Almost every higher education leader in America utters this mantra: “We need diverse student bodies because they lead to a richer learning environment.” They want to be able to choose students based on their race and cite the supposed educational benefits of diversity as their justification.
This is stated so often that it has become part of the conventional wisdom. The Supreme Court swallowed this notion in the crucial Bakke and Grutter cases, which is why colleges can get away with policies of racial preference that are plainly at odds with the language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
But is the claim true? Is there reason to believe that the preferentially admitted black, Hispanic, or Native American students actually do much to enhance classroom discussion? Do they really bring important insights into their college courses?
Recently, one professor had the guts to argue that the mantra is false — Charles Geshekter, who taught African History at Cal State – Chico for more than 40 years. Naturally, he had many minority students, given both the state’s demography and the obsession with diversity in California’s state university systems.
According to the above theory, his classes should have crackled with deep and interesting discussions since so many of his students were from underrepresented groups. But that wasn’t the case at all. Geshekter writes, “Defenders of diversity groupthink maintain that Asian or Hispanic students bring especially novel viewpoints to classrooms, making them essential for higher learning. This view is appallingly mistaken.”
The reason why it’s mistaken is simple – hardly any college students (minority or otherwise) know enough about history to have anything worthwhile to contribute. The fact that their ancestors might have had some direct connection with historical episodes covered in class doesn’t mean that they can add pertinent information unknown to the professor.
As Geshekter’s title suggests, there is no “Hispanic perspective” on historical banana cultivation. Nor is there a particular racial viewpoint on any other true discipline taught in college. Undergraduates are there to learn from those who have mastered a body of knowledge. Far from making class discussions more enlightened, their comments usually waste time by taking the class off on tangents.
Professor Geshekter is convinced that the obsession with diversity for the sake of its purported educational benefits is foolish. But when he spoke out against the university’s mania, he was accused of being an “enemy of diversity.” He devotes much of his article to explaining how laughably groundless that charge is. Rather than mounting a true defense of their mantra, the advocates of racial preferences simply resort to name-calling.
This is becoming frighteningly typical in higher education. Anyone who challenges the diversity mania gets vilification rather than a counter-argument.
Consider, for example, the nasty treatment University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax has received merely for having penned an article defending bourgeois values. Many students have reacted with vehement denunciations of Professor Wax for her alleged racism. Some demand that the administration investigate her “advocacy of white supremacy.”
Most troubling of all, half of her law school faculty colleagues have signed a letter that announces their “categorical rejection” of Wax’s position. They make no arguments against it, but merely deplore it. (This article nicely covers the furor.)
Eventually, I believe, America will wake up to the obvious truth that no student is more valuable than any other simply because of his or her ancestry. First, however, we have to get past the bad habit of using personal attacks as a substitute for rational argument.