"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Fallacy of Diversity

As can be seen by the attached opinion piece by Lee Bollinger, the President of Columbia University http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/college-diversity-at-risk/2012/01/13/gIQACxpn1P_story.html, there are new legal challenges to the concept of diversity – a concept which is based on the presumption that students studying in a university environment with students from varied racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds are better off for the experience.

What is only obliquely mentioned in the article is the very American concept of fairness, the very basis of the new legal challenges.  The woman in the case contends that if the University of Texas had not used race as a principal criterion for admission, her grades and academic record would have been more than enough for her to gain entrance.  That is, few people object to diversity, and in fact many are supporters of it IF there is a level playing field, and that standards for admission, promotion, and graduation are not compromised.

No, say defenders of diversity, like President Bollinger, race is important regardless, and he is very proud of the fact that Columbia has the highest black enrollment among the nation’s top 30 universities.  What he does not say is the following – most universities that consider race as a factor for admission do one of two things.  First, universities admit minority students who do not meet up to university standards, but who because of their race help them to meet artificial goals of diversity.  This is a common practice.  In fact, President Bollinger states that at the University of California’s public law schools, where legislative constraints prevented race-base admissions, only 3 percent of students were black compared to 10 percent at private schools which fostered diversity.  The only logical conclusion is that eliminating race-based criteria eliminated unqualified students; and that private schools, under no restrictions continued to admit the less qualified.  Not everyone can be a lawyer, and the California higher education system, like its successful counterparts in Virginia, Michigan, and North Carolina offer, through 2-year and community colleges, opportunities for all consistent with their aptitude and ability.

I have written before on the corrosive, demeaning, and destructive by-products of promoting under-qualified minority students.  It confirms the racial stereotypes of the majority and does damage to the confidence and integrity of the minority.  Perhaps worst of all, it encourages racial segregation – black fraternities and sororities and other campus organizations.  This is not restricted to universities.  I have seen elite private secondary schools in Washington, DC who have made racial diversity an emblem of their excellence become examples of this social segregation.  Black students eat together, sit together, socialize together.  Part of this, of course, is because of persistent group pressures to join, but also because of the need for solidarity and unity within a majority that is very different.  As would also be expected, those minority students from well-off professional families, those with the same academic and social horizons of which I have spoken, are fully integrated.  They belong.  Their skin color ceases to be an issue.

What Bollinger also does not state is that universities recruit the very highest qualified minority students – those who are, in the main, from high socio-economic levels of society with super-educated professional parents.  In short, these minority students are no different from white students.  Their ‘diversity’ is based only on skin color, which is the worst kind of twisted racial gerrymandering ever.   I am sure that these black students add a great deal to the university environment, but not because they are black.

I have seen this misguided racial admissions policy at its worst in private non-profit companies in Washington, who count Africans as minorities when they tout their progressive credentials to the US Government and to reform-minded Boards.  These Africans, of course, are among the most highly qualified of any applicants.  They usually speak at least three languages, have advanced degrees, and are valuable for their distinct abilities and cultural references.

A second fallacy of diversity is that of ‘economic diversity’.  It is important, the argument goes, to recruit lower-income students not because these talented and extremely able applicants need only financial aid to become successful students and productive graduates, but because it is somehow a good thing for wealthy students to see how the other half lives. With convoluted logic many progressives criticize university financial aid programs for admitting only the most qualified low-income students, those whose families, regardless of their income, provided the most intellectually challenging and rich home environment.  What about those low-income white families whose children might have native intelligence, but whose nurturing environment is dysfunctional?  Are you kidding?

I am all for wealthy universities expanding their financial aid so that all students who meet admission standards are admitted.  These students will be those from families who are very little different from the wealthy.  Their parents may be low-paid professors, for example, whose incomes put them in the need category, but whose academic horizons will be as high as those from Greenwich or Grosse Pointe.  The obvious point is, there is little diversity between higher- and lower-income students, so don’t mention or tout it.

The third fallacy of diversity is that its proponents only give lip service to intellectual diversity.  We do this anyway, they say.  We take the most talented violinists, scientists, logicians. Without a doubt, but it is again only logical to conclude that opening spaces for racial, ethnic, and economic diversity only reduces the number for the highly intellectually talented.  And what should a university environment be if not one filled with the most diverse array of talent from every possible corner of endeavor?  What a heady mix for a new student to be among his/her intellectual peers (i.e. all those admitted have fairly attained admission standards) each of whom brings a totally new perspective to the experience!

Programs to promote racial, ethnic, and gender diversity definitely had their place 40 years ago when the movement to open American institutions to groups formerly excluded began.  Only with government pressure and sanctions did hidebound and rigid labor unions open their doors to minorities.  The aggressive promotion of the idea that race, sex, or ethnicity cannot be bars to employment or education was a positive, necessary, and valuable intervention on the part of government and civil society. 

The laudable idea, however, has been coopted by those very people who promoted it in the first place.  Now aging throwbacks to a revolutionary era, they have distorted the idea of social justice to a vague, fuzzy, and very ill-defined idealistic notion of equality.  Times have changed.  There are no longer predictable PC lenses through which we must look at the world – lenses adjusted to view it in only one way.  Individual enterprise is re-emerging as a governing philosophy, and the older values of ability, talent, and vision are becoming more acceptable as criteria for advancement. 

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