IMAGE:  February 2003 GRAPHIC:  University of Chicago Magazine
APRIL 2003
Volume 95, Issue 4
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…getting pleasure from reading the obituaries…

Defining diversity
Last October President Randel issued a statement on the conduct of campus debate of contentious public issues. Much that he urged is eminently sensible: the University should encourage debate, support a diversity of individual views, refrain from taking sides, bar violence and intimidation, oppose intolerance and prejudice, and promote mutual respect and trust.

Then the statement goes awry. It apotheosizes Diversity, a buzzword of our time, as an exalted purpose—overarching, undefined, unquestioned—for which all must strive. “We must ensure the diversity of this community by ensuring that everyone is prepared to subscribe to the principles for which the University stands and is prepared to embrace diversity, whether of race, religion, gender, or, yes, even academic discipline. No part of the University community can think of itself as immune from this concern for diversity. An unprecedented number of programs is in place to increase diversity in the functioning of our academic programs and in the ways in which we carry on our business affairs and our relations with the neighborhood and city of which we are a part. Each of us must believe that embracing—not merely tolerating—diversity is a personal obligation.” [Emphasis added.]

What exactly are we asked to embrace and increase? To many, “diversity” means the presence of persons of color: “to increase diversity” means to increase the proportion of persons of color in a community, thus decreasing the proportion of whites. This treats people differently based on race. But treating people differently based on race is racial discrimination, a practice for which President Randel has declared “zero tolerance.”

Many people believe that “diversity” includes women, homosexuals, and the disabled: “to increase diversity” means to increase the proportion of such persons, thus decreasing the proportion of their opposites. This treats people differently based on their gender, sexual orientation, or disability. But whether people should be treated differently on these bases is a question of morality or law, which is not settled by the label “diversity.”

Some argue that “diversity” should cover political and religious affiliation: “to increase diversity” would mean to increase the proportion of, say, political conservatives and religious fundamentalists on campus. An institution would ask student and faculty applicants to disclose their political and religious affiliations and would treat them differently on these grounds. But this would employ questionable bases of discrimination, invade freedoms of political and religious belief and association, and further balkanize and politicize the university. These harms would not be removed by calling the goal, “diversity.”

In these examples the cult of Diversity operates by classifying people based on their membership in certain groups, then favoring them accordingly. Is this what President Randel had in mind?

In the dictionary “diversity” means variety. Its opposite is similarity. Similarity and diversity are ancient, basic aspects of existence. Neither is good or bad in itself; either may be good or bad, depending on the circumstances. As gods, or demons, both are false.

Curtis Crawford, PhB’46, DB’51
Charlottesville, Virginia


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