An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Amna Khalid has some information about the “diversity and inclusion racket,” and also some solutions that may help achieve real equality beyond the ubiquitous “diversity training” known to be ineffectual.
Chronicle is a much better venue than, say, Inside Higher Education, and it’s worth paying attention to their pieces. The author of this one is Amna Khalid, Associate Professor of History at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
Khalid descries the expensive expansion of deans and administratiors involved with diversity and inclusion, which have burgeoned at the expense of other administrators and faculty. It’s not that they aren’t addressing a problem, but are doing so in an expensive and largely useless way, and eating up huge amounts of cash that could go to genuinely advance equal opportunity and affirmative action. Seriously, is “yoga for women of color” a way to achieve equality?
Have a look at the dosh involved here:
. . . . the University of Virginia scholars Rose Cole and Walter Heinecke applaud recent student activism as a “site of resistance to the neoliberalization of higher education” that offers a “blueprint for a new social imaginary in higher education.”
But this assessment gets things backward. By insisting on bureaucratic solutions to execute their vision, replete with bullet-pointed action items and measurable outcomes, student activists are only strengthening the neoliberal “all-administrative university” — a model of higher education that privileges market relationships, treats students as consumers and faculty as service providers, all under the umbrella of an ever-expanding regime of bureaucratization. Fulfilling student DEI demands will weaken academe, including, ironically, undermining more meaningful diversity efforts.
We’ll get to the “more meaningful diversity efforts” in a second, but Klahid has other fish to fry, including the largely performative acts undertaken by colleges to satisfy what they perceive as the public demand for a response to perceived “structural racism”:
The rampant growth of the administration over the years at the expense of faculty has been well documented. From 1987 to 2012 the number of administrators doubled relative to academic faculty. A 2014 Delta Cost Project report noted that between 1990 and 2012, the number of faculty and staff per administrator declined by roughly 40 percent. This administrative bloat has helped usher in a more corporate mind-set throughout academe, including the increased willingness to exploit low-paid and vulnerable adjuncts for teaching, and the eagerness to slash budgets and eliminate academic departments not considered marketable enough.
College leaders, for their part, have been more than happy to comply with the recent demands for trainings and DEI personnel. Nothing is more convenient from an institutional perspective than hiring more administrators and consultants. It simultaneously assuages angry students and checks the box of doing the work of improving campus inclusivity, without having to contend with the sticking points of university policies and procedures where real change could be achieved: tenure-review processes, limited protections for contingent faculty, and student admission and aid policies that produce inequities.
Instead of tackling those challenges, institutions can rally behind quixotic rhetorical goals such as eradicating systemic and structural racism on campuses. They can, as Portland State University has done, pledge to apply “an antiracist lens to every signal we send, every model we create, and every policy we enact.” Or, like the University of Louisville has done, they can announce their aspiration of becoming “a premier anti-racist metropolitan university.”
We all know the money that is going to these efforts is often useless; as Khalid notes,
“The vast majority of college administrations have simply genuflected to student demands for trainings. The most galling aspect of institutional responses, one that is conspicuously neoliberal and anti-educational, is the embrace of the-customer-is-always-right attitude. Evidence and research suggest that diversity-related trainings are not effective. According to the sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, diversity training has“failed spectacularly” when it comes to reducing bias. To the contrary, these trainings can reinforce stereotypes and heighten bias. Yet colleges and universities across the country have chosen to disregard the evidence and instead pander to the “customer.”
The fact that colleges are indeed responding to public pressure rather than fulfilling their mission to educate is nowhere more evident than in the investment in diversity training, which actually furthers divisiveness, afflicts “majority” students with deep guilty and “minority” students with a sense of being permanent victims. If diversity training doesn’t work, do not use it.
Oh and there’s also the money to be made by administrators and the doyens of anti-racism, for example Kendi and DiAngelo:
Hiring executive DEI officers is the primary way in which many colleges have signaled their commitment to antiracism and diversity. More than two-thirds of major universities across the country had a chief diversity officer in 2016. Even in lean times, institutions of higher learning appear to have continued appointing executive diversity officers. Consider the University of California system, where in 2010 faculty and staff had to take up to three and a half weeks of unpaid leave due to a $637-million cut in state funding. Later the same year the San Francisco campus appointed its first vice chancellor of diversity and outreach with a starting salary of $270,000. In 2012, faced with the threat of a $250-million cut in state funding, the San Diego campus nonetheless hired its first vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion, with a starting salary of $250,000.
The other chief beneficiaries are diversity trainers and consulting firms. Diversity training is a billion-dollar industry. A one-day training session for around 50 people can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000. Speaking fees for Ibram X. Kendi, the antiracist scholar at Boston University, are $20,000, and Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility, charges $50,000 to $75,000. Some colleges, I’ve been told, are forking out north of $140,000 for multi-session antiracism and diversity training for faculty and staff.
Imagine charging $50,000 to $75,000 for a lecture that you can skip by paying $8.16 for her book!
So what does Khalid recommend in the place of this cash-bloated waste of time? Here are her solutions:
But instead of asking for bureaucratic solutions such as trainings, students would be better served if they insisted that colleges redirect resources towards things such as increasing financial aid, providing better academic support systems for underrepresented students, and instituting educational initiatives.
A good example is the University of Pittsburgh’s multidisciplinary course “Anti-Black Racism: History, Ideology, and Resistance” introduced in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and which all first-year students are required to take. Drawing on the expertise of Pitt faculty from the humanities, social sciences, public health, sciences, and the arts, as well as Pittsburgh-area activists, the course focuses on the Black experience and Black cultural expression, and it considers the interplay of race with ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, and nationality.
Other efforts, like tailored coursework, seminar series, discussion panels, student speak-outs, collegewide teach-ins, exhibitions, performances, and common readings allow institutions to harness the knowledge and expertise that their faculty, students, and staff already have on issues of race and inequality.
Alas, such thoughtful responses have been few and far between. The vast majority of college administrations have simply genuflected to student demands for trainings.
First and third paragraphs: I approve completely with her solutions, along with more efforts aimed at affirmative action. Since so many students are roughly equally qualified for admission to universities, especially elite ones, why not choose those who have, by virtue of past racism, deserve a form of educational reparations? But discussion must be free, open, and not guided to achieve certain ends. That isn’t education, but social engineering.
As for the “educational initiatives” like Pitt’s required course in “Anti-Black Racism”, this sounds more to me like propaganda than a real learning experience. It is an attempt to imbue students with a particular ideological attitude, as you can see on the course’s webpage. To wit: it is a precis of Critical Race Theory, and just as likely to be as divisive and ineffective as is diversity training. The objectives:
After meaningfully engaging with the content in this course, students should be able to:
- Describe and explain key ideas and concepts concerning the social construction of race and ethnicity
- Identify historical and current structures of power, privilege, and inequality that are rooted in Anti-Black racism
- Explain how anti-Black racism acts individually, interpersonally, institutionally, and structurally
- Identify and describe the contribution of scholars and experts on anti-Black racism at Pitt and in the larger community
- Articulate and critically examine personal beliefs and opinions about race, antiracism and antiblackness and describe the weight these beliefs and opinions carry.
- Explain how institutions and policies contribute to and enable Anti-Black racism
- Identify some of the many existing organizations that provide anti-racism programming and opportunities
Does anybody think that these “goals” will be achieved by free and open discussion among the students? No, this is indoctrination pure and simple, and is required of all first-year students. (I, for one, would object to the idea that “ethnicity” is purely a social construction.) The first thing they learn, then, is not to think for themselves, but what to think, and how to keep your mouth shut if your opinion isn’t an approved one. I’m curious why Khalid things this is palpably superior to diversity training.
Still, there are useful solutions to the problem of inequality, and Khalid limns some. And, if nothing else, she highlights how corrupted American colleges and universities have become by what they see as societal demands.
In the end, I fear there is no going back here. Even my own University is gradually becoming imbued with social justice philosophy to the extent that dissent from received opinion is chilled: something absolutely new to our unique University tradition, in which all discussion is welcomed, even if not agreed on.
In my worst nightmares, I fear that colleges are no longer places to explore ideas, discuss them no matter now contentious or unpopular, and learn how to think and argue. They are instead becoming instruments: instruments of social engineering by administrators who want to turn out students like themselves, with a liberal bent. Not that there’s anything wrong with liberalism—I adhere to it—but you must arrive at it by cogitation, not indoctrination.