Bollinger Bows to the Diversity Radicals

Even the most jaded observer of the contemporary academy can sometimes be stunned. Consider, for instance, an article last week in the New York Times, detailing faculty unrest toward Columbia president Lee Bollinger, on grounds that Bollinger is . . . insufficiently committed to diversity.

Bollinger, of course, presided over the University of Michigan’s aggressive (and ultimately successful) defense of using racial preferences in the admissions process. And as Columbia president, he’s exhibited almost no skepticism about the diversity-obsessed status quo. At the student level, the Times reports that almost 15 percent of Columbia’s 2010-11 freshman class is black, a percentage higher than would result from a “diversity” policy that simply used a quota system based on the current U.S. population.

Bollinger’s most troubling “diversity” plan involved faculty hiring. In 2005, after the Larry Summers controversy at Harvard, he proposed a $15 million hiring initiative to recruit women, minorities, and some white men. But while the women and minority positions, at least on paper, were open to all, only white men of certain beliefs and research interests could apply: in the words of Columbia’s then-“diversity” czar, Jean Howard, the university wanted white men who, “through their scholarship and teaching and mentoring, in some way promote the diversity goals of the university.” In other words, “diversity” at Bollinger’s Columbia has meant not merely hiring more women or people of color, but hiring white male professors whose viewpoints would reinforce the campus status quo on the issue of racial preferences.

Incredibly, even this record isn’t enough to satisfy the “diversity” activists. Bollinger’s problems resulted from the departures of two African-American academic administrators, Provost Claude Steele and Undergraduate Dean Michele Moody-Adams. Steele’s case seems entirely non-controversial: he got offered what was, he stated, a more desirable position (at Stanford). Moody-Adams’ resignation was forced, but doesn’t appear to have had anything to do with race or “diversity” issues: she wanted more emphasis on undergraduate education, as opposed to the university’s research mission.

The departures nonetheless, according to the Times, triggered an outcry. The head of Columbia’s Institute for research in African-American Studies fumed that the personnel moves “have shaken my confidence—as well as the confidence of many others at Columbia—in the ability of Columbia to maintain diverse leadership at the top.” And Bollinger, as is the norm in such controversies, has offered his public penitence. Rather than noting the irrational nature of the complaints given his record, he asserted, “I completely understand why people would feel concerned,” while reaffirming his and “the institution’s commitment to diversity” (other than intellectual and pedagogical diversity, of course).

The whole episode provides yet another reminder of the extreme and one-sided nature of campus attitudes on issues associated with “diversity”: if even Lee Bollinger could be deemed anti-“diversity,” who could be secure? Jean Howard, it seems. The former diversity czar has responded to the controversy by stating that Bollinger would “have some work to do in making sure that what happened this summer is not misunderstood.” Perhaps another “diversity” hiring initiative will be in order?

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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