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November 8, 2012

Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover, But...

You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, or its title, but how about from an extended interview with the authors?

On November 2, Inside Higher Ed carried such an interview with the three authors of a new book entitled Occupying the Academy. The authors, Christine Clark (a professor of multicultural education at UNLV), Kenneth Fasching-Varner (a professor of elementary education at LSU), and Mark Brimhall-Vargas (associate director of the Office of Diversity Education and Compliance at the University of Maryland), want people to know, as their subtitle puts it, just how important diversity work is in higher education.

Reading through the interview, we never find out exactly what "diversity work" is. Once the admissions people have done their best to engineer a student body that has the right quotas of students of certain ancestries, what more is there to do for the "diversity workers" to do? I have ordered the book and will read it to find out, but I think that the honest answer is that they pretend to keep busy by obsessing over student differences. Diversity work entails a constant search for issues of "insensitivity" that can be used to pry money out of administrators.

That money is very important to these diversiphiles becomes clear in the interview. Diversity offices, we read, "face problems that are largely invisible and hard to understand. They are often starved of resources or are constantly made to scramble for declining resources. This climate of instability makes it hard so that the workers dedicated to equity and diversity are always unsure of whether they will be around."

Apparently it does not occur to those diversity workers that almost every part of every university now has to scramble for resources and that if they don't get all the funding they want, it could be because departments that actually do some educating are regarded as more important.

An idea as to the inflated sense of self-importance of these diversity workers comes from Professor Clark's statement that following Obama's election, she expected that "our work would get easier, become more respected, be more well-funded, and be able to penetrate further in more substantive ways into the fabric of the academy." You can probably guess why those dreams didn't come true - racism.

Furthermore, we learn that diversity workers, displaying the victim mentality that Bruce Bawer brilliantly describes in his book The Victims' Revolution, believe that they are "under assault."

Now, I doubt very much that there has ever been a single assault - much less a battery - against any diversity worker. The alleged assault consists of not having a "guarantee that they will have access to the places where meaningful change can happen." What that means is that the guilt-ridden academic officials who get mau-maued into creating "diversity offices" don't actually take them seriously, so they can't "have a real chance at changing the campus composition and climate." Don't the diversity workers understand that they're nothing more than politically correct ornamentation on campus? It's as if the guards at Buckingham Palace complained that they don't get to play any role in preparing the defense of the nation.

Again, I will read Occupying the Academy when I get it. If the authors make a persuasive case that all of this "diversity work" is something other than a sheer waste of money, I will be glad to say so.

Comments (2)

Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell:

Dear George,

Yup, you should have read the book, and then posted a comment. BIG SIGH...

The work to ensure that everyone has equal access to a higher education and can navigate unencumbered regardless of background is not finished. Far from it! That's the core reason diversity offices are needed on campuses. Although, many function as tokens, as in "gee, we have a diversity office, but do you expect them to DO anything?" Those of us who are truly concerned that opportunity is affored to everyone know that the real work of diversity has just begun.

Shame on you George, to review a book based on an interview. And shame on you for thinking we true do live in a society wherein everyone regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, linguistice difference and economic background has a fair shot.

Maybe you will get the point after you read the book. My response is neither vicious or obscene, but will it be printed?

M-M

george Leef:

I made a point of saying that I was not reviewing the book, but just calling into question its professed need for "diversity work."

So, the reason for "diversity work" is to give all students a "fair shot" regardless of their "gender, race/ethnicity, linguistice difference (sic) and economic background." In my experience and from everything I have ever read about the nature of campus life today, you'd have to look awfully hard to find any professor who doesn't try to accommodate students no matter what their background. The idea that colleges need an overlay of "diversity workers" to help struggling students strikes me as nothing but a rationale for continued administrative bloat. Some students undoubtedly need academic help, but obsessing over their race, gender, and so on accomplishes little or nothing. It may even be counterproductive to the extent that it encourages students to adopt the "victim" mindset.

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