Monday, July 03, 2006

For July 4th: Freedom, Democracy, and Googled Diversity

This from Craig Smith of Free Exchange on Campus, on a recent report released by the National Association of Scholars. After googling the word "diversity" at 99 college websites, the NAS concluded that institutions of higher education in the US demonstrate "an obsession with diversity unparalleled in any other sector of American opinion leadership.” Patriotic words like "freedom," "democracy" and "liberty" do not appear nearly as frequently as this shibboleth of the liberal elite. You might think that googling a word and noting its prevalence is an excellent indicator of politics, ideology, and love of country. You might also wear a tinfoil cap to keep Al Gore from probing your mind. Smith writes:
Stop! Just stop! Stop putting out “research” that wouldn’t pass muster in a high school class! Stop surveying the “top” schools and suggesting that tells us anything about all 4,000 institutions in this country staffed by over 1 million faculty and instructors, teaching over 16 million students! Stop suggesting that higher education is some monolithic “sector” that is marching lock step to some liberal ideology! Stop screaming that higher education is leading the fall of our country! Please stop, and let us get back to the issues that really matter for higher education.

It is also worth noting that Hiram Hover, employing the same sterling methodology, discovered that Halliburton is in fact more obsessed with diversity than these googled universities.


Anonymous said...

Is there something wrong with diversity, such that it is being Googled as if someone is searching for the prevalence of paedophiles in Congress or the like?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Although I don't want to inhabit the mind of a NAS scholar for very long, it seems that "diversity" is bad to deploy because it erodes the Great Tradition. It'd be like, you know, giving Chaucer less room on your medieval literature syllabus to make room for a hack writer like Marie de France.

By the way, there's a story on this issue at Inside Higher Ed.

Glaukôpis said...

Well, diversity itself is good, but it's become a bit meaningless--one of those words you just use to get people's attention and make yourself look good. It's becoming more jargon than an actually meaningful word.

Karl Steel said...

giving Chaucer less room on your medieval literature syllabus

Or respecting the main line of English culture by eliminating all non-native English genres from Chaucer, which leaves us with...the Cook's Tale and the Prologue? At least from line 19 and on, maybe. (in other words, if I can identify a genre, it's probably not "English" originally).

And of course any Latin marginalia would have to be dumped in the interests of the English-only crowd (per this, Baswell does a nice job in the Bob Hanning festschrift).

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Glaukôpis: that's why I called it a shibboleth. I'm not so sure that academics employ it as obsessively as, say, the NAS claims. And there might be a world of difference between diversity as workplace desideratum and diversity as a curricular strength.

In my understanding (limited, because not based upon a deep reading of NAS materials), "diversity" is troubling because under its seemingly benign cover liberal academics do things like replace rigorous analysis of Shakespeare with rants by Ward Churchill.

Maybe that does/can/will happen, but such dumbing down and exclusion hasn't been my own experience of curricular expansion. When, for example, we at GW decided to open up our English Dept. to include Latino/a literature and hired an expert in Cuban American literature, we sought someone who would build upon our current strengths and bring us in new intellectual directions [those of you who know my work know also that I'm a big of fan of intermixing Caribbean PoCo theory and the study of the Middle Ages; the same holds true, I think, for expanding the geographic imagination of English departments more generally and making them more like Medieval Studies]. I should also add that at the same time as we hired our Latino/a scholar we added a specialist in the temporal period between the medieval and early modern. Both do phenomenal work, and have made us -- in many senses of the word -- more diverse.

Karl has it right: anxiety over diversity is typically an anxiety over the state of the present, but the argument against diversity is typically built upon a myth of a pure past. As if such a thing had ever come to be.

Glaukôpis said...

Oh, I don't think academics themselves really employ it that obsessively, but I did notice while applying to grad schools that academic institutions seem pretty obsessed.

I'm really not complaining though, because it certainly has its merits (and I'd argue my own interests are pretty diverse too). It's more of an interesting observation--and a slight worry that when I employ the word, people won't take me quite so seriously.