The DIE Industry’s Iron Rice Bowl Under Attack

It may have taken decades, but thanks to an upcoming Supreme Court case, American universities may soon be legally required to end racial preferences. At least that’s what many hope. Unfortunately, even if the Supreme Court bans racial preferences, the battle will hardly end. It may even become more acrimonious. One should recall what transpired when the Court outlawed state-mandated racial segregation in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). It’s hard to believe that these nine Justices had any inkling of what would follow. Similarly, did the judges deciding Bakke (1978) believe that their decision would bring racial peace in our time? So much for SCOTUS trying to end racial rancor.

It is delusional to expect that institutions with a decades-long obsession over diversity, one they lied about time and again, will quietly surrender simply because the Court demands it. The battle will shift, not end, and that reality acknowledged, it may be wise to prepare for what’s ahead.

Some of this “massive resistance” can be predicted. We can expect, for example, efforts to hide any data that might supply smoking-gun proof of racial preferences. Applicants for admission might not be asked for their race, but mind-boggling, AI-based analysis might supply the data based on their home addresses, their high school’s racial mix, their extra-curricular participation, and even the spelling of their names. Meanwhile, standardized tests such as the SAT or the ACT might be “fine-tuned” to reduce race-related gaps, all the while providing the illusion of objectivity. Never underestimate the deviousness of ideologues in their quest for Utopia.

Less predictable, however, will be the problem of university employees who owe their positions to an earlier era when universities recruited and then sought to retain large numbers of academically challenged black students. That is, the Court’s ruling will invariably result in fewer but better-qualified blacks gaining admission—what becomes, then, of the functionaries who now lack a clientele? Will the diversity nomenclature demand that the university defy the Court and refuse to drop preferences?

The sheer size of the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE) bureaucracy will make this problem impossible to ignore. A recent Heritage Foundation study estimated that DIE in American academia costs $14 billion per year, with 3.4 of these functionaries per 100 tenured faculty. These figures, however, probably underestimate this ratio by concentrating on high-profile positions such as “Deputy Chief Diversity Officer” and “Director of Implementation for the DIE Strategic Plan,” an actual position at the University of Michigan. A wider study might include those overseeing tutoring and mentoring programs for minority students, as well as the staff of entire academic departments whose very raison d’être is to promote minority recruitment and retention, such as Black Studies. The phrase “DIE industrial complex” is no exaggeration.

[Related: “Race Wars Come to the Court”]

Critically, few of these employees are likely to be qualified for anything beyond the DIE hamster wheel. What future awaits commissars who currently spend countless hours searching for bias in STEM syllabi when black students in those disciplines, thanks to eliminating preferences, perform as well as their white classmates?

The sudden obsolescence of university employees is hardly novel. Prior to personal computers and word processing programs, departments were filled with secretaries who typed manuscripts, operated mimeograph machines to produce tests, and otherwise performed clerical chores now done by the professors themselves. Schools of science and engineering experienced similar employment shifts as machines replaced low-level technical workers. Meanwhile, languishing universities have recently closed out entire academic departments for lack of funding. Downsizing a school’s diversity bureaucracy is just the latest installment of the creative destruction that has occurred elsewhere for centuries.

If universities retrenched like private companies, the solution would be to offer severance packages, or to just say “Goodbye, and good luck!” At most, they would hire outside employment counselors to find jobs for the newly unemployed in private industry or government. No doubt, this would satisfy some diversity functionaries, but in today’s political climate, terminating large numbers of minorities, many of whom have limited marketable skills outside of promoting diversity, is not as simple as firing secretaries.

Diversicrats losing their Iron Rice Bowls will have every reason to dig in their heels and launch a scorched-earth resistance. This campus battle will undoubtedly spill over into national politics. Where can those lacking high-level technical skills or business acumen earn an average salary of $175,088 in a top campus position?

Even the hint of mass DIE termination may well become “the civil rights battle of our day”—the bureaucracy’s allies are everywhere. They can certainly count on the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education and countless other organizations. Campus demonstrations, if not riots, will likely break out the day the Supreme Court finally kills off racial preferences, and professional agitators will quickly join the fray. University police will, naturally, do nothing no matter how disruptive these protests are, while school presidents will issue pronouncements condemning the Court for grievously undermining the university’s core mission. Think of Alabama governor George Wallace announcing “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever,” though with “diversity” in place of “segregation.”

[Related: “Harvard, UNC Cases Give SCOTUS Chance to End Racial Preferences for Good”]

Universities may well promise to honor all employment contracts for eternity, even if there is no work to be done, and it will be hard to argue that funding a no-show job is illegal, let alone a violation of the Court’s anti-preference ruling. Indeed, sinecures are not exactly unknown in the academy, and we might see whole new departments with scarcely any students whose only purpose is to soak up the newly unemployed administrators. In fact, Bentley University recently announced an undergraduate degree in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Who will demand fiscal integrity when facing rioting students spurred on by the Dean of Inclusion and Academic Excellence?

This “Save the Iron Rice Bowl” campaign is just beginning. Faculty may cancel classes to show solidarity with fellow racial justice warriors facing the axe. State legislatures responsible for university budgets may conduct investigations into why universities are even thinking about firing those committed to Utopia. Congress may pass earmarks for promoting diversity apart from these functionaries—what school could possibly reject “free” federal money? The football and basketball teams might announce boycotts, while law school professors will volunteer to bring racial discrimination lawsuits, since, after all, the declining number of minority students demonstrates the need for even more diversity apparatchiks!

This peek into a possible tumultuous future raises a question typically sidestepped in legal debates: what really drives this racial preference mania? After all, the cure must relate to the source of the pathology, so what’s the motive? Do administrators honestly believe that they can build a harmonious, multicultural campus by excluding “dull” Asians at the expense of lower-performing African Americans?  Do they really buy the argument that whites receive a superior education simply by being in a “diverse” environment? Or is publicly funded education just another government-supplied benefit that should be distributed as widely as possible? Are today’s racial preferences compensation for past historical injustices?

All of these are plausible, of course, but not every explanation requires litigation. Opponents of racial preferences may have misdiagnosed the problem, so recourse to the Fourteenth Amendment or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 may be a political version of Whack-A-Mole—you end racial preferences in one place but they pop up elsewhere. We should be so lucky to live in a world where bad things vanish when the government bans them.

In short, we should pay more attention to why racial preferences endure as sacred dogma before we seek to litigate them out of existence. If the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision absolutely and unequivocally outlaws racial preferences in higher education, it will unlikely close the book on this divisive conflict. More likely, it will only begin a new chapter.


Image: Maria Ionova, Public Domain

Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg is a professor emeritus of political science at The University of Illinois-Urbana.

6 thoughts on “The DIE Industry’s Iron Rice Bowl Under Attack

  1. Even though it is illegal, colleges and universities are selecting faculty based on their race, sex, and political viewpoints. I was personally on a hiring committee that was told not to include any white males on our final list of three top candidates.
    Universities act like hiring faculty is the same as admitting students, where they are allowed to use racial and sexual criteria in the name of “diversity.” They also require “diversity statements” of faculty applicants as a litmus test to eliminate conservative and moderate applicants.
    Even if SCOTUS rules that racial criteria in admissions are illegal, universities will continue to do what they are already doing. They consider settlements of occasional lawsuits to be a routine cost of doing business.

  2. Why do racial preferences endure? Simple. They provide jobs for a segment of society who would otherwise be unemployed. As Robert Weissberg correctly points out, where else can you earn $175K with no technical or business skillset? Nowhere—except if you’re part of the DEI bureaucracy.

  3. The entirety of mediocrity in public colleges, DEI or not, is the multiplicity of campuses of once uni campus colleges. Like elementary school, finding found so everyone can go to “college”, diluted as the college may be.

  4. I’m wondering if an underhanded preference for African-Americans (and when we talk about America’s racial problems, descendants of slave are really the root of it all) is such a problem? After all, from the end of the Civil War until at least the 60’s (and I would argue until later) there was an underhanded restriction of opportunities for this group of people (restriction often meaning complete exclusion). Our society functioned, however unfairly. It will continue to function even with the implicit preference by race brought about by current “woke” thought, in particularly if preferences are more or less restricted to blacks, who, after all, are a relatively small percent of the population (11%). It’s not ideal, but then segregation and Jim Crow were much worse and at some point, there should be a general elevation blacks in American society.

    1. It will not be restricted to blacks. I work in a field where there are very, very few blacks to consider. But very recently, faculty hiring took a turn where everything is partly subject to the diversity bureaucracy. Every faculty candidate recently has had some sort of diversity angle — Asian female, LGBT, even first gen/low SES white, white male even. Gone is the old goal of considering everyone, picking the top 5 or so to interview, and hoping to find someone we want to hire who wants to join us. It’s going to have a major impact on academic quality if it keeps up.

      And the affirmative action for black students, which is a big deal, is not benign. I see students who are in way over their head, who then get flushed down the drain like you know what. It’s really very cruel.

    2. Do not forget the 3rd Morrill Act and the HBCUs that it founded.

      For that matter, don’t forget DC’s Dunbar High School.

      The difference now is that we don’t have segregated colleges for the qualified White males being excluded.

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