Virginia Tech has been receiving some unwelcome but necessary scrutiny of late over the emphasis its college of arts and humanities has been giving to a divisive issue: diversity. The Virginia Association of Scholars, the National Association of Scholars, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni all have voiced concerns about an apparent attempt to mau-mau professors into toeing an ideological line.
Last year a memo from Tech’s provost stressed the need for candidates seeking promotion or tenure to “do a better job of participating in and documenting their involvement in diversity initiatives”—an effort, it said, that was “especially important for candidates seeking promotion to full professor.” Draft guidelines for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences stipulate that “the university and college committees require special attention to be given to documenting involvement in diversity initiatives.”
That involvement can entail anything from “self-education” through “participating in diversity awareness workshops” to “revising a course reading list to incorporate concepts, readings, and scholarship on issues of gender, race, and other perspectives.” It seems fair to assume that the diversity police at Tech might look more kindly on a professor who revised his syllabus to include scholarship from left-wing critical race theorists than, say, the works of conservatives such as Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell.
Why? For one thing, the college’s diversity committee defines diversity as “the desirability and value of many kinds of individual differences while at the same time acknowledging and respecting that socially constructed differences based on certain characteristics exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege . . . .[D]iversity is to be actively advanced because it fosters excellence in learning, discovery, and engagement.”
That loaded definition, with its warmed-over structuralist cliches, is a tightly packed portmanteau of ideological assumptions about the relationship between the individual and society. It also contains dubious factual assertions. As the Virginia Association of Scholars points out, the connection between diversity and academic excellence is not exactly cut-and-dried: Historically black colleges and universities, for instance, claim a robust record of achievement. (The same might be said of demographically homogenous institutions of higher learning in, e.g., Japan.)
None of this is to say diversity is objectionable in the abstract. Of course it is not. It is, in fact, commendable—just as patriotism is commendable in the abstract. But imagine for a moment the reaction if Tech officials insisted that candidates for promotion and tenure do a better job of documenting their involvement in patriotism initiatives. Imagine the school encouraging professors to attend flagpole rallies, to organize Fourth of July parades, or to include in their syllabi writers who celebrate the robust virtues of Americanism. Members of the university committee would ask—rightly—what any of that had to do with how well they taught Chaucer, or the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And they would assume, again rightly, that dissident interpretations of patriotism might meet with a jaundiced eye when promotion candidates came up for review.
The policy is not yet cast in stone. It resembles a bill introduced in Congress but not yet signed by the president. There is time for revision. And there is ample cause for revision as well. Here’s hoping wiser heads at Tech make necessary changes—before young professors find themselves having to recite from the modern equivalent of the Little Red Book.