Northern Arizona University joins the diversity bandwagon of group-think instead of scholarship.
As a defensive measure, I’m prefacing this commentary on diversity with the fact that throughout my career I was at the vanguard of equal rights, affirmative action, diversity, racial sensitivity training, and racial encounter groups, during an era when the battles were hard-fought, unpopular, and lonely. Not only that, but my extended family is mixed-race.
That isn’t proof that I’m virtuous because I’m not. It is to fend off some of the inevitable name-callings that result from criticizing what has become an article of faith in America’s major institutions.
Actually, the diversity that is worshipped today is akin to the golden calf worshipped by the Hebrews during their exodus from Egypt. It is a false idol. In the name of diversity and inclusion, it stereotypes, discriminates, excludes, and divides.
Equally troubling, what passes for enlightened diversity programs on college campuses is woefully lacking in scholarship but abundant in sloganeering and sophistry.
Northern Arizona University (NAU), a state university in Flagstaff, is a case in point. Various lofty pronouncements about its 21-page Diversity Strategic Plan.
Here’s a key paragraph from one of the pronouncements:
The Diversity Strategic Plan focuses and prioritizes the university’s attention and resources around diversity, inclusion, and a culturally competent environment for all, with particular attention to underrepresented, marginalized, and underserved groups in higher education. The DSP aligns with the University Strategic Plan (USP that, in turn, aligns with the Arizona Board of Regents Strategic Plan, “Impact Arizona.”
The rest of the pronouncements are just as replete with emotionally-loaded, feel-good buzzwords and an absence of specific and measurable goals. As such, it is going to be impossible to hold anyone accountable for results. And it is highly probable that mischief will result from the vagueness and generalities.
Curiously, there is nothing in the strategic plan about maintaining high academic standards while lowering costs and student indebtedness so that students of modest means from all walks of life can graduate as learned citizens and have rewarding careers, with a return on their collegiate investment as high as the ROI at more prestigious universities.
Nor does the plan say that NAU is open to all Arizona residents who meet its entrance requirements, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, age, sex, gender, or disability.
And the plan doesn’t recognize that the best way of helping the disadvantaged is to give assistance to poor individuals, without regard to their race, ethnicity, national origin, age, sex, gender, or disability. This approach would result in a diverse student body without engaging in discrimination and divisiveness.
The silence suggests that NAU sees its mission as something else. Its focus on groups is a clue as to what that might be.
As NAU admits, the focus is on underrepresented, marginalized, and underserved groups, not individuals. But which groups specifically? And how does NAU determine if a group is underrepresented, marginalized, and underserved? Is the determination based on the group’s numbers on campus versus its numbers in the US population, on the group’s average income, or on its average education level, or how many representatives it has in Congress, or what?
Are Kurdish Americans one of the groups? Abkhazian Americans? Slovakian Americans? Walloon Americans?
These are serious and important questions, not glib ones. They are important because the answers determine who is included in diversity initiatives and who is excluded. Once a university or any other institution replaces equal opportunity for all individuals with special considerations for selected groups, it becomes necessary to ask such questions.
Answering the questions is complicated by the fact that there are hundreds of unique ethnocultural groups in the US and the world, encompassing wide differences in income, education, social status, political power, customs, and religion. A partial list can be found here.
So, what criteria should be used to establish which of the hundreds of ethnocultural groups are underrepresented, marginalized, and underserved? Income is one possibility.
Some of that work has already been done. For example, 106 ethnic groups are ranked by household income here.
The ranking shows that Americans of East Indian descent rank first in median household income. Is this evidence that they are not underrepresented, marginalized, and underserved in America? How about the fact that Indian restaurants can be found near just about every major American university, which suggests that the restaurants serve a large clientele of Indian students and faculty? Is this evidence that they are not underrepresented, marginalized, and underserved on campuses? Or how about the fact that they own a large percentage of independent motels and hotels across the country or the fact that they can be found in the executive ranks of many companies, especially tech companies?
In view of their success, should East Indians be excluded from diversity initiatives and be admitted in lesser numbers to colleges or hired in lesser numbers as faculty members?
At the other end of the ranking, Americans of Mexican descent rank ninety-fifth in income. This doesn’t mean that they have less innate intelligence or less industriousness than East Indians. Nor is it proof that they are underrepresented, marginalized, and underserved, especially given that they outnumber East Indian Americans by ten to one in the US population and thus have more political clout.
A scholarly diversity program would ask such questions and delve into such complexities. But that’s not what colleges and other major institutions do. Instead, they take the rich diversity of the nation and world and reduce it to the six contrived categories of White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American – all six of which are a strange agglomeration of skin shade, ethnicity, geographic origin, and the social construct of race. Equally specious, the categories are treated as if each one is discrete and homogenous, with no overlap or mixing between them. At the same time, all of the groups but the White group are characterized as disadvantaged minorities eligible for diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Take the 30 million people of Italian descent who live in the Latin American country of Argentina. For the ones who have immigrated to the US, does NAU pigeonhole them as Latin American, Hispanic, Latino, Italian, White, minorities, or people of color, or what? Does NAU see them as underrepresented, marginalized, and undeserved?
The anthropological malpractice continues with the trope that all Whites are the same in privilege, wealth, and responsibility for oppressing other groups—and that no one categorized as White can be a minority, even if the person is a member of a tiny and impoverished ethnocultural group without political clout and without the ability to influence diversity programs in academia, government and industry.
That sure doesn’t sound like the “cultural competency” that NAU touts in its diversity plan. It sounds like cultural incompetency.
Incidentally, by some estimates, 40% of Americans living in poverty are non-Hispanic Whites.
With that background, consider two hypothetical applicants at NAU: One is a poor Mormon from the remote, isolated and undeveloped Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon; the other is an upper-middle-class Hispanic from Scottsdale who is a descendant of Spanish aristocracy and has a Spanish surname.
Which one would have the better chance of being included in NAU’s diversity goals? There is little doubt that it would be the second one.
Such illogic and unfairness are what happens when group-think about diversity replaces scholarship and equal opportunity. It has no place in an institution of higher learning.