Harry Painter, Pope Center, April 27, 2015
It often seems as though the central mission of higher education today is promoting diversity. Diversity–which usually means racial, religious, and sexual diversity–is commonly accepted by most administrators as crucial to the success of the 21st-century university. More and more universities are adopting diversity requirements and training, and creating entire departments to achieve diversity and inclusivity on campus.
That agenda already permeates much of what the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill does and says. And a recent UNC-Chapel Hill event illustrates the extreme ends that diversity advocates are aiming for.
As much as it is already doing, UNC is aggressively pursuing still more diversity initiatives. On April 14, the 50-member Provost Committee on Inclusive Excellence and Diversity (PCIED), made up of staff members, faculty, and students, hosted a presentation titled “Exploring the Institutional Diversity Framework at Carolina.”
In her keynote address, higher education diversity expert Daryl G. Smith recommended a path forward for UNC, drawing from her 2009 book Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making it Work. It was an enlightening–and disturbing–look at what diversity proponents have planned.
Smith opened her speech by imploring the audience to continue conversations stemming from recent national and local events–implying controversies such as the Ferguson shooting and the University of Virginia student beating.
“The more inequities you have, the less stable your society,” she said, emphasizing why she considers diversity to be foundational in politics, the arts, leadership, and “virtually all issues.”
Centering on higher education, Smith called on universities to erase disparities in graduation rates among different genders, races, and classes. She said that diversity must be “part of the core indicators of success” of a university, as opposed to a parallel effort. “We don’t have time for parallel,” she said.
The most radical idea Smith espoused in her address was that faculty and staff members should be hired and fired on the basis of their understanding of diversity.
Smith first proposed the idea in the preface to her book, where she compared improvements in technology to the quest for diversity. “Several decades ago, as technological shifts began, campuses all across the country understood that their viability as institutions would rest on building capacity for technology,” she wrote. “Technology was understood to be central, not marginal, to teaching and research.”
She continued, “We are now at a time when we must understand that diversity, like technology, is central to higher education. Will institutions be credible or viable if diversity is not fundamental? I believe not.”
Along those lines, Smith told her Chapel Hill audience that technology and pluralism are the “two things fundamentally changing the way we live,” and that both must be “embedded in what we do.”
She told the audience that, like technological proficiency, competence in issues of diversity “has to be a condition of employment.” She did not explain what she meant, but considering her expertise and her Ph.D. in “social psychology and higher education,” her ideal threshold might require professors to have some minimal training in her field.
In order to bolster her point about competence in diversity, she repeated the age-old, very false urban legend that the Chevy Nova sold poorly in Spanish-speaking countries because Chevrolet’s marketing team didn’t realize “no va” means “doesn’t go” in Spanish. To the contrary, the Nova sold well in Mexico and Venezuela, Chevrolet’s primary Spanish-speaking markets.
Despite such inaccuracies and the radical tone of her talk, Smith appeared to be preaching to the choir. This included UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Carol L. Folt; in her closing speech, she insisted that the case for focusing on diversity has been proven repeatedly. The veracity of that claim is certainly still open for discussion; see, for example, the recent debunking of University of Michigan professor Scott Page’s study aiming to prove the benefits of diversity.
UNC’s Provost Committee on Inclusive Excellence and Diversity demonstrated that it is already implementing Smith’s goals of institutionalizing diversity throughout the campus community. After Smith’s keynote, PCIED speakers touted their plan to achieve inclusive excellence (the plan was heavily influenced by Smith’s book). Some choice suggestions from the plan:
- Ensure every department or “unit” has a diversity page on its website
- Ensure each unit has a “diversity liaison”
- Spread the message of inclusive excellence to the community through email and social media
- Encourage Chancellor Folt to regularly discuss diversity with her cabinet and the board of trustees
- Additional personnel to collect data on and assess diversity
- “Require enhanced diversity learning experiences and requirements” through course work, experiential learning, and reflection, and expand requirements to graduate and professional schools
- Train faculty and graduate teaching assistants to discuss diversity in class