A More Moderate Diversity

A More Moderate Diversity
AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz, File

Diversity has become a sacred word in the contemporary American university. Like equality, fairness, inclusion, academic freedom, and critical thinking, many consider it one of the lodestars of higher education. Yet on campuses across the country, people quietly disagree about what diversity means. Of what, exactly, does it consist, and how should it be measured? Is diversity merely a matter of race and gender, or also sexual orientation? What about political and methodological diversity? Should diversity be pursued primarily in faculty hiring, or in the student body, or in the administrative staff? Do foreign nationals count as diverse hires? How exactly do all these different types of diversity benefit higher education as a whole?

Few within the university community are willing publicly to raise such questions for fear that they will be targeted as bigots or preservers of white and male privilege. This is not an unreasonable fear, and examples of such targeting proliferate. The irony is that the mainstream diversity movement actually tends toward uniformity of the most extreme kind, which happens to look very much like mainstream American progressivism. In the name of diversity — an expansive and liberating notion of engaging with people and ideas markedly different from the ones we know — one particular, narrow understanding of the concept is being used to transform every school into the ostensibly value-neutral, secular state university of today. A cold war rages between those who promote this dominant vision of diversity and those who hold different views about the purpose of a university and about diversity itself.

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