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SHORT TAKES


August 5, 2012

Thirty Million for Race and Gender Hires at Columbia

In 2005, amidst the Harvard faculty's ultimately successful effort to purge President Larry Summers, Columbia president Lee Bollinger announced that his university would launch its own "diversity" hiring initiative. Bollinger committed $15 million to "add between 15 and 20 outstanding women and minority scholars to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences over the next three to five years" and to "enhance efforts underway to change the process and culture surrounding faculty searches, recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion."

The effort was coordinated by Columbia's first diversity vice provost, Jean Howard, who had managed to distinguish herself as on the ideological fringe even among Columbia's arts and sciences faculty. (A Shakespeare scholar committed to the race/class/gender trinity, Howard's co-authored or co-edited books include Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare's English Histories and Marxist Shakespeares.) Shortly before Bollinger promoted her to become the school's diversity czar, Howard had been in the news for signing a petition calling on Columbia "(1) to use its influence--political and financial--to encourage the United States government to suspend its military aid and arms sales to Israel, and (2) to divest from all companies that manufacture arms and other military hardware sold to Israel, as well from companies that sell such arms and military hardware to Israel." Bollinger never explained why a figure who exercised such grotesque misjudgment by signing the boycott petition was appropriate to coordinate a major hiring initiative.

In a 2005 interview with the Chronicle, Howard denied that the Columbia plan would constitute a racial or gender quota. White males, she said, could be considered for the new positions, though only if "through their scholarship and teaching and mentoring, [they would] in some way promote the diversity goals of the university." (Intellectual or pedagogical diversity, it goes without saying, did not fit the "diversity goals of the university.") It's unclear if, in fact, any white male applicants were seriously considered for the "diversity" positions.

The university's announcement also implied that Columbia wouldn't need to spend more money on exclusionary hiring practices. In 2005, Howard remarked that the initiative would "bring on board a critical cluster of new talent" that would essentially self-replicate and bring in more "diverse" faculty members. In other words: $15 million for racial or gender preferences, but, at the least, no more.

This spring, however, came word from Morningside Heights that Bollinger's administration has decided that despite Howard's promises, and the earlier $15 million spent on preferential hiring, the school needed to do more. And so Columbia will be doubling its 2005 total and spend $30 million more for "diversity" hiring.

To defend allocating such an enormous sum, Bollinger deemed "diversity" initiatives necessary for "fostering the uninhibited exploration of competing ideas and beliefs" on which the academy thrives. Given that Columbia's 2005 effort explicitly excluded some "competing ideas and beliefs"--those of white male applicants whose scholarship didn't "in some way promote the diversity goals of the university"--it's hard to see how "diversity" at Columbia fosters "competing" ideas and beliefs. On the other hand, the university's "diversity" hiring patterns certainly would bring in more faculty members committed to upholding the campus conventional wisdom.

Beyond the dollar amount, there is one apparent difference between the 2005 and 2012 "diversity" initiatives; in 2012, it appears as if Columbia has dropped all pretenses about quota hiring. According to the letter Bollinger submitted to the community, the $30 million will go exclusively "to the recruitment and support of outstanding female and underrepresented minority scholars." It looks as if white males whose scholarship might "promote the diversity goals of the university" are out of luck.

Indeed, in his announcement document, Bollinger all but concedes that a numerical quota guides the new initiative. "Columbia," he wrote, "is poised for new investments in the recruitment of outstanding faculty and postdoctoral scholars from underrepresented groups to more closely reflect the composition of the national pool of qualified candidates."

It's hard to imagine a profession more committed to the use of racial or gender preferences than is the contemporary academy. Given the pro-preferences consensus, what possible rationale could exist for spending $30 million for outright exclusionary hires?

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