Another Myth about “Diversity” Crumbles

Once the Supreme Court (actually, only Justice Powell’s pivotal opinion) said in the Bakke case that programs to increase student “diversity” could be justified if they brought about educational benefits, the higher education establishment began a frantic quest for such evidence.

For example, the University of Michigan, needing something that would look sufficiently expert to impress judges who would rule on the legality of its system of racial preferences, had Professor Patricia Gurin cook up a study purporting to prove that the campus enjoyed educational benefits due to its diverse student body. Actually, it proved nothing, as Thomas Wood and Malcolm Sherman showed in this paper that refutes a host of weak “diversity” research.

Nevertheless, most Americans still believe that it has been proven that “diversity” somehow leads to better learning among college students.

More recently, the claim has been made that there is another vital reason for pushing this agenda, namely that diverse groups are better at solving problems. Based on a 2007 book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies by Professor Scott Page (also of the University of Michigan), the idea that diversity trumps ability has become widely accepted. It is often given as a justification for continuing and even expanding “diversity” programs.

With a chorus of believers singing this tune, it too attained the status of conventional wisdom. Hardly anyone bothered to question it – until now.

Mathematics professor Abigail Thompson of the University of California – Davis has recently published a paper that tears Page’s work apart. She says that Page’s analysis is an example of the misuse of mathematics in the social sciences. It is something that merely gave “a scientific veneer to the diversity field,” she writes.

When Americans hear that research has shown that diverse groups are superior at solving problems, they probably assume that detailed studies were carried out to confirm that. They will be surprised to read Thompson’s rebuttal that Page’s work, including a co-authored paper with economics professor Lu Hong, “does not contain information that can be applied to any real-world situation involving actual people.”

Another mathematics professor who has weighed in on this matter is Aaron Robertson of Colgate University. Interviewed by The College Fix, Robertson derided the findings of Page and Hong as “vacuous or at best highly trivial statements.” And as for their paper, he thought it unfortunate that it was “published in the (what I used to think was prestigious) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One is left to ponder: Did any mathematician referee this article, and how much does diversity trump truth?”

The demolition of the claim that diversity means better problem solving won’t dissuade any of the social engineering “progressives” who really don’t care whether there is any justification for doing what they want to do. But among Americans who are not zealots for diversity, it should prove enlightening.

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George Leef

George Leef is Director of Research for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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