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Monday, April 20, 2009

My Response to the Va Tech Diversity Mess

This was originally intended this as a guest op/ed for the Chronicle of Higher Education, but someone else more knowledgeable than me (John L. Jackson, Jr.) beat me to it, and did it better than I could (see at Here's mine, for what it's worth:

“This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Stanley!” That’s my initial reaction, as a grad student at Virginia Tech and supporter of diversity initiatives, to the step announced yesterday (April 15, 2009) to backtrack on the wording of diversity as a criterion to be considered for promotion and tenure at my school. The problem is in identifying the “Stanley” that’s to blame. There are plenty of candidates:

1. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for raising a big fuss by branding the policy a “requirement” and “litmus test” and infringement on “academic freedom.” Of course, that’s their job, and their name makes their ideology, individualism, clear.

2. Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, for backtracking on the institution’s stated commitment to diversity as soon as the heat got turned up. Giving in to outside pressure groups like FIRE only empowers them, and disempowers the

3. Virginia Tech Provost Mark McNamee for apparently carelessly using the word “requirement” one time in a memo in referring to a policy which clearly was no such thing.

4. The Chronicle for Higher Education, for giving space to the complaints of a group like FIRE. What credentials does that group present, how large a constituency do they represent, that justifies opening the gate to allow their complaint to be aired uncritically to all your readers? And Robin Wilson used the term “requirement” as if that were what it was, rather than what some critics were characterizing it as.

5. We the supporters of diversity initiatives at Virginia Tech and other institutions of higher education. We weren’t vigilant enough, were complacent, too trusting that surely the “storm” that was brewing would be recognized as just a dirt devil and allowed to die without action.

No matter where we place the blame, once again damage is done to the reputation of a land grant college that is designed to serve a representative constituency of its residents whose tax support provides its lifeline, yet currently has a student body that is 4.3% African American (and the number for faculty is even lower), versus 18.4% of the state of Virginia , Aside from this most glaring statistic involving blacks, we also, like many schools, have an underrepresentation of women (especially as full professors on up), Hispanics, Native Americans, sexual minorities, the disabled, and other groups continuing to struggle against barriers intentionally constructed over many decades, and which require, in my opinion, intentional efforts to dismantle. When true diversity is achieved, we all win. What do we fear—loss of privilege?

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