Saturday, August 17, 2013

Colleges, Diversity, and Excellence

         When colleges and universities announce that they are about creating diversity, remind them that higher education is not about diversity.  It's about demonstrated excellence in teaching and learning.  If they say that diversity can be a great means to examining ideas, then remind them that diversity can be a great means of examining ideas only if those doing the examining are good at it.   Being good at it is not a function of race, gender, or ethnicity.  Because those factors are irrelevant to the task, they do not make one skilled at conceptual analysis.  Neither does being tall, bald, Swiss, or right-handed.  Conceptual analysis is about clear, accurate, and incisive thinking, which is not race-based, gender-based, nation-based, or follicle-based.  It’s skill-based.

         Remind the diversity-mongers of this, too:  If they think that looking for excellence in teaching and learning results in everybody being a white male, then THEY are racist.  Searching for excellence creates diversity.  All excellent people are not the same gender, race or ethnicity.  No race, gender, or ethnicity has cornered the market on excellence.   Alternatively, searching for diversity does not create excellence.  Regardless of the dogmas preached by the contemporary diversity lobby, some whites are very bad at conceptual analysis, some blacks and Hispanics are very good at it, and others in those groups are the opposite.  You simply cannot tell how good they or -- or how diverse -- simply by looking for diversity.  Rather, look for demonstrated excellence; stop checking for gender, skin color, or sexual proclivity.  We’re talking about skill.  Just as you don’t identify good curve ball hitters by nationality or race; you don’t identify good thinkers that way either.  You look for someone who has demonstrated prowess at the plate, on the one hand, and prowess at the keyboard or in the classroom, on the other. 

         To proceed, conceptual insight is not a function of race, gender, or ethnicity.  Nor is it a function of political orientation.  Conservatives can be remarkably astute, or remarkably obtuse, at analysis.  So can liberals, and they have proven so.  If you want robust debate resulting in good insight, then you won’t get it by recruiting thinkers from only one perspective.  Stacking the deck politically does not yield insight -- or diversity.  It yields uniformity and sameness.   To avoid it, recruit from across the political spectrum.  If you are one who fawns over diversity, try intellectual diversity for a change.  Do not be so foolish as to believe that a room full of liberals from different nations and both sexes equals diversity.  

         Here’s my point in a sentence:  It might be that a philosophy (or biology) faculty made up entirely of women from South Korea really is the best faculty available and, despite their background uniformity, it might be amazingly diverse.

         It might also be that a philosophy or biology faculty with no women at all, whether from South Korea or not, is the best and is the most diverse in all the ways that really count.  We simply cannot tell from that brief litany of irrelevant data.  It’s a matter of talent, not gender or ethnicity.  Gender and ethnicity are not talents.  Indeed, they are not even perspectives.  Not all women, not all women from South Korea, think the same things or in the same way.  Some South Korean women might be wonderfully talented professors; others might be just as wonderfully inept, even though they all share the same gender and background.  If you want excellence, you’ll have to know what to look for.  Diversity is not that thing.

         Look for talent.  Talent is not found by looking for, or avoiding, the last name “Park” or a particular set of genitalia.

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