I have been teaching a class at Columbia on Western Civilization since September.
The class is highly diverse. By that, I mean that among the 21 students there is an Orthodox Jew, a child of Russian immigrants, and a couple of Korean-Americans. Plus a Chinese-American. And one of them grew up in France; just why she has no accent I have never been quite sure, but culturally she is more French than American. One student is even seven feet tall. And Catholic.
Yes, I have had four black students, and a few Latino ones. They’re “diverse” too.
This has been a lesson for me in the benefits of diversity in education. Back in my days as a Berkeley linguistics prof, I was teaching linguistics, a scientific field in which there was little coherent concept of a “diverse” contribution: subordinate clauses have no ethnicity.
But here is a class on the intellectual heritage of our civilization. This is the kind of class that fans of racial preferences in university admissions tell us will be enriched by diversity.
And I heartily agree that discussion in my class would have been much less interesting and rewarding if all of the students were upper-middle-class white kids from the suburbs. If Columbia has created this vibrant mixture by attending to more than grades and test scores in composing their student body, then I applaud them mightily. I was in love with my students after a week and a half and will miss them immensely.
However, my year’s experience has given no demonstration whatsoever of the benefit of diversity as we are supposed to tacitly understand it: i.e. the presence of black and Latino students alone.