Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Diversity, Part 3. The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

At what level of granularity can we say that Diversity has been achieved, or that we are on the cusp of achieving genuine Diversity.

For the moment, let’s stick with the ethnic and racial categories used by the Census Bureau and higher education’s Common Data Set itemized in Part 2.  We can add in gender, sexual preference, age, socio-economic-status, geography, and other categories at a later time.

Let’s also, for the sake of simplification, use proportional representation among the population at large as the standard for complete or perfect Diversity.  For example, if Blacks or African-Americans (hereafter Blacks) constitute 13% of the population, then full Diversity is achieved when 13% of the population in an organization is Black.  Ditto for other ethnic groups and races.

Diversity is very much akin to the older political issue of segregation/integration, when neighborhoods, schools, and employment patterns were predominantly White or Black, and in a few instances Hispanic.  The challenge then was to integrate schools and end segregated neighborhoods.

How was integration, or progress toward residential integration, to be measured?  By block, subdivision, neighborhood, precinct, census tract, and/or SMSA (Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area)?  How about schools?  By elementary, middle-school and high school, or by the School District at large?  How many Black students had to attend each White school to achieve integration? Should Blacks be allowed to retain historically Black high schools and colleges if that was the overwhelming preference of parents, students, and faculties?  These were highly charged issues and the means chosen to resolve them, such as forced busing, magnet and charter schools, among others, remain controversial.

Back to Diversity?  I have been observing efforts to bring Diversity to universities and colleges for 50 years since my appointment at the University of Rochester in 1968, which was right in the midst of the Black Power Movement.  Let’s think about Diversity in higher education as it applies to students, faculty, staff, Trustees, and top administrators.

Let’s start with undergraduates.  Is the appropriate measure of full Diversity the percentage admission and enrollment of each ethnic/racial category in the population at large for “national universities?”  Should it be the state for state universities? The city/county for local colleges?

Ditto for graduate students, although a substantial number in many schools are foreign nationals, who conveniently pay full fare?  Ditto for each school in a university (Humanities & Sciences, Engineering, Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, Business, Law, Education, and Medicine)?  Ditto for faculty in each school and/or each department within each school?  Ditto for support and administrative staff in each department and school.  Ditto for board of trustees and top administrators (president, provost, deans)?

Many deans of Engineering Schools are making Diversity a priority among students and faculty given the historically low percentage of underrepresented minorities (and women) among their students and faculties.  This specialized emphasis suggests that Diversity should extend deeper into the schools of a university rather than be defined in terms of an overall percentage of underrepresented minorities (and women) in the university as a whole.

The matter of measurement, an agreed-upon numerical scale and the appropriate level (s) to which it applies in any organization, is critical to claims about progress towards Diversity.  To date, measurement has received little consideration in discussions about Diversity.

Let’s go a little further.  Proponents of Diversity claim it is the key to excellence in universities (and other organizations).  If you unaware of their arguments, you will find them in the Diversity and Inclusion sections that are prominently featured in the websites of most universities, businesses, non-profit organizations, and public agencies in the United States

A growing number of top officials in universities claim that their schools might not be viable several decades from now if they fail to achieve comprehensive Diversity.  How can universities survive 20-30 years from now, especially in the West and Southwest, with 80-90% White and 70-80% male faculty, when Hispanics will be an absolute majority and women 60% of undergraduate and graduate enrollment.  Whites, for their part, will decline to only 30% of the population in the West and Southwest.  Whites were only 20% and males only 40% in the first-year class of 2018-19 at UCLA.  Diversity implies that student and faculty ethnic/racial (and women) percentages should approximately, or at least more closely, align.

Are there circumstances in which the pursuit of Diversity is wrong?  In professional and collegiate sports, skills dictate the selection of players (e.g., basketball players are mostly Black and hockey players almost entirely White).  Same for the selection of subjects for medical trials of drugs to treat diseases that disproportionately or exclusively afflict different ethnic, racial, nationality, and gender groups.

Is it necessary to be Black to do Black studies and Female to do Feminist studies?  Can an all-Chinese cast perform Porgy and Bess?  Must the Beach Boys include a female member?  Can an A Capella group be solely male?  Are these acceptable exclusions from Diversity? 

There are indeed activities where it makes sense to grant waivers or exemptions from Diversity.  Perhaps experts from many backgrounds and fields should try to develop lists of activities that qualify for waivers or exemptions.  That is, begin by identifying principles and examples of Exclusion to determine what can and should be Diversity and Inclusion.

The next post will address these questions, starting from the bottom up with groups that should be excluded from Diversity to identifying groups that should be included.  Then we have to develop a consensus on measurement to quantify Diversity and Inclusion.  What should be the allowable plus/minus variation from proportional representation in any organization and at all its levels?


Jeff said...

It seems to me (and has for some time) that diversity has ceased being the means it should be, and has become an end in itself. To me, that is as misguided as a quota system.

Quotas are a bad thing. I know of no way they can be good. Sadly, every week it seems a new category pops up. We can't even agree on how many sexes there are.

Quotas fail us here: If a club, for example, allows [insert group] to join, but that group chooses not to, the club isn't wrong. If diversity is an end, then the club is not "diverse." What if another category pops up (not enough left-handed immigrant lesbians with PhDs, to be facetious). It immediately becomes ridiculous.

RDL said...

Diversity as practiced by any public or private organization is no different than any other form of racism. Equal opportunity is quite different from equal outcome. Merit should be the primary basis for judging individuals, not skin color, religion, sex, or your ancestors.

Billycon said...

Just re-read Brave New World. We are not so far away.