Nothing’s More Important Than Diversity!

by George Leef

After voters approved the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative in 2006, forbidding the use of racial preferences in the state, including student admissions, then-president of the University of Michigan, Mary Sue Coleman, sounded a defiant note and declared that at her institution, “Diversity is Job 1.”

We know that her “nothing’s more important than diversity” mindset rules throughout much of American higher ed, but still it’s a bit disconcerting to see it on such full display as at the University of North Carolina’s recent event “Exploring the Institutional Diversity Framework at Carolina.” It featured a talk by one Daryl G. Smith, author of a 2009 book entitled Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making it Work. Ms. Smith qualifies as a “diversity expert” and treated the gathered faculty members, administrators and students to a 90 minute speech on what she thinks it takes to “make it work.”

The Pope Center’s Harry Painter writes about this event and the distressing ideas presented in today’s piece.

Among other notions she advanced was that universities must, Painter writes, “erase disparities in graduation rates among different genders, races, and classes.” That’s egalitarian groupthink taken to a ridiculous extreme. Instead of individual students needing to work to achieve on their own, Smith wants college and universities to enforced equality of results. The easy way to do that would be just to make sure that every student gets straight As in everything. The impact on individual effort once it becomes known that “your group” is entitled to an equal graduation rate as all other groups is clearly not a matter of concern.

Furthermore, she maintains that all faculty and staff members should be hired or fired “on the basis of their understanding of diversity.” That does not mean merely understanding the obvious fact that people differ in many ways. To diversiphiles (borrowing Peter Wood’s term), “understanding” diversity means agreeing with the farrago of notions comprising the diversity belief system. So if, e.g., an applicant for a faculty position in chemistry had at one time written that chemistry has objective truths and any student who doesn’t master them shouldn’t pass, that individual would probably be ruled out as failing to demonstrate a commitment to rectifying social injustices. The result of such a hiring regime would be that everyone seeking to work at UNC would try to scrub away any and all statements that might be regarded as not “understanding” diversity, and to create lots of fluff meant to sound good. Back in the days of the Soviet Union, scholars had to hide their disdain for Marxist orthodoxy and pretend to go along. The diversity mania wants to recreate that atmosphere, mutatis mutandis.

But I don’t think UNC is going to do that. My hunch is that the administration is merely pretending to go along with the diversity obsession, at least in the risible form Ms. Smith advocates. Spending a bundle of money on events like this (and wasting people’s time) is the price that university officials think they must pay to avoid being denounced by the diversity zealots. They lionize them, but don’t intend to take their ideas seriously.

As our credential mania subsides, colleges and universities will have to focus sharply on the thing that really matters: how well students, which is to say, individuals, learn. All of the foolishness over groupthink will vanish.