“Diversity”: No Criticism (Or Pale Faces) Allowed

By now the arguments for and against “diversity” are so numerous, so heatedly argued that squabbling pro- and anti-diversifiers have become the academic equivalent of the prisoners who memorized their joke book and hence no longer need actually to tell the jokes; simply stating “No. 14” or “No. 36” is sufficient. (As an example, I am particularly fond of this discussion of reasons 1 through 10 to oppose “diversity.”)

In a context where all the well-worn arguments are met by all the well-worn rejoinders, perhaps the best way to see how thoroughly the cloud-seeded mantra of “diversity” has rained on the entire academic parade is to look at its operation where it is not under attack, and thus not reflexively defended.

Consider, for example, “Making Sense of the Diversity Statement,” an advice column written by “academic career coach” Karen Kelsky on Vitae, the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s “online career hub” and on her own advice blog, The Professor Is In. “The diversity statement,” she writes on Vitae, “is quickly emerging as the fifth required document of the typical job application, along with the CV, cover letter, teaching statement, and research statement. And because it’s of such recent origin, nobody has the foggiest idea what it’s supposed to do (including, I suspect, the requesting search committees themselves).” Thus, she concludes, “advice is needed,” and she proceeds to give it.

“A diversity statement,” she begins, “can take several different angles.”

It can address how you deal with a diverse range of students in the classroom. It can address how you incorporate diversity into your teaching materials and methods. It can also address how your personal background has equipped you to deal with diversity among your students. Beyond teaching, it can discuss how you administratively support diversity among staff and faculty. And it can consider how you address diversity in your own research and writing.

So this is a lot of angles to choose from, and you don’t have to choose just one. You can combine several.

This is indeed “a lot of angles,” but one acute angle is obviously missing. It never seems to have occurred to The Professor to mention an angle critical of “diversity.” Any angle of opposition, in short, must not be acute, must in fact be so obtuse as to be beyond the pale of possibility.

The fact that this angle is missing is no criticism of The Professor. Since “diversity” in higher education tolerates no dissent, to suggest that one could criticize “diversity” in a job application diversity statement would be rather like encouraging an astrologist to apply to an astronomy department.

For a different sidelong glance at “diversity” today, take Howard University (as I did here last fall.) The latest news from Howard is that students there are angry over what could be described as a mistaken, inadvertent outbreak of “diversity” of a different sort.

A branch of Giant, a grocery store chain in the Washington, D.C., region, produced a circular to promote shopping by Howard University students returning to campus from break. The ad ended up offending many Howard students, Washington Business Journal reported, because it features a white woman and Howard is a historically black college. A spokesman for Giant said that “unfortunately an incorrect stock photo was used in the ad and we apologize for this oversight.”

Howard, of course, doesn’t fit the “diversity” paradigm. “Diversity,” in the patois of higher education, almost always merely denotes the number of blacks and Hispanics — the higher the proportion of blacks and Hispanics, the more “diverse” the institution. The trouble is that by this definition Howard is perhaps one of the most diverse institutions in the country, which on the face of it makes no sense since according to the most recent data I have seen its students are 96.14% black, 0.39% Hispanic, 0.34% white, 0.25% Asian/Native American/Pacific Islander, and 0.01% American Indian or Alaska Native.

President Eisenhower has been ridiculed for proclaiming that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is,” but his observation seems to capture perfectly our current “deeply felt religious faith” in “diversity,” whatever it is. If the Obama administration really believes, as it asserted in its Fisher brief, that “the effort to promote diversity is a paramount government objective,” how can it justify continuing to give a quarter of a billion dollars a year to an almost perfectly un-diverse institution that experiences news-making anger over an inadvertent picture of a virtually non-existent white student?

Either the administration doesn’t mean what it says about diversity, or to it “diversity” really does just mean “black.”

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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