Are College “Diversity Statements” Beneficial?


By George Leef

In just 40 years, we have gone from a using “diversity” as merely a “plus factor” that colleges and universities could consider in choosing which students to admit (that was the impact of the Bakke case in 1978, a tenuous legal thread that only Justice Powell in his pivotal opinion suggested) to requiring faculty candidates to pledge their fidelity to a set of socio-political beliefs as a condition of employment. The current, lordly status of diversity comes from the phenomenon of mandatory “diversity statements” wherein applicants for new faculty positions and those seeking promotions must attest to their beliefs in and efforts to advance diversity.

Requiring a diversity statement amounts to a new job requirement for college faculty. Besides evidence of scholarship and teaching competence, they must now also show that they deserve to be hired because they will somehow raise the level of commitment to diversity at the school. Those who have “merely” concentrated on excellence in teaching and research will be at a disadvantage compared with those who proclaim their devotion to diversity.

Naturally, this development is a source of controversy.

Writing for the Martin Center in this article, John S. Rosenberg finds the diversity statement to be troubling, arguing that “they are fast becoming a new kind of religious creed for faculty.” Applicants who are obsessed with group equality (“diversity”) have a chance at being hired, but anyone who thinks that individuals should be judged on their own merits rather than their group membership will be brushed aside.

Another critic is Northwestern University Law School professor John O. McGinnis. In this Law & Liberty piece, he compares diversity statements now required in the University of California with the old requirements of religious belief at Oxford and Cambridge. “The old requirement of the British colleges,” he writes, “was at least less intrusive. One had to profess a set of beliefs but did not have to do anything to advance their social realization. But under the California policy, a prospective faculty member must advance a designated social mission to advance his or her career.”

And that, McGinnis argues, is sure to stack the deck against libertarians and conservatives. He states, “Libertarians and conservatives as a rule oppose discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and gender, but they are concerned that various forms of conscious promotion of diversity, like affirmative action, either violate individual rights or are counterproductive. Thus, their statements are unlikely to be judged as compelling as those of left-liberal candidates, particularly when the academic judges will be overwhelmingly left-liberal.”

Thus, ideological diversity is certain to decline as colleges insist on diversity statements.

On the other hand, diversity statements have also been defended.

In this Inside Higher Ed piece entitled “Why Colleges Should Require Diversity Statements,” Carmen Mitchell, a doctoral student at the University of Louisville, contends that such statements are needed to ensure that colleges “are welcoming and accessible to all.”

Mitchell, a black woman, states “Representation matters.” Because diversity is meant to increase the percentages of people in certain racial and ethnic groups in fields like hers (medicine), she argues that diversity statements help by bringing in more minority faculty.

No doubt they do that, but is it true that “representation matters”? That is to say, does it truly make the nation better if we have equal percentages of blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other designated minority groups in fields such as medicine, law, teaching, etc.? I don’t think that even the most dedicated advocate of diversity believes that when it comes to their own interactions.

Humans interact with individuals, not with abstract groups. If you find yourself in trouble with the IRS, for example, you will want to obtain the services of the most competent tax attorney you can get.  You won’t care in the least whether there is proportional representation for various minority groups within the set of tax attorneys, any more than you care about the percentages of different religions, different views about the Second Amendment, different musical tastes, and so on.

All you care about is how good the individual you’re considering is at dealing with the IRS. How diverse the field of tax attorneys might be as a whole is perfectly immaterial.

Of course colleges should be welcoming to all, but that does not entail giving a preference in hiring for people whose ancestry puts them in a designated “underrepresented” group. If we focus on group membership (which in any event is increasingly difficult to ascertain in our racially mixed society) rather than individual ability in choosing professors and students, we are going to make some bad decisions. Group “representation” does not matter; personal competence does.

If you don’t think so, reflect back on the Bakke case. The place in the student body at UC-Davis medical school that white student Alan Bakke argued he was better qualified for was given instead to Patrick Chavis, a black student. Chavis graduated and went into medical practice, but as this story notes, was found guilty of such gross incompetence that the state of California suspended his medical license in 1997. Thanks to the university’s racial preferences, the medical profession was more diverse but some patients suffered because of Dr. Chavis’ s incompetence.

Diversity statements are objectionable because they perpetuate the mistaken idea that it’s important for America to have equal group representation. What we really need is maximum competence among the individuals in every field of endeavor. The obsession with “diversity” gets in the way of that.

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