The Cult of Diversity Shows Its True Face

Last year, a former student of mine won a job interview at the satellite campus of a state university system. One of the first questions she had to answer was this: “Tell us how you will contribute to diversity on our campus.” My ex-student was Shiite, female, heterosexual, and 50 years old. As far as she could tell, the questioner, too, was white, middle-aged, female, and heterosexual.

In her job search, she also found several diversity statements were required of her. At the same time, during job season, the education press filled the air with complaints written by persons of color about white supremacy in its various forms in higher education, while tales of the plight of LGBT students and faculty circulated, giving job candidates who were non-white and LGBT still more special status in the scramble for attention from hiring committees.

My ex-student is a liberal all the way. She despises Donald Trump. She teaches freshman composition but specializes in environmental topics and writing. She fully supports LGBT rights.

But that doesn’t matter. Ideological conformity doesn’t help here. After all, everybody on the job market these days believes pretty much the same thing when it comes to the social and political basics. Personnel decisions are now a more specific and intractable matter. Identity, not ideology–that’s the crucial thing. The diversity statements that job candidates submit are less important as statements of faith in the diversity dogma than they are ways of identifying diverse identities.

[Can A University Be Found Liable For Telling The Truth About Racial Preference?]

The old conservative critiques aren’t pertinent anymore, not to this kind of agenda. Thirty years ago, Allan Bloom, Roger Kimball, et al pinpointed the intellectual corruptions of the academic humanities. Alan Sokal and the Bad Writing Award demonstrated how far disciplinary standards had fallen. They succeeded in convincing the country that scholarly norms had decayed and the resulting decadence had opened the way to political correctness on the syllabus and in the curriculum.

This is different, though. The cries of white supremacy and (let’s add) or rampant male sexism in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere aren’t vulnerable to rebuttal. An interviewer on a hiring committee who is herself white but who quizzes each candidate on his promotion of diversity can’t hear any criticism of her approach. If you handed her Richard Bernstein’s famous 1990 New York Times story on political correctness, she couldn’t get through two paragraphs before tossing it away in a huff. She poses her question as a hand grenade whose pin is about to fall out. It is loaded with psycho-political content ready to be summoned forth as the candidate struggles to give the right answer. She sits in the judge’s seat, and it’s a position she doesn’t want to give up. She has crossed a professional line that conservatives insist must be respected if the discipline is to retain its integrity. But she doesn’t care. Diversity is a higher virtue.

There is no debate any longer, no progressive vision vs. conservative critique. The actions of the diversiphiles have become too blunt and crude to admit to contention. There is barely any pretense that merit matters more than identity. The old arguments conservatives made against liberal bias don’t apply. The term liberal bias gives too much intellectual credence to this kind of social engineering. When you hear it, you think someone is disposed to what Marx said about alienated labor, or to Richard Rorty on the errors of a correspondence theory of truth, or to Edward Said on Western conceptions of the East.

The new kind of judgment, however, doesn’t go much past bean-counting by race and sex. It doesn’t have any intellectual content. You don’t need Michel Foucault to explain why we must, we absolutely must, recruit more people of color to the faculty and talk more about heteronormativity in the classroom. You don’t need to justify anything about it. You just have to do it.

[The Toxic Mission to Reengineer Men]

Critics of the new diversity must change their vocabularies when they address such violations of academic ideals. Ideology is the wrong word. So is bias. We should speak, instead, of purity and pollution, ingroups and taboo. When humanities professors mull over the decisions they must make, they make you think like an anthropologist and social psychologist, not a political scientist.

Jonathan Haidt, who founded Heterodox Academ, recognized this a few years ago, and he has nobly led the effort to reform the socio-psychological climate of academia. But one wonders whether he and Greg Lukianoff who writes for FIRE go far enough in their “coddling” thesis in probing the animosity that underlies these diversity mandates. To call for the establishment of a professional population fully proportionate in all the demographics sounds benign and democratic. Who could argue with that?

The problems never come up in the expression of the goal, only in the implementation. How do you achieve the proportions when different groups enter college and graduate school with unequal capacities (on average)? What do you do when many years pass and, despite your best intentions and actions, the rate of African Americans on the faculty still hovers in the low single-digits?

[Get Ready for the Coming War Against Merit]

We’ve seen the outcomes. Resentments build, blame must be ascribed, scapegoats must be found. Racial tensions increase, and everyone gets nervous, including the most dedicated liberals. The avid social engineers contrive fuzzy notions of white privilege and institutional racism, which are not descriptive terms at all, but rather tactical ones whose very abstraction and loose reference make them so hard to refute.

The atmosphere is now charged with guilt and chagrin. The number of things that may not be said has increased. That’s the thing about political correctness. It doesn’t have clear and distinct rules like those found in a handbook of etiquette. If it did, people would know how they are supposed to act and speak. They wouldn’t feel so uncertain when the delicate issues of race and sex come up.

But political correctness is less spelled out than that. The rules change over time. Words that were okay once are now not okay. Who could have predicted ten years ago that we must take care of our pronouns? My colleagues have witnessed cases in which a person of sparkling liberal credentials has spoken injudiciously and become the target of wrath. They have taken a lesson: be very conscious of what you say and think.

The situation is ripe for identity politicians to seize the initiative and press for action in ways that never would have been countenanced before. Liberals 30 and 40 years ago would have recoiled at the diversity-statement requirement. Today, they keep quiet. It’s not liberal bias that holds them back. It’s the fear of censure that hushes them. The rules of political correctness are not norms. They are taboos. The faculty is an in-group. They don’t promulgate ideological beliefs; they enforce customs. They haven’t politicized the academy; they have tribalized it.

It is less incumbent on young professors and graduate students, then, to demonstrate that they have read Marx thoroughly and can rehearse the details of his arguments than it is for them to prove that they have absorbed a few Marxist contentions that the tribe has adopted as dogma (example: the political nature of private spaces). You don’t have to ponder evidence for and against biological factors in gender difference. You merely have to state the 100 percent social construction of it. Intersectionality is less significant as a concept than it is as a marker of their “positionality” in professional settings. More and more, the intellectual features of humanities disciplines have been subordinated to personnel features.

In other words, the humanities are about who has the jobs, not which ideas reign. The political correctness conservatives rightly warned about in 1989 has only intensified, but for instrumental reasons. If academics grumble ever more loudly about the lack of diversity in the ranks, they can ever more sharply divide true believers from soft supporters (not to mention dissidents). Raising the tensions makes the line between them and us clearer and brighter. Controversy has a way of clarifying things.

War demands stronger commitments. In the past, a moderate liberal who harbored some doubts about identity politics could go through a full hiring process and not raise any suspicions among the leftist professors in the hiring department. But now, with identity issues at the center of the field itself, he will be forced to show his hand. Questions will be posed to him, and the questioners will have keen radar for any hesitations. The smaller and narrower the mind, the more sensitive it is to challenge.

And the less it is to persuasion. Next year, the number of diversity statements will grow, and diversity questions will have become routine in the interviews. These are rituals, and people of deep faith can’t be told not to worship their idols and exercise their purifications.

Image: Adrian Villegas on You Tube


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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14 thoughts on “The Cult of Diversity Shows Its True Face

  1. Very, very simple. And absolutely terrible.

    “Diversity is a higher virtue.”
    That’s it. That’s all. What more needs to be asked or answered?

    It just is. It trumps everything. Superior to everything. Merit? Quality? Depth? Range? Ability? So TF what? None of that matters.

    Or rather it matters only as evidence of ‘the bad old world’.

    The Idiots at Pomona captured this perspective perfectly a year or two ago in their outraged response to their President’s plea for Free Speech. I quote it here at length (the better to capture the emotive thrust of their ‘argument’ (and I use that word advisedly):
    “Your statement contains unnuanced views surrounding the academy and a belief in searching for some venerated truth. Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth–’the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples. We, Black students, exist with a myriad of different identities. We are queer, trans, differently-abled, poor/low-income, undocumented, Muslim, first-generation and/or immigrant, and positioned in different spaces across Africa and the African diaspora. The idea that we must subject ourselves routinely to the hate speech of fascists who want for us not to exist plays on the same Eurocentric constructs that believed Black people to be impervious to pain and apathetic to the brutal and violent conditions of white supremacy.”

    We might well imagine the same illiterate silliness spouted by the Hiring Committee, as they reject yet another Demographic Failure. Hilarious if not so consistently tragic in application.

    But the problem is actually deeper than just “diversity is a higher virtue”…and its roots lie in Prof. Bauerlein’s passing observation, ” To call for the establishment of a professional population fully proportionate in all the demographics sounds benign and democratic.” He asks, somewhat tongue-in-cheek: “Who could argue with that?” And that’s exactly the point. We should. Everyone should. Anyone with at least half-a-brain should shout their objections because what is being suggested and assumed is not just moronic, it’s actively and horribly totalitarian. It’s just, in fact, a slight variation on the Nazi’s obsession with their own kind of demographic ‘correctness’. Here in our Arc of History Bends Progressive Future, it’s not just Aryans who should be elevated, rather it’s the demographic balance itself (and whatever is required to achieve it).

    We need a Black to make the equations balance, hire ’em. We have too many Blacks, fire ’em….replace ’em with a homosexual….or a trans-sexual….or a lesbian Polynesian (counts seem a little low in that column). That’s all that matters. And the very fact that we ever ever ever accepted the asinine premise that representative demographic balance means ANYTHING tells us only how far down the rabbit hole we’ve fallen.

    Truly — who wants their cardiac surgery team to be demographically ‘diverse’? Who believes rather than hiring top-notch cardiac surgeons, the hospital should ensure they have 13% Black, 66% White, 17% Hispanic, 36% Obese, 3.8% Homosexual, 2% Redheads, and 4.1% over the age of 50 who are 6’3″ or more? Which team would you prefer opening your chest? Do you want great architects or architects that look different from each other? Do you want to marry someone you love (even if they look similar to others you’ve dated)…or do you want to marry someone from an appropriately diverse demographic group? C’mon, let’s see a show of hands!

    And yet, despite the glaring truth that QUALITY always always always is vastly more important than anything else…we all nodded, each one of us — Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard, and Dr. Fine — and we all evidently agreed: “Yes indeedy…meaningless cosmetic difference is our TOP PRIORITY!”

    And as we sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind. Welcome to this Brave New World.

  2. This passage from Mark Bauerlein’s piece on Diversity struck me as particularly powerful:

    The rules of political correctness are not norms. They are taboos. The faculty is an in-group. They don’t promulgate ideological beliefs; they enforce customs. They haven’t politicized the academy; they have tribalized it.- Fred Siegel

  3. Superb, incisive column. Mark Bauerlein takes the analysis of Haidt and Lukianoff a daring but necessary step onward. (Lukianoff directs, doesn’t just “write for” FIRE, does he not?: a minor quibble.) Thanks for the link to Bernstein’s NYTimes piece: a startling reminder that the stormclouds were gathering visibly in 1990. The clear-eyed assessment here in Bauerlein’s brief column for “Minding the Campus” deserves wide circulation. It’s the bad news told with icy directness, and it’s hard to refute its basic contours, in my estimate. One need not agree with all of Bauerlein’s views on other topics to concede that his ear for the cant in our academic idioms has long been matchless (even since his first, his Whitman book; and when is someone going to bring his peerlessly pitch-perfect “Literary Criticism: An Autopsy” back into print?). I hope this column’s prognostications prove overly gloomy, but to judge from the weather on my humanities quad, I’m guessing Bauerlein reads the P.C. tea leaves correctly, as did Bernstein decades ago, it seems. (A small question: the opening story of the “Shiite” job-seeker: sic? A slight wobble in the parallel inventories of the first paragraph’s closing sentences had me wondering. The anecdote is suitably arresting, in any case.)

  4. The “highly selective” liberal arts college where I teach just unveiled a plan to factor “commitment to diversity” not only in hiring and promotion decisions, but in determining merit raises. We live in interesting times.

    1. “Some poor cross burning dirtbag is mad that brown people are getting past the gates.”

      No, its those unfortunate enough to have been born White & male — and are simply asking for the same thing that the late Dr. King did.

      There are a lot of us who have worked awfully hard for what we don’t have, and the middle is not going to hold indefinitely. To dismiss us all as extremists may well become a self-fulfilling prophesy…

    2. I think this is the best reply because it shows what those of us who are decrying the academia’s march to the madhouse need to expect.

      We have above a high brow criticism, and what we see is all too familiar, is the collective pavlovian response, childish and churlish ad hominem. No one reading the above essay would think for a moment that the author is angry that “brown people are getting past the gates”. But silly us for thinking that truth matters. Silly us for expecting honest debate. Let the epithets fly! Racist, homophobe, transphobe, misogynist… There is no opening of the minds of these “woke” leftists.

      1. No, it’s actually worse — there are a lot of us who had our futures stolen from us, and we’re p*ss*d. I worked really hard and put up with a lot of this abuse — so I could drive a truck? Part-time, without seniority?!?

        I hate to say this but if we were to face something similar to the Chinese “Cultural Revolution” with all of academia marched out into the fields at gunpoint, I’m not so sure I would oppose it. Why should I?

        Seriously, why should I???

        That’s the scary part here…..

    3. Racist much?
      Why on earth would you ever assume that an insistence on hiring and promoting the best means that non-Whites would not be among the best? Do you recognize what you’re saying?

      1. “Why on earth would you ever assume that an insistence on hiring and promoting the best means that non-Whites would not be among the best?”

        The author neither stated nor implied that non-whites would not be among the best. Thanks to your likely ever-present “race lens” you missed the point entirely….

  5. Who could have predicted ten years ago that we must take care of our pronouns?

    The same people who could have predicted Auschwitz and the Gulag. In other words, nobody. Because prediction of the specifics is not the point. Political science is not science. Many people could have predicted, and did, that a creeping Orwellianism would ensue from the inaction of those who ought to have known better (and while Auschwitz and the Gulag predated 1984, the Symean revision of the personal pronouns did not, suggesting that at least that particular outcome could have, and ought to have been predicted).

    Perhaps one day I will enable my inner Lenin (which we all have) and write a tract entitled “What Was to Have Been Done?” Therein I will polemicize against the conservative critics of yesteryear, for while they criticized, the Academy burned. Did it not occur to any of them to use the power they then still had to prevent the progressive-identitarian conquest of the universities? When the progressive diversitarians first marched into the academic Rhineland, had the conservatives sent even a battalion in to eject them, the war would have been avoided. Now it is lost. Or at least, it can now be won only by deploying the thermofinancial warhead of stopping all–all–federal funding, direct and indirect, of colleges and universities, saving perhaps only research grants in the hard sciences. Salting the academic soil so that nothing may grow there for generations. These are the wages of conservative inaction.

  6. And this is how the students see it:

    At what point will the entire calliope go crashing to the ground?

    And how many of those categorically excluded from higher education will instead go to the Trump 2020 effort, and what will be the implications of that? Populism has always had a dark side (e.g. the “Know Nothing” movement of a century ago) and could we see our own “Cultural Revolution”?

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