Heather Mac Donald last year created a brouhaha with her fabulous book The Diversity Delusion. She shows—correctly, in my view—“how race and gender pandering corrupt the university and undermine our culture.” If anything, things have gotten worse in the year-plus since that book appeared.
Take American University in Washington. In 2018 and 2019, it spent $121 million on “diversity” initiatives. That is a very substantial sum of money, about 17% the size of AU’s endowment and $16,000 (!!) for every undergraduate student—who probably at least indirectly paid for much of that. But what does “diversity” mean? It is measured by group characteristics of individuals—their race, gender, sexual orientation, religious preferences, birthplace (immigrant vs. native-born) on which American University is spending money to “improve” the diversity of its student body.
“Improving” diversity implies that some group characteristics are given preference over others. It implies that traditional criteria for student admission based on academic potential should receive less attention and racial or other nonacademic group characteristics considerations more. High school performance and academic promise as demonstrated by, say, high SAT scores should determine admission only if they fit into the politically correct perception of the optimal mix of students with respect to skin color, sexual proclivities and gender. If 60% of Americans are non-Hispanic whites, 12% black and another 17% Hispanic, than if a school like AU has 80% whites, 6% blacks and 8% Hispanics based on standard admission criteria, it needs to reduce the white proportion in order to sharply expand the black and Hispanic proportion. One way of doing that is by giving more financial aid to blacks and Hispanics and less to whites. A second way is to have materially differential academic standards for admission based on race. If differences already exist, those differentials should increase.
Many troubling questions arise. A vast majority of educated Americans believe that African Americans should not be denied admission to a school based on the color of their skin. They generally subscribe to the magisterial words of Martin Luther King: “I have a dream that my . . . children will . . . live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Yet as color of skin has been gradually declining as a decisive consideration in American life (witness rising interracial marriages), universities want to reemphasize it, as well as other group identities, such as sexual orientation. I think this is a shame.
It is noteworthy that the efforts by a university to promote diversity has been rather lucrative for some who collect large amounts of what economists call “economic rent” (payments in excess of that necessary for them to provide labor services). For example, the Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Michigan (same person) makes a princely $407,653 annually. Additionally, his wife hauls in another $181,404 as “Program Director of the LSA National Center for Institutional Diversity.” The diversity police make a lot of money.
These positions did not exist 50 years ago. Michigan professor Mark Perry notes that the salaries of the diversity bureaucracy of the university would fund over 700 full-tuition scholarships.
The American people, while over time becoming far more tolerant of others based on gender, race and other personal characteristics, generally are skeptical of affirmative action programs, as voters have indicated in several populous states (e.g., California and Michigan). The political environment on campuses is far different from the real world that supports universities. Courts appear to share the diversity/affirmative action skepticism to some extent as well. Harvard appears to under-admit Asian American students in order to provide places in its fixed-size entering class for students rejected under standard admissions criteria, especially members of other racial minorities. As indicated here previously, despite Harvard’s victory at the district court level, it is far from certain it will ultimately prevail at the Supreme Court, and meanwhile there is another suit winding its way through the courts involving the University of North Carolina. Will the courts rein in Excessive Diversity Syndrome? Stay tuned.