Glenn Loury, author of “The Anatomy of Racial Inequality”

by James A. Bacon

The drive to institutionalize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in elite colleges and universities is profoundly destructive, according to presenters at a Friday conference of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).

Far from contributing to intellectual diversity, as it purports to do, DEI constrains free expression and free inquiry. It creates bureaucracies that consume resources that could be more profitably invested elsewhere. Moreover, DEI fails to address the underlying causes of racial inequality in America. Rather, it perpetuates inequality by setting lower standards for minority students and imbuing them with a crippling victim mentality.

John McWhorter, author of “Woke Racism”

The 2022 Athena Roundtable also presented awards and recognition to prominent intellectuals Glenn Loury and John McWhorter as well as to up-and-comer Erec Smith, founder of the Free Black Thought website, all of whom champion diversity of thought among African-Americans.

In a roundtable discussion, “Diversity Done Right,” the panelists did not hold uniform views but they agreed with one another far more than not.

One recurring topic in the roundtable’s critique of DEI was the idea that demographic diversity contributes to intellectual diversity. DEI mission statements in colleges and universities across Virginia, for instance, justify the value of DEI programs on the grounds that they create a more vibrant intellectual environment by bringing together people whose perspectives are derived from different “lived experiences.” None of the panelists took exception to the notion that demographic diversity adds value, but they noted (a) other types of “lived experience” have value, too, and (2) DEI in elite universities is couched in the vocabulary of identity politics that suppresses free expression and intellectual diversity in actual practice.

“Diversity should not be reduced to identity,” said Amna Khalid, a Muslim, a woman, and a professor of South Asian history at Carleton College. “Demographic diversity is supposed to promote intellectual diversity, but that’s been derailed.”

DEI orthodoxy stresses racial/ethnic identity, gender identity, and sexual orientation. But people have identities based on geography, religion, socio-economic status, veteran service, association with civic groups, and personal interests. Moreover, people vary in cognitive and personality attributes, said John Dana Chisolm, a California entrepreneur and active MIT alumnus. Some people think abstractly, others concretely. Some are risk-averse; some are risk takers. Some work collaboratively; some independently. Some interact with others based on relationships; others have transactional orientations. These traits provide an entirely different kind of diversity that contributes to group performance.

Chisolm, who is gay, advocates a “holistic” approach to college admissions with a goal of creating a diversity of experiences and cognitive strengths that transcend race, gender and sexual orientation.

An analysis of 2018 undergraduate enrollment at MIT found that the student body was heavily skewed to urban states, especially those in the Northeast, Chisolm said. Adjusting for state populations, enrollment for the 25 least-represented states accounted for only one third of the student body, while the other 25 states accounted for two-thirds. Most under-represented states were more rural and far from Boston. Their inhabitants tend to value individual responsibility, civic ties, frugality, work ethic, and nuclear families, and they’re more likely to have center-right political sensibilities, says Chisolm.

MIT appears to have no interest in that kind of diversity. “Rural, center-right sensibility, and lower-income individuals have no on-campus constituency advocacy at MIT at all,” Chisolm has written. They are more under-represented than the famously under-represented racial minorities. “They are invisible.”

Another theme was the bureaucratization of DEI. Universities have set up expensive bureaucracies to implement rules and enforce “woke” orthodoxy. Particularly concerning is compelled speech in the form of “diversity statements” used in hiring, promotion and tenure-track decisions.

Loury, a Brown University economist, described these statements as ideological “loyalty oaths.” Khalid described how DEI statements foreclose certain lines of inquiry on ideologically sensitive topics. Young people hopeful of breaking into academia, she said, will orient their research toward viewpoints that don’t run afoul of DEI dogma.

Dorian Abbott gained recent notoriety when a speech scheduled at MIT about planetary geophysics was canceled after the Twitter Outrage Mob attacked him for writing previously that academic evaluations should be based on merit. Even at the University of Chicago, renowned for its support of free speech, DEI administrators have interfered with his scientific work. The term “black body radiation” has a specific non-racial meaning in the study of radiative transfer, he said at the roundtable, but he was told not to use it. He also described how the field of geology is under attack by faculty professing feminist and “anti-colonial” perspectives. The science of geology, which arose in the context of Western capitalism and imperialism, is “extractive.” Geologists, according to this line of thinking, should consult indigenous cultures to see how they relate to their rocks.

(One important critique of DEI bureaucracy was not touched upon. DEI programs have no end game. There is no point at which DEI bureaucrats can say, “Our job here is done.” An iron law of bureaucracies is that they seek to perpetuate themselves. DEI administrators will always seek to identify new, ever more rarefied symptoms of bias to justify their existence.)

Khalid argued that universities could create more demographic diversity if they eliminated admissions preferences for legacies and athletes. No need for expensive DEI bureaucracies. Spend the money on tutors!

“Anti-racism” isn’t something that students can learn from a few hours of DEI instruction, she added. They could learn much more through open dialogue in the classroom.

A third theme was how destructive DEI ideology is to the very minority populations it is supposed to help. Loury and McWhorter excoriated DEI in their award acceptance speeches. Unfortunately, I did not take notes of their remarks, so I reconstruct what follows from memory and referral to their written work.

Universities rely upon racial preferences to achieve desired demographic profiles because it is the “path of least resistance,” Loury argues. Such preferences come way too late in peoples’ lives. They do nothing to address the shortfalls of human development in African-American households and K-12 schools.

“The underdevelopment certainly has a genealogy rooted in bias,” Loury has written. “But the problem of inequality for African-Americans today is not mainly the expression of a racist society. And jiggering the test-score standards for people to get into elite institutions is not a remedy for it.”

Setting lower standards for African-American and Hispanic students has at least two pernicious effects. One is that many students may wind up in institutions where the intellectual demands exceed their capabilities. Some might rise to the occasion, but others will stumble. Another risk is that minority students will internalize the implications of those lower expectations. Some might strive for excellence, but others might lower their own expectations and learn they can skate by with less effort.

If judged by its effects, as opposed to its charitable intentions, the “woke” strains of DEI implemented at America’s elite universities amount to a new kind of racism. By cultivating grievance and victimhood, DEI teaches minorities that the deck is stacked against them, discourages them from adopting habits of hard work and self discipline, and deprives them of the tools needed to succeed in contemporary society.

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11 responses to “Diversity Done Right… and Wrong”

  1. Were any empirical studies based on provable facts that diversity adds value to an organization presented?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      What are you proposing for a control group, the Klan? Or perhaps the GOP?

      1. TacoTuesdays Avatar

        There’s plenty of countries with high levels of homogeneity that could be compared against.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          If we allowed comparison to foreign lands then we would have much better healthcare.

      2. Interesting comment, but yet again… no facts to support this diversity ‘add values’ hoax. Any facts, any reports? Anything other than emotional dribble? I’ve been hearing this stuff since the 1980s…….. and never once has any proponent presented any tangible evidence, only feelings. Please, if you have some facts, we’re waiting……

        1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          Here is an article that summaries research demonstrating diversity has positive results. After you open the link, there will be a list of articles, click on “Holoien2013 Diversity.

          Holoien2013Diversity.pdf ..

  2. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    The “E” in DEI represents equity not equality. Two distinctly different concepts. Generally, in educational matters equality refers to opportunity while equity refers to fairness.

    1. Actually, equity is about equality of outcome, which is not the same thing as fairness.

      1. Lefty665 Avatar

        or achievement.

  3. Lefty665 Avatar

    John McWhorter’s “Woke Racism – How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America” is the best work I have read in a long time. I have recommended it several times here on BR. McWhorter’s on line discussions with Glenn Loury and his individual talks are also wonderful. Look for them on YouTube.

    In “Woke Racism” McWhorter advocates several things. They include:

    Failure to teach black kids to read condemns them to a marginal life of drugs and crime. That puts them in conflict with the police and leads to jail which also leaves many young, poor and poorly educated women to raise more ill prepared children alone.

    Legalize drugs to remove that avenue to marginal street corner vocation and incarceration.

    Not everyone needs to go to college. Kids who can read have the tools to learn trades like plumbing and electrician which provide honest middle class livings and a foundation to prepare their children to attend college.

    Pushing unprepared kids to attend elite universities is a recipe for failure. They are far better off attending colleges matched to their level of preparedness. His experience as a professor at Columbia gives him standing for this observation.

    McWhorter also observes that America changed in the 1960s, more than 50 years ago. With the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1967 and other changes, 1960 more resembles 1890 America than 1970 and beyond. We are far from perfect, but the heavy lifting is long done. Wokeism, DIE and anti-white racism like Kendi’s and DeAngelo’s are destructive to America and all its people.

    My recommendation of “Woke Racism” and McWhorter is unqualified. In addition to the content, he is a linguist so the reading itself is a treat.

    1. killerhertz Avatar

      He’s an amusing orator too. I’ve listened to a couple of his audiobooks.

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