Friday, July 16, 2010

Discrimination By Any Other Name

What is really meant by universities when they mention so-called diversity?

When college presidents and academic administrators pay their usual obeisance to "diversity" you know they are talking first and foremost about race. More specifically, they are talking about blacks. A diverse college campus is understood as one that has a student body that -- at a minimum -- is 5 to 7 percent black (i.e., equivalent to roughly half the proportion of blacks in the general population). A college or university that is only one, two, or three percent black would not be considered "diverse" by college administrators regardless of how demographically diverse its student body might be in other ways. The blacks in question need not be African Americans -- indeed at many of the most competitive colleges today, including many Ivy League schools, an estimated 40-50 percent of those categorized as black are Afro-Caribbean or African immigrants, or the children of such immigrants.

As a secondary meaning "diversity" can also encompass Hispanics, who together with blacks are often subsumed by college administrators and admissions officers under the single race category "underrepresented minorities." Most colleges and universities seeking "diversity" seek a similar proportion of Hispanics in their student body as blacks (since blacks and Hispanics are about equal in number in the general population), though meeting the black diversity goal usually has a much higher priority than meeting the Hispanic one.

Asians, unlike blacks and Hispanics, receive no boost in admissions. Indeed, the opposite is often the case, as the quota-like mentality that leads college administrators to conclude they may have "too many" Asians...

While almost all college administrators and college admissions officers at the most elite institutions think in racial balancing and racial quota-like terms when they assemble their student body, they almost always deny this publically in a blizzard of rhetoric about a more far-flung "diversity." Indeed, there is probably no other area where college administrators are more likely to lie or conceal the truth of what they are doing than in the area of admissions and race.

Most elite universities seem to have little interest in diversifying their student bodies when it comes to the numbers of born-again Christians from the Bible belt, students from Appalachia and other rural and small-town areas, people who have served in the U.S. military, those who have grown up on farms or ranches, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, lower-middle-class Catholics, working class "white ethnics," social and political conservatives, wheelchair users, married students, married students with children, or older students first starting out in college after raising children or spending several years in the workforce. Students in these categories are often very rare at the more competitive colleges, especially the Ivy League. While these kinds of people would surely add to the diverse viewpoints and life-experiences represented on college campuses, in practice "diversity" on campus is largely a code word for the presence of a substantial proportion of those in the "underrepresented" racial minority groups.

What do the schools really want their student bodies to look like? The article quotes studies in great detail, and the picture isn't pretty. You might even hope that low socio-economic status would count for more than skin color, but that certainly isn't the case with white applicants.

What counts against applicants?

In his Bakke ruling Lewis Powell was impressed by the argument Harvard College offered defending the educational value of a demographically diverse student body: "A farm boy from Idaho can bring something to Harvard College that a Bostonian cannot offer. Similarly, a black student can usually bring something that a white person cannot offer." The Espenshade/Radford study suggests that those farm boys from Idaho would do well to stay out of their local 4-H clubs or FFA organizations -- or if they do join, they had better not list their membership on their college application forms. This is especially true if they were officers in any of these organizations. Future farmers of America don't seem to count in the diversity-enhancement game played out at some of our more competitive private colleges, and are not only not recruited, but seem to be actually shunned. It is hard to explain this development other than as a case of ideological and cultural bias.

This same kind of bias seems to lurk behind the negative association found between acceptance odds and holding leadership positions in high school ROTC. This is most troubling because a divorce between the campus culture of its universities and its military is poisonous for any society, and doesn't do the military or the civilian society any good. The lack of comfort with many military commanders that our current president is said to have seems to be due not only to his own lack of military experience but to the fact of having spent so many of his formative years on university campuses like Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago, where people with military experience are largely absent and the campus culture is often hostile to military values and military personnel...

Many universities, including Princeton, are interested in enrolling foreign students, along with students from disparate regions of the U.S. But the more competitive private universities seem to have little interest in diversifying their student bodies when it comes to people who have served in the American military or people who intend to make a career out of military service. Even if they don't shun such people, or hold their military service or aspirations against them, they clearly don't seek them out or court them the way they do "underrepresented" racial minorities. And while many universities host college-level ROTC programs (often for financial reasons), the military/civilian relationship on campus is usually far from amicable.

Military veterans and aspiring military officers, like poor whites and future American farmers, are clearly not what most competitive private colleges have in mind when they speak of the need for "diversity". If nothing else the new Espenshade/Radford study helps to document what knowledgeable observers have long known: "diversity" at competitive colleges today involves a politically engineered stew of different groups. drawn from the ingredients selected by reigning campus ideology. Since that ideology is mainly dictated by the Left, it is no surprise that the diversity achieved is what the larger American landscape looks like when it is viewed through a leftist lens. I suggest a different approach: elite colleges should get out of the diversity business altogether and focus on enrolling students who are the most academically talented and the most eager to learn. These students should make up the bulk of their entering classes. Call it the Cal Tech Model since the California Institute of Technology seems to be the only elite institution that comes close to realizing such an ideal.

Until our universities have excess capacity, and admissions cease to be a zero-sum game, affirmative actions programs (as practiced today, not merely outreach programs) and other so-called diversity-enhancing programs are expensive, counter-productive, discriminatory programs that go against everything the Civil Rights Movement was supposed to be about.

1 comment:

Ellen K said...

Universities seek foreign applicants to fill out their diversity dance cards because there are all types of grants they can then access. A friend of mine works in the foreign student office of a local community college. Those students can get almost a free ride. Pity the poor farm kid because no matter how shining their intellect, they will never get the type of academic recognition as more desirable minorities.