Where the White/Jewish Category Leads

A few weeks ago, controversy erupted after a diversity
prepared by two CUNY committees identified a “White/Jewish” category among
the university’s faculty. (There was and is absolutely no reason to believe that
this new designation reflected the thinking of either Chancellor Matthew
Goldstein or the Board of Trustees, nor was there any reason to believe, based
on their longtime records, that either Goldstein or the current Board ever
would have implemented a policy based on the designation.) The “White/Jewish” designation
nonetheless attracted a negative editorial in the Post and a good deal of negative commentary elsewhere.

The Atlantic‘s
Wendy Kaminer offered her usual on-point analysis: “CUNY’s diversity study promotes the perverse belief that
identity groups undermine bias and stereotyping. It also implicitly endorses
stereotyping, attributing particular ‘cognitive styles’ or ‘intellectual outlooks’
to particular groups. This is the essential incoherence at the heart of
bureaucratic diversity initiatives: They combat stereotypes by relying on them.”
And CUNY, she adds, is hardly alone–this problem is at the heart of all
institutions that use “diversity” preferences.

Unlike most critics of the CUNY study, who focused primarily
or exclusively on the largely extraneous “White/Jewish” issue, Kaminer
appropriately placed the controversy in a broader framework–namely, what the
decision to create such a category (even if the category, as in this case,
would never have translated into policy) said about the motives and mindset of
the report’s authors, and the logical shortcomings of the academy’s fetish
about “diversity.”

On both political and labor fronts, the “diversity”
situation at CUNY is as extreme as any university in the country. Politically,
the majority Republicans who control the state Senate too often disengage from
CUNY affairs (most Senate Republicans represent upstate or Long Island
districts for which SUNY matters are more pressing), leaving university
officials to deal almost exclusively with Democrats. At the city level
especially, those Democrats can be quite radical indeed.

For instance, for several years the New York City Council
Education Committee was chaired by the anti-white, anti-Israel, anti-gay bigot
Charles Barron. (After his hatred for Israel earned him the endorsement of
David Duke, Barron recently lost a congressional primary by 48 points; he
promptly demanded a recount.) After Barron became too much of an embarrassment
for the city Democratic leadership, Council Speaker Christine Quinn replaced
him as chair with Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez. In 2010, Rodriguez convened a
to complain about the “lack of diversity” among CUNY’s faculty–even
though the non-white percentage of CUNY professors is almost the exact same as
the non-white percentage of the U.S. population. Barron chimed in that “if
we’re the new majority, then we should be the majority of the faculty.” Both men
suggested there should be a linkage between the racial and ethnic demographic
composition of the faculty and the comparable composition of either the student
body or of New York City (both of which are majority-minority).

The Rodriguez/Barron suggestion that CUNY’s faculty
demographics should mirror those of the city ignores the fact that CUNY
recruits nationally, not simply from New York City. Moreover, how would the
Rodriguez/Barron approach apply to schools like the University of Idaho, the
University of Maine, or the University of Vermont? Would Barron and Rodriguez
argue that the faculties of these three universities should reflect the
miniscule (less than 1 percent) black populations of each of the three states?
Or does the Barron/Rodriguez faculty-by-quota approach operate in one way only?

There is, of course, one straightforward way for CUNY to
reach the majority-minority faculty so eagerly desired by Barron and,
seemingly, Rodriguez: abolish tenure. That way, the university could
reconfigure its faculty at the start of the next academic year, so as to reach
the desired quota level of “diversity” advocates. Indeed, given the realities
of tenure and the small annual turnover at CUNY (or any other major
university), abolishing tenure would seem to be the only way to achieve the quick
demographic breakdown for which many “diversity” advocates yearn.

Any reasonable union would worry about the threat of
“majority-minority” politicians turning on tenure. Instead, the leaders of the
CUNY faculty union, the PSC, have joined with Barron in public protest rallies,
and they seem to have embraced Barron’s diversity extremism. In 2007 testimony,
for instance, the PSC vice-president complained about how only 35 percent of
the university’s faculty were minorities–at that point a figure almost
identical to the overall percentage of minorities in the U.S. population. Like
Barron, the union pegged appropriate diversity totals to the diversity
breakdown of the student body. It’s worth mentioning that both the longtime president
and the longtime vice-president of the CUNY union are white: their commitment
to “diversity” doesn’t extend to their own positions, which have remained
lily-white for more than a decade and show every sign of remaining

The issue that CUNY faces, then, is upholding quality in
the midst of massive political and labor pressure to utilize “diversity” as the
most significant factor in personnel actions. Certainly the CUNY committees
that introduced the “White/Jewish” category appear to have internalized this
pressure. And while no serious observer could possibly believe that the current
CUNY administration would consider the concept of a Jewish quota, the report
should raise some troubling questions about the appropriate limits of a “diversity”

The clearest data comes regarding the gender breakdown of
CUNY’s new hires. If hiring continues at its current rate, women will be 52
percent of the CUNY faculty in 2020 and 57 percent in 2030. In the most recent
year for which CUNY supplied data (2005), 55.5 percent of the new hires were
women; women were also more likely to receive tenure than men. It’s entirely
possible that each of these new hires was the best possible candidate for the
position. But if, as the data suggest over an extended period, women have been
hired at a rate well above their percentage of the overall U.S. population, at what
point would CUNY (or any university) need to eliminate structures to guard
against women being treated unfairly in the personnel process? When women
comprise 60 percent of the faculty? Seventy percent? Eighty percent?

Second, the report poses the question of what should
constitute a desired level of “diversity.” Page after page of the CUNY
committee’s report discusses the university’s efforts to hire more
African-American faculty. Yet the data shows that 12.7 percent of the faculty
is black or African-American, just below the overall black percentage of the
population (13.1 percent). And that healthy level comes despite issues with the
academic pipeline–that African-Americans enter graduate school at a lower
percentage than their overall population–that CUNY administrators correctly
cited in the Rodriguez/Barron hearing.

Finally, to what extent do the “diversity” bureaucratic
structures at CUNY (or at any university) have other, unintended effects on the
personnel process–chiefly by encouraging creation of race/class/gender-oriented
positions that are perceived as more likely to yield a minority hire, even at
the cost of weakening pedagogical or intellectual diversity on campus?

A committee inclined to create new (if policy-irrelevant)
“diversity” preferences such as “White/Jewish” surely will not consider such
questions. Nor, of course, will “majority-minority” advocates on the New York
Council or the “diversity”-obsessed faculty union. I fear that critics
distracted by the “White/Jewish” question will miss the far more important
policy questions that the report raises.


  • 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.

One thought on “Where the White/Jewish Category Leads”

  1. Justice Roberts put it best: The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

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