Phi Beta Cons

Facts Are Stubborn Things


Brace yourselves: This week, the Chronicle of Higher Education has published its annual special issue on “Diversity in Academe.”

Much of it is devoted to the increased interest in socioeconomic diversity, and, if this means that there will be less use of preferences based on race, ethnicity, and sex, then for that we should be grateful.

But much of it is devoted to old-fashioned diversity, which is to say achieving a politically correct racial, ethnic, and gender mix.

I won’t belabor the problems with all that is written in the special issue. But let me focus on the prominent pull-quote in the first piece on old-fashioned diversity: “One of the most damaging beliefs is that diversity and quality are mutually exclusive.”

Let’s analyze this. By “diversity,” it’s clear from the rest of the piece that what’s meant is, indeed, more people of particular races and ethnicities. And I suspect that the “damaging belief” is not that such diversity is itself inconsistent with quality, but that selecting individuals (whether faculty or students) with an eye on achieving such diversity will compromise quality.

With that elaboration, let me explain why this damaging belief is so persistent: It is true.

And not only true, but undeniable. If your aim is to select individuals based simply on quality A, then if you weigh factors other than quality A in making your selection, you will fail in your aim. You will be giving quality A less relative weight if you weigh other things along with it than if you don’t. If you want to choose the tallest people, then you cannot make your selection based on height and weight. And if you want to hire people of the highest quality (smartest, hardest working, etc.), then you cannot make your selection based on quality and skin color. Anyone who cannot grasp this is either lying or was himself obviously chosen based on “a noncognitive selection process” (to quote from another piece). 

Most Popular


Thursday Links

It's William Shatner's birthday: Here he is in 1978 'singing' Rocket Man, plus a Star Trek/Monty Python mashup. Sold: Isaac Newton’s Notes on the Philosopher’s Stone. It was a long time before anyone admitted that he was interested in alchemy. High-tech forgery: Computer-generated 'Rembrandt' ... Read More

Korea: A Deadly Question

Olympic Games often have political significance, as in 1936 and as in the Olympics just past -- the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Those Games seemed as much political as athletic. I talk about this with Michael Breen on my latest Q&A. Breen is one of our best Korea-watchers, one of our soundest ... Read More
Film & TV

Superannuated ‘Idol’

In the pilot episode of Fox’s American Idol, Simon Cowell defined the show’s thesis: “We are going to tell people who cannot sing and have no talent that they have no talent. And that never makes you popular.” The show’s producers and its three judges -- Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson -- kept ... Read More