Tuesday, February 22, 2005


What is this thing called diversity ? (I)

David Vellemean has a very interesting comment concerning "diversity".

The question is what we do with our diverse student body, once we have gathered it. Do we talk incessantly about how diverse we are? Do we issue hysterical denunciations of every remark or piece of graffiti that might offend some minority group, on the grounds that it violates our diversity mission? Do we require our students to take courses on race and ethnicity? Do we fall all over ourselves to incorporate the racial or the gender angle into every subject? Do we ask academic departments to think about how to make their courses more interesting to minorities and women? Do our administrators make endless speeches exhorting us to value our diversity?

Or, alternatively, do we treat our students like adults, avoid facilitating their efforts to segregate themselves by race, perhaps, but otherwise let them get on with learning from one another -- with all of the frictions that such learning will inevitably entail?

These questions are about the ideology of diversity, not the reality of diversity. And they are the questions that are relevant here. After all, having a diverse campus need not be connected with the politicization of the academy, which is the topic under discussion. A diverse campus need not be politicized.

An interesting thing this diversity. At the university where Comrade Snowball toils away his days we are in the throws of looking for a new provost. Part of this ritual includes a “public forum” in which the general campus community is invited to chat with the candidates. During these Q&A sessions one can count on a question from a faculty member (usual suspects include professors from the departments of History, English, and African-American studies) probing the provost-wannabe’s commitment to “diversity”. FYI, those that would be provost are all for it.

But what is this thing called diversity? Although the provost-wannabes don’t want to say so out loud, it seems to be a diversity of appearance. But there is the implication that this diversity of apperance will gain us some other benefit. Why we don't just adopt policies that will maximize these other virtues is not discussed.

If a variety of appearnce is what we are after it should be pretty easy to determine when we had reached the desired standard deviation. But what are the measures of these other benefits? What are those things we could recognize that would tell us no more diversification is necessary?

I think if you ask these questions of the diversificationists you will be able to identify those who want to get something done and those who just want to do something.
Sadly, this post reminds me of a comment overheard coming from our university President about how good it is that we have the football team to help our diversity cause. So embarrassing.
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