The Corner


A Bad Bargain on College Diversity

Of all the ridiculous ideas running around on our college campuses, the most ridiculous (and damaging) is, I think, the notion that education will be improved if each college and university has just the right proportions of student “representatives” from all racial groups. That leads to a great big Happy Family of understanding. (It also leads to a huge number of jobs for leftists, but put that aside.)

The diversity mania obviously doesn’t accomplish anything like that. After 40 years of racial preferences in admissions and the inevitable fixation on group identity, our campuses display far more racial division than ever. And yet, lefty writers keep defending the diversity regime. Among them is a Harvard professor, Natasha Warikoo, who has written a book entitled The Diversity Bargain. Longtime diversity critic John Rosenberg takes a critical look at Warikoo’s work in this Martin Center article.

Warikoo argues that the “bargain” is that white students support all this diversity stuff so long as they think it benefits themselves. She came to that conclusion after interviewing lots of undergrads at two schools famous for their infatuation with group identity and grievance — Brown and Harvard. Her book is full of academic blather about “race frames” (and she gives the back of her hand to those few students who said they were colorblind), but it contains some revealing information. We learn that some of the minority students are put off by the grievance mongering and dislike being used as tokens. We also learn that the support for “diversity” among many of the students is very childish.

It is also good because students learn about food and entertainment from other cultures. Rosenberg comments, “Artistic and gastronomic diversity are nice for these students. But there are less expensive and less divisive ways of providing them than racial preferences that refuse admission to some whites and Asians in order to admit more blacks and Hispanics so that whites and Asians can receive the benefit of exposure to them.”

Like every other pro-diversity book, this one fails to address the hard questions. Is it really true that students are better educated just because the admissions office has augmented the numbers of “minority” students? Don’t a considerable number of the preferentially admitted students at elite schools slide into the easy majors that offer dim future prospects because they have trouble competing? Warikoo isn’t interested in turning over any of Diversity’s rocks.

Rosenberg concludes,”You shouldn’t judge a book either by its cover or its author, but if you succumb to the temptation to predict the argument of The Diversity Bargain based on Warikoo’s resume, you’d probably come close. That says something depressing about the infatuation with race in our elite institutions. But even more disturbing than the book’s predictability is that the picture it presents of what most students at elite universities believe about race and merit is largely accurate.” In other words, our top universities are more obsessed with groups than ever and the education of individual students suffers for it.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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