By Heather Mac Donald
There may be jobs requiring greater mendacity than a college affirmative action officer - college president comes to mind - but there can't be many. The ideal college affirmative action officer lies about his mission not only without regret but also without awareness, so brainwashed has he become in the foolish ideology of "diversity." The following false propositions form the cornerstone of the college diversity charade:
1. The fact that your college still has not achieved proportional representation of blacks, Hispanics, and women in certain fields, such as the sciences, is because it hasn't put enough effort into finding them. The problem is not that there is an insufficient number of qualified minorities and women to go around. (It is acceptable here to imply that your college may even be discriminating against "diverse" candidates.)
2. The diversity push that you are always in the process of initiating is a first-ever event; now that you have finally made it clear that your college values "diversity," the long-overlooked "diversity" candidates will magically materialize.
3. There is no conflict between "diversity" and high academic standards; as the most fluent diversity-speakers love to intone: "diversity" is part of excellence.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to pose some questions regarding the above diversity credo to the University of California at San Diego's chief diversity officer, Jorge Huerta; Mr. Huerta was kind enough to respond (by e-mail). Our exchange is below.
Jorge Huerta's job makes demands well beyond the above generic requirements for a diversity bureaucrat. Being a diversity officer in the University of California demands Major League talent in the art of obfuscation, because by law your job should not even exist. In 1996, Californians voted to abolish race and gender preferences throughout government, including in higher education. That vote meant that the massive apparatus for bringing in under-qualified minorities and women as students and faculty to state-supported universities should have packed up and gone home, because from then on, California schools were supposed to have been race- and color-blind.
Of course, things didn't work out that way (read more on the topic here). Not a single affirmative action officer was let go; if anything their skills in evasion became more essential. The University of California campuses are trying just as frantically to "diversify" their faculty and student bodies, but they have to pretend that race and gender has nothing to do with their efforts. How do they cope with the cognitive dissonance? Huerta's responses to my questions suggest how: by simply stonewalling any demand for a straight answer and by a shameless display of diversity doublespeak.
The Huerta exchange shows the degree to which our universities have ceased being places of free inquiry and the pursuit of truth. Instead, students learn from adults in authority that truth is to be avoided at all costs, including at the expense of basic coherence. How this lesson in cynicism affects students later in life is a question deserving of further study.
Q: As I understand it, when an academic department at UC San Diego initiates a faculty search, you provide an analysis of that department's racial and gender composition with the aim of helping the department increase its diversity.
A: The UC San Diego Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity completes that analysis. At UC San Diego, we view every recruitment effort as an opportunity to bring us closer to our goal of greater diversity..
Q: Do you believe that there are undiscovered black Ph.D.'s in nuclear physics, say (to choose a field at random), or in other hard science and engineering fields, who have not already been identified by every university in the country seeking to diversify itself? Isn't every university in the country chasing the same very small number of underrepresented minorities in the sciences?
A: UC San Diego is very focused on increasing diversity among faculty in the sciences as well as in other disciplines. It could be said, perhaps, that we are all vying for the same excellent candidates, precisely because they are excellent. This may make the process more challenging but it does not change UC San Diego's level of commitment and long-term goals
Q: Do you think that without friendly encouragement from yourself or other administrators, a physics department, say (this is a purely hypothetical example) would discriminate against - or even merely ignore - highly qualified and competitive minority physicists?
A: I think all academic departments at UC San Diego are well-aware of the university's strong commitment to achieving greater levels of diversity. UC San Diego's chancellor Marye Anne Fox and I have made it a point to communicate the importance of this goal to all academic leaders and department heads. In addition, I think faculty at UC San Diego realize that a more diverse faculty that more accurately reflects the citizens of California is in everyone's best interests
Q: If you don't think that a department would discriminate against a competitive minority scientist, might oversight from a diversity officer be interpreted as friendly pressure to make race-conscious hiring decisions?
A: The administration of UC San Diego cannot tell any academic department who to hire. Further, we are prohibited by law (Proposition 209) from using race as a factor in hiring. This makes achieving our goals more challenging but it just means we have to try harder through outreach and other efforts.
Q: You said in the La Prensa article that "you cannot have excellence without diversity." To take a purely hypothetical example, do you think that a cancer lab at UCSD, say, that was composed overwhelmingly of Chinese and South East Asian researchers and that was developing a way to turn off a cancer-prone gene, would be less "excellent" for its lack of underrepresented minorities?
A: I believe that's been taken out of context. Of course, a group of scientists who are not ethnically diverse can conduct excellent research. Our goal at UC San Diego is to achieve greater levels of diversity - ethnically, intellectually, and in terms of gender. Diverse perspectives lead to a more competitive and stimulating marketplace of ideas and the outcome of this is excellence in the greater community.
Q: If you do believe that such a lab would be less excellent than a lab with black or Chicano researchers, do you believe, to repeat my question from above, that there are competitive underrepresented minority [URM] microbiologists that UCSD is overlooking?
A: Those "competitive" URMS may be overlooking UC San Diego.
When he is not purporting not to pressure departments into hiring by race and gender, Mr. Huerta works with UC San Diego's Cross-Cultural Center, its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Association, and its Women's Center on a "Dialogue on Race" to celebrate what Huerta calls "innovations in equity, diversity and excellence." Those "innovations" will presumably not include straight-speaking.
Heather MacDonald is a John M. Olin fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal.