Posted on July 25, 2014

The Hidden Benefits of Diversity in Higher Education

Joseph Kay, American Renaissance, July 25, 2014

For more than half a century elite colleges have been pressured to admit more blacks. Originally, this was supposed to be only a temporary problem: Improved K-12 education would produce a crop of youngsters ready for Harvard or Yale. As that dream vanished, the focus turned to racial quotas and preferences but that too, thanks to court decisions and state anti-preference initiatives, has failed to yield the correct numbers. Now the argument is more practical: admitting academically marginal blacks promotes diversity that improves everyone’s education. It’s like the old junior-year-abroad programs in which cloistered youngsters learned all about exotic cultures.

Unfortunately for advocates of diversity, there is no scientific evidence that it produces benefits of this kind. However, as somebody who has long taught in the social sciences, let me offer some anecdotal evidence in support greater diversity in higher education.

The most obvious advantage flows from across-the-board grade inflation. Specifically, since it is impermissible to fail too many minority students–this is sure to trigger charges of racism–minorities almost all receive passing grades, and the result is that everyone else gets a bumped up grade (the real losers are, of course, genuine “A” students). A white student who would have flunked out scrapes by and graduates. Almost invisibly, a million or more of students who would have once dropped out instead enter the workforce with BAs and since, as the experts tell us, a college degree adds economic value, America’s GNP increases by at least $17.34 billion, according to my calculations.

Diversity also gives professors lots more time–time they can use to find a cure for cancer or bring about world peace. This is because they learn to make tests as simple and unambiguous as possible if minority students are in the class. Why invite unpleasant confrontations over subtle issues for which there may not be a single right answer? Busy professors eliminate essays in favor of machine gradable exams. This saves countless hours of grading time and eliminates the depression that comes from reading sorrowful efforts.

Therefore, never require a paper about, say, how the Founders finessed slavery. That will almost guarantee uninformed, incoherent rants about white patriarchy. Better to ask: Article I of the Constitution outlines the powers of (a) the legislative branch; (b) the executive branch . . . . To be sure, this can trivialize course material but the instructor can never be accused of racism or bias since the correct answer is straight out of the textbook. And to ensure racial peace, the instructor can cover this simple-minded question during class time and defend himself against anyone who skipped class.

Also, let us not forget the role of minority students in helping naive professors avoid unintentional hatefulness and insensitivity. It is all too easy for social scientists inadvertently to promote stereotypes by mentioning high rates of black violence or the ease with which blacks declare bankruptcy in order to avoid paying debts. If there are blacks in the class, professors will think twice before straying into such bigoted territory.

Indeed, attentive minority students can be counted on to alert whites to racism of which they may not be aware: For example, that the word “colorblind” is actually anti-black, and that whites are unconsciously oppressing minorities through the exercise of white privilege. Minorities also ensure peace on campus by denouncing anything that could possibly be interpreted as insensitive.

Then there’s the overall economic benefit of creating middle-class jobs for people to look after unprepared students. Men and women who once might have toiled as postal clerks can now work in Offices of Minority Student Affairs, help direct tutoring services, travel here and there recruiting talented but at-risk high school students, and the like. A few will become well-paid Deans of Inclusion or Directors of Campus Sensitivity Training. It’s hard to imagine a cheaper, more efficient way to expand the middle class with positions that cannot be automated or outsourced to India. And, since so many students now have incurable academic deficiencies, these are permanent jobs in an era of uncertain employment. What other government program can claim to have generated so many lasting, middle-class positions? Add another 2 percent to our GNP.

Finally, there is the raison d’état of diversity: exposure to people that many of today’s college students would not otherwise encounter–even though this exposure is not necessary the idyllic one envisioned by diversity fans outside the campus. As Charles Murray’s notes in Coming Apart, many of today’s white (and Asian) students at better high schools have had little contact with ordinary blacks their age. For the most part, they have been taught an idealized picture of talented African Americans facing unremitting white bigotry. Attending class with real-life blacks exposes these sheltered whites to a whole new slice of America that can be truly enlightening.

As a lecturer I often saw the uncontrolled puzzlement with which white students greeted the classroom contributions of affirmative-action beneficiaries. There are similar mind-expanding experiences outside the classroom as whites see blacks’ indifference to academics and their raucous socializing. These encounters are truly educational. With a little luck, a few of these naive suburbanites may stop drinking the Kool Aid and become race realists, even future AR readers.

In sum, there is a strong case for diversity despite the paucity of scientific evidence. The first four benefits listed here–easier graduation for non-blacks, less work for professors, helping instructors overcome bias, and creating a burgeoning middle class–are seldom mentioned by diversity aficionados but they are real. The last–an opportunity to witness awkward, usually denied truths–is just as real. All are pluses and yet more diversity would only intensify these benefits. No wonder diversity is so popular.