How important is faculty diversity? To a great many professors and administrators, it is absolutely urgent that colleges hire more faculty members whose ancestry puts them into an “underrepresented” category. Ask why and you’ll get some mumbo-jumbo about how institutions need to “model diversity.” It is supposedly a matter of “equity” that every department have a proper percentage of people from every group.
One academic who is upset that colleges and universities aren’t doing enough to make their faculties more diverse is Julie Posselt, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Michigan. (I confess that I have no idea what a professor of higher education teaches.) Realizing that there is a pipeline problem (schools can’t hire more “diverse” faculty members unless more of them complete their doctoral programs), she decided to research the admissions criteria and decision-making at ten top departments at three research universities. That research turned into a book entitled Inside Graduate Admissions.
In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Ursinus College professor Jonathan Marks takes a critical look at Posselt’s book. He finds it to be at least somewhat revealing, especially how these committees really function. “Posselt exposes the many ways in which professors, their occupational attachment to deliberation notwithstanding, don’t deliberate very well,” Marks writes. How so? Often they “rely on ill-defined standards like ‘grit,’ ‘brilliance,’ and even ‘coolness’ to distinguish candidates from each other.”
There is also evidence of bias against candidates from schools with a religious orientation and also against candidates whose background is Asian. The latter are held to higher standards because Asians are supposed to be especially good at taking exams. In short, these academics who make the admissions decisions don’t come close to giving each applicant a fair and objective analysis based on scholarly accomplishments.
Marks calls Posselt’s work “a fighting book” in that she is trying to convince people that, despite all the current efforts at making faculties more diverse, schools need to do more. In his view, her book “will convince only the already converted that graduate admissions committees need to be pushed harder on diversity.”
I couldn’t agree more. Colleges should concentrate on admitting and hiring the best scholars, not tying themselves up in an obsession over social engineering to make every department “look like America” (as Bill Clinton fatuously said about his cabinet).