Politics & Policy

Diversity Revisited

We've come a long way!

Six years ago I published my first article on National Review Online about “diversity” in higher education. The article led to a book contract and, in 2003, a book, Diversity: The Invention of a Concept. It also led to a still-expanding circle of friends and acquaintances, including Ward Connerly and Jennifer Gratz. And it led, perhaps only a little indirectly, to my recent appointment as executive director of the National Association of Scholars. Thanks NRO!

The diversiphiles were right. Diversity really has enriched my life. It is helped me meet people very different from the academic mono-culture I once inhabited. Before diversity I hardly met a soul in higher education who didn’t believe that racial and ethnic preferences in college admissions are good policy. Now I am comfortable encountering difference: people like John Rosenthal, who writes a blog called Discriminations that casts an Argus-full of skeptical eyes on racial preferences in higher ed; Joe Hicks, whose career as a leftist civil-rights advocate in 1960s Los Angeles has led him to become a tough-minded opponent of racial preferences today; and Larry Purdy, who was counsel to Jennifer Gratz and took her suit against the University of Michigan all the way to the Supreme Court.

The diversiphiles were right as well about some of their other claims on behalf of the magical properties of diversity. It has sharpened my critical thinking. How else to make sense of inane concepts like a “critical mass” of minorities, which is enshrined in Justice O’Connor’s decision in the Grutter case? This is the idea that the benefits of diversity kick in only when the right proportion of a minority group is present in a class, and the proportion differs according to the racial group. Hence at the University of Michigan Law School, 100 blacks in a class of 1,200 was a critical mass; but 50 Hispanics would do the job; and a mere 15 Native Americans achieved the right level of consanguinity.

Diversity likewise refreshed my understanding of history. Alabama Governor George Wallace’s 1963 declaration, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” had receded in memory until last November when Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan echoed, “Diversity matters at Michigan. It matters today, and it will matter tomorrow.” But as John Fund pointed out at the time, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick nailed a better homage: “We affirm to the world that affirmative action will be here today, it will be here tomorrow, and there will be affirmative action in the state forever.”

The gift of diversity keeps on giving. This just in from West Lafayette, Indiana, via the South Bend Tribune: the president of Purdue University, Martin Jischke, declares that diversity “is part of everything we do. I believe we are succeeding, and we are succeeding because we are aggressive.”

How aggressive? Since 2001-2002, 57 percent of new faculty hires have been members of minority groups or women. If you are counting — and rest assured the folks at Purdue are counting — of 794 faculty hires, 170 are Asian, 32 black, and 28 Hispanic. You might think this tells you nothing at all about the quality of education at Purdue, but Purdue’s interim associate dean for diversity and international programs, Richard Widdows, would beg to differ. Says he: “Purdue students are going to be interacting with people from all over the world. The more they are exposed to that now, the better.”

I don’t want to fuss about this. Folks like President Jischke and Interim Associate Dean Widdows are my meal ticket. If it weren’t for their certain stolid dim-wittedness in persistently confusing counting people by ethnic labels with creating the conditions for genuine learning, this fine subject for satire would have vanished long ago. As it is, the Purdue contingent of the “diversity-trumps-all” brigade has found the usual sad-sack students who, lacking any actual intellectual horizon, enthusiastically wave their little rainbow flags. Luke Wadowick is a freshman in hospitality and tourism management who “immediately joined the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality.” Like many members of the society, he is not a “minority,” just a lover of diversity. Go get ‘em Luke.

The wistful tone that is creeping into my writing on diversiphiles comes from the sense these folks may be the last embers in the fire. California, Washington, and Michigan have passed ballot measures by large margins abolishing racial preferences in public institutions. Ward Connerly has now announced similar campaigns in Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, and Oklahoma aimed at the 2008 ballot. And then there is the dire news of a poll in California that purports to find that Californians aged 16 to 22 are just plain indifferent to race. According to the Los Angeles Times, “two-thirds say they have dated someone of another ethnicity, and a whopping 87% say they would marry or have a life partner of a different race.” Race has sunk so low in self-definition that it ranks below religious affiliation and even music preference.

Which is surely bad news for the race-grievance industry as a whole and diversiphile ideology in particular. How are the thousands of college presidents who owe their jobs to superior hyperventilatation on their ginormous commitment to diversity going to cope with a generation that shrugs off group-grievance logic?

Luke Wadowick, I’m counting on you. Someone has to keep the inane idea of diversity spoils alive. Who better than you?

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