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Ignore Diversity: Think for Yourself - September 2017

posted Sep 27, 2017, 5:45 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review   [ updated Sep 27, 2017, 5:46 PM ]
By Prof. David Schaefer
Political Science

As has become customary, the start of the academic year brought another announcement of Holy Cross's commitment to "diversity." As currently used in the academic world and elsewhere, the term doesn't mean what it says. Especially in an academic institution the purpose of which, presumably, is the pursuit of learning, one would want students to be exposed to, and become literate in, the greatest possible diversity of serious intellectual viewpoints, particularly as these have been expressed in classic as well as contemporary works of philosophy, literature, theology, history, and the social sciences. They would thereby become best equipped to think through the most important questions of human and political life, and best able to conduct themselves as the sort of thoughtful citizens and family members that a self-governing republic requires.

But that is not at all the sort of diversity that advocates have in mind. A statement from the College president boasts of the College's success in its "commitment to diversity in our faculty ranks" in that "one-third of our tenure-track hires in the past two years have been faculty of color." Additionally, all applicants for "exempt" (administrative) positions are now "require[d] to reflect on their commitment to mission and diversity in their application materials," while "trained Mission and Diversity ambassadors" will be placed "on every search committee" for higher administrative officials. The speaker of the faculty and Dean Taneja "recently wrote to faculty with concrete suggestions on how faculty can include issues of diversity and inclusion in the classroom." (The requirement to "reflect" on one's commitment to diversity in order to qualify for a position at Holy Cross raises problems of its own. How will administrators be able to tell whether an applicant is really, really committed to diversity - or is only faking it? What of applicants for tenure-track teaching positions - already required, assuming they aren't "diverse" themselves, to express their commitment to that goal - who might fake it for six years, get tenure, and then - in the memorable phrase of Harvard's Harvey Mansfield, "Hoist the Jolly Roger"? To avert these problems, might lie-detector tests have to be added? I cannot avoid recalling methods used in the dark past to test the sincerity of people's professions of faith though I don't want to give anyone ideas.) None of the foregoing policies have anything to do with the proper purpose of liberal education, defined by the 19th-century English critic Matthew Arnold as "the study of the best that has been thought and said in the world." Time that could be devoted to the study of such works is instead to be diverted in the College's unofficial ideology of "diversity and inclusion." Categorizing faculty hires on the basis of skin color means effectively reducing them to members of groups, defined by a purely arbitrary bodily characteristic rather than by their capacity for serious, independent thinking and scholarship. It demeans them by implying that they might not have qualified for their positions on the basis of academic merit alone. (And does anyone think that the discussion of "issues of diversity and inclusion" that professors are encouraged to include in their courses will allow for any dissent from that ideology?) The situation of faculty and students confronted with the demand to conform to the diversity doctrine does not differ, in some of its essentials, from the one that Socrates faced at his trial. He was condemned by the Athenian people for "corrupting the young," in that he inspired his pupils to question rather than passively accept the then-dominant ideology. Of course there were legitimate reasons for citizens to be concerned if Socrates' questioning, pursued too openly, tended to weaken the religious, moral, and political beliefs on which Athenian democracy depended.

But the advocates of today's diversity ideology have no such excuse. I have no capacity to block the progress of the "diversity" movement at Holy Cross or elsewhere, other than refusing to defer to it in my own teaching and writing. But I urge students, whatever your ethnic background or skin color or disability status, whatever your gender or sexual orientation, whatever country you come from or religion you profess (or don't): don't let anyone tell you that any of those factors must determine how you think, what you read, or whom you associate with. Seek out courses in which the curriculum consists of serious books, particularly classics, taught by faculty who seem to be genuinely interested in what writers like Homer and Plato, Shakespeare and Machiavelli, Nietzsche and George Eliot, or the authors of the Federalist Papers and Frederick Douglass have to teach us rather than imposing the professors' own ideological or partisan beliefs on the works you will be studying. Do your best to understand what we can learn from such profound authors that we didn't already "know" (or rather, believe). If you disagree with what an author (or professor) says,
speak out (after thinking the text or issue through) and express your own point of view. Freely discuss the books you are reading outside of class with classmates who don't necessarily share your opinions, let alone your ethnic background etc. But never preface a statement or a question with "As a ---," with the blank filled in by one of the characteristics typically emphasized by the so-called diversity movement.

Unlike all other animals, we human beings have the capacity to reason rather than be governed purely by instinct. But like the inhabitants of the cave depicted in Plato's Republic, we face considerable obstacles to exercising that capacity: the pressure to conform to the dominant prejudices imposed by those who shape our intellectual/ cultural/ political environment. Every nation needs to inculcate a patriotic and moral outlook ideally, supported by moderate religious beliefs - in its citizens. But there's no reason for colleges to engage in the indoctrination business.
Students, think for yourselves!