“Diversity,” in the academic context, is usually a euphemism for affirmative action, itself a euphemism for discrimination--variously racial, ethnic, gender or sexual preference based--in favor of groups viewed as disadvantaged. In the employment context, a diversity hire is someone hired in part because he is black, or she is female, or …. .
What I find particularly irritating about this usage is that those who adopt it are typically opponents of actual diversity. In the academic context, what matter are ideas. Two professors with different gender or skin color but the same views provide less relevant diversity than two professors of the same gender or skin color but sharply opposed views.
Supporters of “diversity” try to obscure this by arguing that a different racial or gender background leads to a different viewpoint. There may be cases where this is true, although it is hard to see its relevance to most academic fields. But in such cases, favoring prospective hires whose work shows a different and original viewpoint is surely more sensible than favoring members of minorities in the hope that they will turn out to provide a different viewpoint.
In fact, at least in my observation, the people and departments most inclined to favor “diversity” in the conventional sense are among those least likely to want to hire professors whose viewpoints differ from the consensus. What they want are people of the desired gender or skin color who agree with them. My standard thought experiment to demonstrate this is to imagine that, at some late stage in the search process, it is discovered that a prospective hire regarded as a strong candidate is a supporter, an intelligent supporter, of South African apartheid. Does the probability of hiring him go up or down as a result? I can predict, with little data but some decades of experience of the academy, that in any elite university and almost any department it goes sharply down. Yet that is a viewpoint to which almost no faculty member or student has been, or expects to be, exposed. Someone who actually believes in intellectual diversity should thus regard the additional fact as a plus, not a minus.
When I offer this thought experiment, a common response is that there are no intelligent supporters of apartheid, hence the additional information shows something wrong with the prospective hire. I take that response as evidence in favor of my thesis. Almost nobody who makes it has had the opportunity to argue apartheid with a serious, sophisticated supporter--indeed, I suspect many of them have never met anyone who would admit to supporting it at all. Yet we know that millions of white South Africans did support it for quite a long period; it is a considerable stretch to claim that none of them could have been intelligent and thoughtful. And, in my thought experiment, the supporter of apartheid has already demonstrated sufficient ability to make him a strong candidate before his unfortunate political beliefs are discovered. The confident belief that no reasonable person could support a position that many otherwise reasonable people did support is strong evidence of the failure to be exposed to a sufficiently diverse range of views.
Academic hiring is not the only example of hostility to diversity by people who claim to favor it. Consider the issues of home schooling and education vouchers. It’s pretty clear, I think, to anyone involved in the controversy, that one of the main objections to both is that they foster diversity.
The objection is not, of course, put in those terms. It is rather that both make it possible for parents with the wrong views--in particular fundamentalist Christians--to indoctrinate their children with those views. The clear implication is that it is desirable to make sure that all children get exposed to, perhaps even indoctrinated with, the current consensus views--the ones that they will be taught in the public schools.
If one believes that fundamentalists are wrong and the current consensus correct, it’s reasonable enough to want all children exposed to the latter. But even given that belief, it is a position directly opposed to diversity--a desire to lessen diversity by stamping out, so far as possible, those particular dissenting views. And in at least some discussions, the hostility to diversity is explicit; the argument is precisely that it is desirable to have a society whose members share a common set of beliefs. That is, I think, a defensible position, but it is bizarre to have it expressed by people who purport to consider intellectual diversity a desirable objective
Labels: diversity vouchers "home schooling" "affirmative action"