Thirty Million for Race and Gender Hires at Columbia

In 2005, amidst the Harvard faculty’s ultimately successful effort to
purge President Larry Summers, Columbia president Lee Bollinger announced that
his university would launch its own “diversity” hiring initiative. Bollinger
committed $15 million to “add between 15 and 20
outstanding women and minority scholars to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
over the next three to five years” and to “enhance efforts underway to change
the process and culture surrounding faculty searches, recruitment, hiring,
retention and promotion.”

The effort was coordinated by Columbia’s first
diversity vice provost, Jean Howard, who had managed to distinguish herself as
on the ideological fringe even among Columbia’s arts and sciences faculty. (A
Shakespeare scholar committed to the race/class/gender trinity, Howard’s
co-authored or co-edited books include Engendering a Nation: A Feminist
Account of Shakespeare’s English Histories
 and Marxist Shakespeares.)
Shortly before Bollinger promoted her to become the school’s diversity czar,
Howard had been in the news for
signing a petition calling
on Columbia “(1) to use its influence–political and financial–to encourage the
United States government to suspend its military aid and arms sales to Israel,
and (2) to divest from all companies that manufacture arms and other military
hardware sold to Israel, as well from companies that sell such arms and
military hardware to Israel.” Bollinger never explained why a figure who
exercised such grotesque misjudgment by signing the boycott petition was
appropriate to coordinate a major hiring initiative.

In a 2005 interview
with the Chronicle
, Howard denied
that the Columbia plan would constitute a racial or gender quota. White males,
she said, could be considered for the new positions, though only if “through
their scholarship and teaching and mentoring, [they would] in some way promote
the diversity goals of the university.” (Intellectual or pedagogical diversity,
it goes without saying, did not fit the “diversity goals of the university.”)
It’s unclear if, in fact, any white male applicants were seriously considered
for the “diversity” positions.

The university’s announcement also implied that
Columbia wouldn’t need to spend more money on exclusionary hiring practices. In
2005, Howard remarked that the initiative would “bring on board a critical
cluster of new talent” that would essentially self-replicate and bring in more
“diverse” faculty members. In other words: $15 million for racial or gender
preferences, but, at the least, no more.

This spring, however, came word from Morningside
Heights that Bollinger’s administration has decided that despite Howard’s
promises, and the earlier $15 million spent on preferential hiring, the school
needed to do more. And so Columbia will be doubling its 2005 total and spend $30
million more
for “diversity” hiring.

To defend allocating such an enormous sum, Bollinger
deemed “diversity” initiatives necessary for “fostering the uninhibited
exploration of competing ideas and beliefs” on which the academy thrives. Given
that Columbia’s 2005 effort explicitly excluded
some “competing ideas and beliefs”–those of white male applicants whose
scholarship didn’t “in some way promote the diversity goals of the university”–it’s
hard to see how “diversity” at Columbia fosters “competing” ideas and beliefs. On
the other hand, the university’s “diversity” hiring patterns certainly would
bring in more faculty members committed to upholding the campus conventional

Beyond the dollar amount, there is one apparent
difference between the 2005 and 2012 “diversity” initiatives; in 2012, it
appears as if Columbia has dropped all pretenses about quota hiring. According
to the letter Bollinger submitted to the community, the $30 million will go
exclusively “
to the recruitment and support of outstanding female and underrepresented
minority scholars.” It looks as if white males whose scholarship might “promote the diversity goals of the university” are out
of luck.

Indeed, in his announcement document, Bollinger all but concedes that a
numerical quota guides the new initiative. “Columbia,” he wrote, “is poised for
new investments in the recruitment of outstanding faculty and postdoctoral
scholars from underrepresented groups to more closely reflect the composition
of the national pool of qualified candidates.”

It’s hard to imagine a profession more committed to the use of racial or
gender preferences than is the contemporary academy. Given the pro-preferences
consensus, what possible rationale could exist for spending $30 million for
outright exclusionary hires?


  • 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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