Posted on July 17, 2019

The Diversity Distortion

John Hasnas, James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, July 17, 2019


{snip} What accounts for the rapid proliferation of university departments devoted to the study of minority cultural identity?


{snip} Is there something beyond their inherent academic value that is driving the growth of cultural studies programs at the expense of other departments and, perhaps, the overall health of the university?

The answer is yes. It is the contemporary university’s quest for a diverse faculty.

Almost all elite universities make it a top priority to increase the number of minorities and women on their faculty. {snip}

The problem is that universities cannot simply go out and hire the desired minority and women faculty. Doing so would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, something that is not well understood by many advocates of faculty diversity.


{snip} Faculty hiring is an employment decision and employment decisions are governed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII does not permit employers to make any hiring, promotion, termination, or other employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It applies to public and private universities alike.


Under Title VII, universities may undertake strenuous affirmative action efforts to assemble the most diverse pool of applicants possible. They may specifically recruit African Americans, women, and other minorities to apply for faculty positions. Once the selection process has begun, however, Title VII prohibits any consideration of a candidate’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This limitation on the use of race and sex in the selection process is reflected in the typical ads for academic positions that state that the university or college is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and that women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply.

These legal restrictions mean that to diversify their faculties, universities must create new positions that would appeal only to women or minority scholars or for which women and minority scholars are likely to be the most qualified candidates. The surest way to do this is to increase the number of positions in women’s studies, critical race theory, LGBTQ studies, and other cultural identity-based programs. {snip}

This would not be not harmful if, in fact, the university’s most urgent academic need is in the cultural studies area. But it can be quite damaging to a university if this is not the case.

Diversity, both in the student body and the faculty, is a means, not an end in itself. It is usually justified on the ground that it improves the quality of higher education. {snip}

This is an empirical claim that is open to challenge, but let’s assume for now that it is correct. If so, then a diverse learning environment would help the university attain its end of generating and transmitting knowledge.

But to attain this end, universities must make complex decisions about how to allocate resources among many disciplines. They must decide how much to spend on STEM, how much on the social sciences, how much on languages, how much on the humanities, and how much on cultural studies. They must determine how many faculty positions are needed by each discipline to optimize the generation of knowledge and its transmission to the next generation of students.

To the extent that a university lets its desire to increase faculty diversity drive this decision, it converts the means into the end. The drive for diversity now diverts the development of the university’s curriculum away from the path dictated by its educational values, needs, and goals. In a classic example of the tail wagging the dog, the university’s academic mission becomes subservient to its drive for diversity.

Call this the diversity distortion. When the quest for diversity drives the proliferation of cultural studies programs beyond their academically justified level, it distorts universities’ curricula in ways that are detrimental to their educational missions.

{snip} Sadly, in their obsession with faculty diversity, many university administrators appear to have lost sight of the purposes their institutions were created to serve.