In one of the most damning lines from the affair, an official from the Athletics Department pressed admissions officers: “Why do you care if we take six players who don’t attend classes?”
Kaye’s report makes clear that race-baiting was a favorite tactic to neutralize skeptics about waiving academic standards to admit Broadus’ recruits. The college’s affirmative action officer, Valerie Hampton, violated established procedure and “weighed in on the admissions process” of one academically unqualified minority candidate.
On another occasion, the admissions office (and we’re talking about SUNY here: its admissions offices have a reputation as obsessed with diversity) raised questions about the abysmal academic qualifications of some of the people Broadus had recruited. An admissions officer was then summoned to a meeting with the university president. The president expressed concerns that admissions officers “were making decisions on basketball player-applicants based on race.”
And on still another occasion, when other conference members started pressing Binghamton on how the admissions of such underqualified students violated the mission of the conference, Binghamton administrators suggested (falsely, as it turned out) that the basketball players had been admitted through one of the school’s special “diversity” admissions initiatives.
The use of “diversity” to excuse the admission of underqualified basketball players was, of course, the height of cynicism. But in the contemporary college environment, the Athletic Department’s strategy is understandable. A basic premise of the “diversity” movement in higher education is that academic qualifications need to take a back seat to the prospective student’s “diversity” qualifications. In this respect, the Binghamton story simply took the “diversity” argument to its logical, if absurd, extreme.
By the way, Broadus still doesn’t think he did anything wrong, either substantively or tactically. Even now, as his performance has been wholly discredited, Broadus continues to play the race card: his attorney told the New York Times that the coach made “no apologies” for his behavior, and that his treatment of his players reflected his “responsibility as a coach and an African-American man.”


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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