Commentary Magazine

A ‘Diversity’ Power Play

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, a middling Midwestern state university, is not a hotbed of radicalism. Yet it recently joined a handful of other colleges and universities that consider a demonstrated commitment to “equity, diversity, and inclusion” a criterion for earning tenure.

The implication is clear enough. At colleges consisting overwhelmingly of faculty who are liberal or on the far left, equity does not consist only of commitment to the protection of individual rights. It consists instead of devotion to combating injustice, however the left defines it. In addition to excelling in the traditional areas of teaching, research, and service, faculty members are also required to prove themselves in the areas of equity, diversity, and inclusion. This is, in essence, a demand that faculty members demonstrate their allegiance to left pieties as a condition for continued employment.

For the most part, UW-Eau Claire’s predecessors have preserved deniability. Who can really object to the idea that, as Pomona College has said, faculty members should be “attentive to diversity in the student body?” But the professors of UW-Eau Claire have given the game away.

In the course of the debate over the new policy, a faculty senate member introduced an amendment with a view to defining more clearly just what “diversity” means, a sensible thing to do, since a person’s job now may hang on it. The amendment said that diversityis defined as the many differences among people, including, for example, differences in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status.” Another amendment would add “perspectives” to this list. Anyone will recognize this definition as a plain language understanding of what diversity means. Colleges and universities have made diversity a cornerstone value that goes back to the 1978 Bakke decision on affirmative action. Exposure to and reflection on our differences has an educational value.

Though the amendment initially passed, the faculty was having none of this old-fogeyism. Another amendment was proposed to define diversity as “the structural and power differences among people, including, but not limited to differences in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, economic status, or perspectives.” Anyone will recognize this definition as doing—to borrow the language of our new left—violence to the plain meaning of diversity. But substituting a generally incorrect definition in for a generally correct one only discards the old and noble justification for attending to diversity: That we might learn something from our differences. Instead, “diversity” is now meant to mean power struggle between perceived classes.

The idea that the university is mainly a site from which to launch an assault against “the system” is at least as old as the 1960s, when UW-Eau Claire joined in the sit-ins and protests that characterized that period. The revolution has now returned to Eau Claire, though it must not be very exciting to rebel in an atmosphere in which the administration is fully behind you. Eau Claire’s chancellor is thrilled. “If you’re going to put a value out there, you need to do something with it.” That is what higher education is all about—putting values out there and doing things about them. Oh well. At least some faculty members objected that the new policy incorporates “a particular, stereotypically progressive conception of social justice that [they might] personally share but that seems wrong for a public institution.”

They’re right of course, but the wind does not seem to be blowing their way.

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