Can A College President Be “Diverse”?

“Meet the new boss,” the Chronicle of Higher Education begins its article today (March 12) on the American Council of Education’s latest survey on “The American College President 2012,” and continues: “Same as the old boss.”

By “same,” of course, the Chronicle didn’t mean that most college presidents share common religious, political, or cultural views, or come from the same social class or part of the country. It meant that they were still (after all these years!) not “diverse,” were a presumably fungible bunch of old white men.

Reading from the same script, Inside Higher Ed begins its article
with the “sobering” (in the word of ACE president Molly Corbett Broad)
observation that the “American college president’s office overwhelmingly
remains a haven for white men — but increasingly, those white men are
over 60.” It goes on to report, however, that at least there is a silver
lining to this gray-haired cloud: “A potential upside,” Broad said, is
“‘the opportunity it will present to make gains in furthering
diversity,’ which she said the survey showed remains a ‘significant
challenge’ for higher education.”

With the Supreme Court about to take another look at affirmative
action when it hears Fisher v. Texas next fall, it’s about time higher
education leaders got their story straight about exactly what
“diversity” is and requires. Always insisting that it has nothing to do
with quotas or proportional representation, they usually tell us that a
good education requires students to be exposed to different values,
experiences, cultures, etc. (though usually skipping over the racialist
assumption that skin color is a valid proxy for those things).

But if “diversity” does not demand something like proportional
representation, why does Inside Higher Ed feel the need to emphasize
that “[t]he proportion of college presidents who are members of minority
groups continues to lag badly their representation in the overall
population”? Why does the Chronicle lament the “reduction in the
percentage of minority presidents”?

Clearly, the Chronicle regards college presidents as representatives
of their racial and ethnic groups. Otherwise why would it be concerned
to report the “drop in minority representation,” even though “colleges
are increasingly paying outside consultants to help select their
presidents.” These consultants, however, seem as confused about
“diversity” as their clients.

“The use of search firms does not necessarily correlate with an
increase in diversity placement,” said Ms. [Lucy Apthorp] Leske, vice
president, partner, and a director of Witt/Kieffer’s education and
not-for-profit practice. It’s the search committee “and the search firm
together that have to commit to diverse pools of candidates,” she said.

But should they commit to “diverse pools of candidates” or pools
of diverse candidates? This “diversity” business is indeed complicated,
and one can almost sympathize with confused boards scratching their
heads and turning to “diversity” consultants to solve their problems.

In fact, however, even the exact nature of the problem of not having a
“diverse” president is not clear. For that matter, once a “diverse”
candidate is hired, does he or she remain “diverse”? How, that is, can
one person, even a college president, even be “diverse,” especially
since he or she is seen as the representative of one racial or ethnic
group?

Take Juliet V. Garcia who has been president of the University of
Texas at Brownsville for twenty years and who says “that she and other
Hispanic presidents have worked to groom a new generation of minority
leaders.” These future leaders may make a pool of candidates diverse (or
do they, lumped together, make a “diverse pool of candidates”?), but
once they become presidents will they still be “diverse”? President
Garcia, for example, seems to see herself as primarily Hispanic. She is
disheartened, she says, to see the numbers of minority presidents
“backsliding,” but she “added that she is hopeful some of the highly
charged political rhetoric aimed at Hispanics during an immigration
debate over many years is not to blame for the decline. Instead of
looking for diversity, perhaps the pendulum has swung back to protecting
the gates. That’s my most cynical perspective.”

That sounds more like the rhetoric of an ethnic activist than a
“diverse” higher education statesperson, especially since all the
“highly charged political rhetoric” I’m aware of in the immigration
debate has been aimed at illegal immigrants, not “Hispanics.” The most
heated criticism, in fact, has not even been aimed at the illegals
themselves but their enablers, American politicians who refuse to
protect the borders.

Nothing surprising here, since in practice “diversity” — whether used
to justify racial discrimination in admitting freshmen or hiring
presidents — is difficult to distinguish from a racial and ethnic spoils
system.

ADDENDUM

The Chronicle article also discussed the difficulty
of increasing the number of women presidents. President Garcia, who I mentioned
had led the Brownsville campus of the University of Texas for 20 years, “said she
suspects women with children are less willing to pull up stakes in pursuit
of a more prestigious position in academe.” She presumably knows whereof
she speaks, since, “[w]hile she expresses no regrets about staying in
Brownsville,
where she grew up, Ms. García acknowledges that she and her husband of 42
years gave that some thought.”

According to the 2010 census, Brownsville, Texas,
is 93.2% Hispanic.
At least in theory diversity hires are hired to provide
“diversity.” Who would provide more “diversity” to the University of Texas
at Brownsville, a Hispanic from Brownsville or almost anyone else from
anywhere else?

“Diversity,” as usual, has nothing to do with
diversity.

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

One thought on “Can A College President Be “Diverse”?”

  1. Great post! Never understood why superficial diversity is valued so highly even to the point of coming at a cost to diversity of opinions/beliefs/views. Ridiculous.

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