July 6, 2012

Where the White/Jewish Category Leads

A few weeks ago, controversy erupted after a diversity report prepared by two CUNY committees identified a "White/Jewish" category among the university's faculty. (There was and is absolutely no reason to believe that this new designation reflected the thinking of either Chancellor Matthew Goldstein or the Board of Trustees, nor was there any reason to believe, based on their longtime records, that either Goldstein or the current Board ever would have implemented a policy based on the designation.) The "White/Jewish" designation nonetheless attracted a negative editorial in the Post and a good deal of negative commentary elsewhere.

The Atlantic's Wendy Kaminer offered her usual on-point analysis: "CUNY's diversity study promotes the perverse belief that identity groups undermine bias and stereotyping. It also implicitly endorses stereotyping, attributing particular 'cognitive styles' or 'intellectual outlooks' to particular groups. This is the essential incoherence at the heart of bureaucratic diversity initiatives: They combat stereotypes by relying on them." And CUNY, she adds, is hardly alone--this problem is at the heart of all institutions that use "diversity" preferences.

Unlike most critics of the CUNY study, who focused primarily or exclusively on the largely extraneous "White/Jewish" issue, Kaminer appropriately placed the controversy in a broader framework--namely, what the decision to create such a category (even if the category, as in this case, would never have translated into policy) said about the motives and mindset of the report's authors, and the logical shortcomings of the academy's fetish about "diversity."

On both political and labor fronts, the "diversity" situation at CUNY is as extreme as any university in the country. Politically, the majority Republicans who control the state Senate too often disengage from CUNY affairs (most Senate Republicans represent upstate or Long Island districts for which SUNY matters are more pressing), leaving university officials to deal almost exclusively with Democrats. At the city level especially, those Democrats can be quite radical indeed.

For instance, for several years the New York City Council Education Committee was chaired by the anti-white, anti-Israel, anti-gay bigot Charles Barron. (After his hatred for Israel earned him the endorsement of David Duke, Barron recently lost a congressional primary by 48 points; he promptly demanded a recount.) After Barron became too much of an embarrassment for the city Democratic leadership, Council Speaker Christine Quinn replaced him as chair with Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez. In 2010, Rodriguez convened a hearing to complain about the "lack of diversity" among CUNY's faculty--even though the non-white percentage of CUNY professors is almost the exact same as the non-white percentage of the U.S. population. Barron chimed in that "if we're the new majority, then we should be the majority of the faculty." Both men suggested there should be a linkage between the racial and ethnic demographic composition of the faculty and the comparable composition of either the student body or of New York City (both of which are majority-minority).

The Rodriguez/Barron suggestion that CUNY's faculty demographics should mirror those of the city ignores the fact that CUNY recruits nationally, not simply from New York City. Moreover, how would the Rodriguez/Barron approach apply to schools like the University of Idaho, the University of Maine, or the University of Vermont? Would Barron and Rodriguez argue that the faculties of these three universities should reflect the miniscule (less than 1 percent) black populations of each of the three states? Or does the Barron/Rodriguez faculty-by-quota approach operate in one way only?

There is, of course, one straightforward way for CUNY to reach the majority-minority faculty so eagerly desired by Barron and, seemingly, Rodriguez: abolish tenure. That way, the university could reconfigure its faculty at the start of the next academic year, so as to reach the desired quota level of "diversity" advocates. Indeed, given the realities of tenure and the small annual turnover at CUNY (or any other major university), abolishing tenure would seem to be the only way to achieve the quick demographic breakdown for which many "diversity" advocates yearn.

Any reasonable union would worry about the threat of "majority-minority" politicians turning on tenure. Instead, the leaders of the CUNY faculty union, the PSC, have joined with Barron in public protest rallies, and they seem to have embraced Barron's diversity extremism. In 2007 testimony, for instance, the PSC vice-president complained about how only 35 percent of the university's faculty were minorities--at that point a figure almost identical to the overall percentage of minorities in the U.S. population. Like Barron, the union pegged appropriate diversity totals to the diversity breakdown of the student body. It's worth mentioning that both the longtime president and the longtime vice-president of the CUNY union are white: their commitment to "diversity" doesn't extend to their own positions, which have remained lily-white for more than a decade and show every sign of remaining non-"diverse."

The issue that CUNY faces, then, is upholding quality in the midst of massive political and labor pressure to utilize "diversity" as the most significant factor in personnel actions. Certainly the CUNY committees that introduced the "White/Jewish" category appear to have internalized this pressure. And while no serious observer could possibly believe that the current CUNY administration would consider the concept of a Jewish quota, the report should raise some troubling questions about the appropriate limits of a "diversity" policy.

The clearest data comes regarding the gender breakdown of CUNY's new hires. If hiring continues at its current rate, women will be 52 percent of the CUNY faculty in 2020 and 57 percent in 2030. In the most recent year for which CUNY supplied data (2005), 55.5 percent of the new hires were women; women were also more likely to receive tenure than men. It's entirely possible that each of these new hires was the best possible candidate for the position. But if, as the data suggest over an extended period, women have been hired at a rate well above their percentage of the overall U.S. population, at what point would CUNY (or any university) need to eliminate structures to guard against women being treated unfairly in the personnel process? When women comprise 60 percent of the faculty? Seventy percent? Eighty percent?

Second, the report poses the question of what should constitute a desired level of "diversity." Page after page of the CUNY committee's report discusses the university's efforts to hire more African-American faculty. Yet the data shows that 12.7 percent of the faculty is black or African-American, just below the overall black percentage of the population (13.1 percent). And that healthy level comes despite issues with the academic pipeline--that African-Americans enter graduate school at a lower percentage than their overall population--that CUNY administrators correctly cited in the Rodriguez/Barron hearing.

Finally, to what extent do the "diversity" bureaucratic structures at CUNY (or at any university) have other, unintended effects on the personnel process--chiefly by encouraging creation of race/class/gender-oriented positions that are perceived as more likely to yield a minority hire, even at the cost of weakening pedagogical or intellectual diversity on campus?

A committee inclined to create new (if policy-irrelevant) "diversity" preferences such as "White/Jewish" surely will not consider such questions. Nor, of course, will "majority-minority" advocates on the New York Council or the "diversity"-obsessed faculty union. I fear that critics distracted by the "White/Jewish" question will miss the far more important policy questions that the report raises.

Comments (1)


Justice Roberts put it best: The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

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Published by the Manhattan Institute
The Manhattan Insitute's Center for the American University.