From the late Daniel Seligman's Keeping Up column in Fortune:
September 10, 1990,
Soon after this article is printed, it will take up residence in the Nexis database and, apparently, become the only verbiage in disk memory whose author is unenthusiastic about diversity in education. The "apparently" is in there because we did not have the strength to make it through every one of the stories that turned up in a Nexis search the other day. We had asked our electronic buddy for all articles wherein "diversity" appears within 30 words of "college," and there is no doubt that the ensuing avalanche showed boundless support for the D word.
Most of the 1,266 entries proffered by Nexis concerned the efforts of colleges to diversify on the racial, sexual, and (a late starter) sex-preferential fronts. (Item No. 56 was about the chap who cited himself as an example of diversity in that he was the first openly gay valedictorian in
Dartmouth history.) Our own special favorite was Item No. 81, a letter to the editor of the New York Times from Mary S. Hartman, dean of all-female Douglass College. Mary was writing about the recent controversy at all-female Mills College, and it turned out, somewhat unstunningly, that she favored the students' efforts there to continue excluding the swains. You might think this was an antidiversity posture, but Mary is too cagey to get caught in one. Her letter argues that single-sex colleges like Mills actually increase diversity by offering another option for female students -- a line of reasoning that management unaccountably forgot to invoke at the Shoal Creek Country Club.
The standard argument for diversity is that it is inherently educational -- that college students learn more when they are surrounded by different kinds of people. This argument was resoundingly sustained by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1978 Bakke case, which raised the question of whether a university violated the U.S. Constitution by "taking race into account" in the admissions process. In voting nay on that question, the Court quoted an earlier opinion holding that truth is discovered "out of a multitude of tongues" and that a diverse student body enhances the atmosphere of "speculation, experiment, and creation." Also cited in Bakke was the view of an unnamed Princeton graduate who had discovered, possibly as a result of personal experience: "People do not learn very much when they are surrounded only by the likes of themselves."
But somewhere along the way, something has happened to this standard argument for diversity. One problem is that those rhetorical flourishes in the Bakke opinion seem to have no basis in empirical data. A 1985 book called Choosing Elites, by Robert Klitgaard, looked closely at the evidence and concluded: "The educational benefits of diversity . . . are hard to substantiate." Klitgaard, an economist who had been deeply involved in Harvard's admissions process, concluded that universities might be in a more tenable, or at least more intellectually honest, position if they forthrightly acknowledged that preferential admissions policies were designed to help minority groups -- and stopped claiming some mysterious spillover effect that helps students in general.
A more serious, more sinister problem for the Supremes' analysis is that the claims made in the name of diversity seem to get more politicized every year. A fair number of our Nexis printouts concern demands for curricular changes to accompany preferential admissions policies. Succumbing to pressure from radical minority activists, the University of California at Berkeley will require each undergraduate to take at least one course in American Cultural Diversity, and the course must include ethnic cheerleading for at least three groups selected from a menu of five: whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians.
The latest bad news on this front comes from the University of Delaware. It centers on Linda Gottfredson, a sociologist based at Delaware and a founder of the Project for the Study of Intelligence and Society. Professor Gottfredson has been receiving foundation grants to support her work, much of which has concerned the social consequences of racial differences in intelligence. The grants were provided by the Pioneer Fund, an organization that keeps getting
smeared as "racist" because it finances a fair amount of scholarly research, at many universities, on racial differences.
Recently, the university ruled that nobody at Delaware could continue to receive money from Pioneer. The reason given by Andrew B. Kirkpatrick Jr., chairman of the board of trustees, is that the institution is committed to more "racial and cultural diversity," and this commitment could be "hampered" if university people took money from foundations identified with the idea of group differences.
Nutshell brief, the news is that in the name of diversity we must not study these differences. Ironic, what?