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April 30, 2010

More "Diversity" STEM-Selling

A few weeks ago I discussed The Misguided Push for STEM Diversity, noting that every month or so (or so it seems) a new report appears pointing with alarm to the "underrepresentation" of women or blacks or Hispanics or Aleuts (or usually all of the above) in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, math and outlining STEM-"diversity" steps that must be taken in order to save the nation from destruction by competition in the "new global economy" with those more diverse than we (like the Japanese?).

I've written about these reports here, here, and here. I'm venturing down this well-trod path yet again because --- you guessed it! --- there's yet another call for increasing diversity, this one from the high-powered duo of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of American Universities. "Navigating A Complex Landscape To Foster Greater Faculty and Student Diversity in Higher Education" claims to be "a first-of-its-kind" handbook offering "in-depth, cross-referenced legal resources to help promote effective diversity programs for science faculty and students," explaining how U.S. universities can "draw more women and underrepresented minorities into science fields to boost economic and security goals---while minimizing any unreasonable legal risks."

Like all the reports I discussed earlier, this one attempts to answer the question, "Why Is Diversity Important To Science?" (a section of the press release announcing the publication of the handbook), by ... repeating the assertion that diversity is important to science.

"Science and engineering are national assets that drive innovation, economic strength, leadership and our national security," the AAAS-AAU handbook asserts.

The nation's international economic competitiveness "depends on the U.S. labor force's innovation and productivity," the report continues, citing National Science Foundation findings. "A diverse, globally oriented workforce of scientists and engineers" is essential to ensure continued U.S. economic leadership.

"Achieving a more diverse faculty and student body at our universities will enrich their programs of research and scholarship and lead to profound educational advantages for all students," said Robert M. Berdahl, president of the AAU. "It is important that we understand the legally sustainable efforts our universities can undertake to achieve diversity, and apply that understanding diligently."

In short, science is essential to our "economic security goals," and "diversity," i.e., more women, blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Aleuts, etc., is "essential" to science because ... well, because it is "essential."

Moving on from the unexplained why to the what and how, what does this in-depth, first-of-a-kind handbook have to say about how "universities can legally promote diversity in science fields"? Here's how --- by "applying strategies such as":

- providing a welcoming, inclusive environment, including appropriate mentoring and other forms of support for minority and women students;

- evaluating race- and gender-neutral criteria such as a track record of inclusive conduct and multi-cultural skills;

-taking into account whether a candidate emerged from a low socio-economic background, or was the first in a family to pursue a four-year college degree;

- the holistic review of each candidate's merit and prospects for success, including quantitative measures such as test scores and grades as well as qualitative essays, recommendations, and interviews; and

-ensuring that all criteria are relevant to the institution and the academic unit's mission and goals, and that the same criteria are applied to each candidate.


Really? Would these do the trick of recruiting and retaining more "diverse" faculty without running afoul of the increasing prohibitions against racial and ethnic preferences? Let's see.

Providing a welcoming, inclusive environment...

It's hard to see how any outpost, even the most remote, of American higher education could be any more "welcoming" to and "inclusive" of the "underrepresented" than they are today, but it would harm nothing to try ... unless such trying involved preferential treatment of those deemed to be "underrepresented."

Evaluating race- and gender-neutral criteria such as a track record of inclusive conduct and multi-cultural skills

This one I find truly intriguing. What is "inclusive conduct"? What are "multi-cultural skills"? Exactly how would a prospective faculty member go about demonstrating his or her "inclusive conduct" or "multi-cultural skills", much less "a track record" of them? Requiring evidence of "inclusive conduct" is reminiscent of Virginia Tech's foray last year into requiring faculty members to show a commitment to "diversity" as part of their bids for tenure and promotion, a requirement that was abandoned after withering fire from F.I.R.E. and the National Association of Scholars.

Taking account of low socio-economic background, first to college, etc.

This may be a good policy, or it may not, but how will having more mathematicians etc. from poor backgrounds or engineers whose parents are not college graduates "enrich research and scholarship" in science? And why would it even increase the number of members of "underrepresented" groups, since there are more poor white and Asians than blacks and Hispanics?

Holistic review ... including test scores, grades, essays, recommendations, etc.

What exactly is "holistic review," if not something that reduces the importance of test scores, grades, and conventional (unholistic) measures of merit? And again, why assume that members of "underrepresented" groups will benefit more from "holistic review" than whites or Asians whose grades and test scores are not sufficient to guarantee admission or hiring?

Ensuring that all criteria are relevant to the institution and the academic unit's mission and goals and are applied equally

If taken seriously, this "strategy" would go a long way toward invalidating the other attempts to increase "diversity" without running afoul of the law. To repeat: how is hiring more blacks or Hispanics or people from poor backgrounds relevant to the mission and goals of, say, the physics department? Unless the conventional, unholistic standards and criteria are lowered only for members of preferred groups (thus violating the equal application strategy), why would hiring more poor applicants (or more precisely, applicants from poor backgrounds, since they may not still be poor) with lower grades and test scores result in hiring more members of "underrepresented" groups? It wouldn't, as the NAACP and similar preference-pushing groups will happily explain. Lee Bollinger, former president of the University of Michigan and currently president of Columbia, is adamant on the subject, stating in a debate last year:

You will not get racial diversity if you just rely on class and wealth. This has been studied by many. If you use only income, you will only increase the proportion of White students and decrease the proportion of African-American and Latino students.

There is one thing, however, that the new American Association for the Advancement of Science/the Association of American Universities handbook does make abundantly clear: the "legally sustainable" methods of achieving more gender, racial, and ethnic "diversity" in science remain as vague and inchoate and the reasons for attempting to achieve it.

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The Manhattan Insitute's Center for the American University.