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Commentary By Heather Mac Donald

Dartmouth Does Diversity

Cities New York City

A bad idea whose time has come . . . again and again and again.

THE COUNTRY IS ON THE BRINK OF WAR, it faces the likelihood of another terrorist attack, and the New York Times is worried that Americans are not paying enough attention to race and gender. Two front-page articles on November 12--one on college diversity programs, the other on a golf club’s all-male membership policy--offer a stunning demonstration of the loony irrelevance of Howell Raines’s Times.

The academic obsession with “racial difference” has been an exhaustively documented feature of campus life for over two decades, yet the Times offers its story on the alleged necessity of college diversity training as a scoop. The article, “Colleges Find Diversity Is Not Just Numbers,” leads with a freshman orientation program at Dartmouth College that focuses on racial difference. The Times presents the program as part of Dartmouth’s “new push” to “embrac[e] diversity.” That “push” is itself part of a broader trend across colleges to respond to difference, announces the Times.

It’s difficult to know which party suffers from a more severe case of amnesia: the Times or Dartmouth. A decade ago, the paper ran an article on the “new freshman orientation . . . in the new world of diversity and multiculturalism.” The “new” freshman orientation of 1992 featured programs on racial, ethnic, and sexual difference, premised on the idea that without diversity reeducation, certain college students would subject certain other students to an unceasing barrage of discrimination. The “new” freshman orientation of 2002 features, well, programs on racial, ethnic, and sexual difference, premised on the idea that without diversity reeducation, certain college students would subject certain other students to an unceasing barrage of discrimination. The “new” Dartmouth of 2002 offers staff workshops on “think[ing] of [the college] in terms of classism, racism, and sexism,” reports the Times. In 1992, Dartmouth required freshmen to attend workshops on “the various forms of ’isms’: sexism, racism, classism, etc.,” an assistant dean of freshmen told me back then in an interview for the Wall Street Journal.

But this dreary monotony is just the point. The diversity industry, of which the New York Times is an integral part, perpetuates itself by constantly repackaging as new old nostrums about alleged ethnic friction and its therapeutic solution. However hoary the conceits in the Times’s recent college diversity article, it is worth studying in some detail as a textbook example of the diversity industry in action.

The college diversity scam contains four perennial features: (1) administrative deceit; (2) the pretense of acute minority and female fragility; (3) the hypocritical insistence on having it both ways; and (4) assiduous avoidance of the one true difference problem on campus.

Dartmouth’s president, James Wright, told incoming freshmen this year that the faculty and administration were “eager” to help them in the “challenge” of transcending “boundaries” of race and class, reports the Times. This is pure bunk. If college administrators really wanted to help students transcend “difference,” they would stop yapping about it all the time. President Wright made his offer in a speech on “diversity,” thus underlining the very differences he claims to want to overcome. Moreover, he presides over an administration and curriculum organized around racial, ethnic, and sexual identity. Dartmouth students will soon be required to take a course in “identity formation.”

If university bureaucrats were truly interested in unifying their campuses, they could try a radical experiment: immerse students in the rigorous study of great works of literature, art, and philosophy, the achievements of science and math, and the history of nations, period. Stop harping on racism and sexism and the “challenges” of overcoming difference. Assume that students actually have the capacity to make friends without the intercession of counselors and diversity deans.

Such a daring experiment will never happen, however. Too many administrative and faculty salaries depend on keeping difference awareness at full boil. Dartmouth, for example, employs separate, full-time advisers to Latino/Latina; Asian and Asian-American; African-American; and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students. Such balkanized advising implies that Asian and black students, for example, don’t share the ordinary problems faced by college students--homesickness, loony roommates, or academic overload--but instead need separate counselors who specialize in ethnicity. No wonder the college has convened a “Committee on Civil Discourse,” chaired, predictably, by the director of equal opportunity and affirmative action. The committee will “maintain facilitator programs that encourage student interactions”--just what you’d expect in a world where Latino and black students allegedly need color-coded advisers. In such a world, students also need an army of “facilitators” to carry messages across the color and ethnicity line.

The second standard assumption of college diversity discourse is the psychological frailty of non-white and female students. According to the Times, an “internal” Dartmouth report (actually produced by the Committee on Institutional Diversity and Equity) found that minority students “felt damaged” by the college. Not just minority students, however. In the hyperventilating style favored by difference ideologues, the report’s authors wrote that to hear from “students of color, women of all races and gay, lesbian or bisexual students who felt hurt, unvalued and ultimately less important to the mission of the college than others was searing indeed.”

That “others” is particularly choice. By elimination, the only group not feeling pain at Dartmouth, it would seem, are heterosexual white males. The committee could have had the courage to name those insensate boors.

Now, I have never visited Dartmouth, but at the risk of offending its leaders, I will venture the following wagers: That it is as chock-full of kindly, racially “sensitive,” well-meaning faculty and administrators as any liberal elite college can be. That the vast majority of its adults are entirely wrapped up in the mission of “diversity” and would like nothing better than to see Dartmouth’s minority students succeed. That its student body is friendly and open-minded.

These are fighting words, and will likely provoke outrage from Dartmouth’s diversity machine. In defending the image of Dartmouth as “damaging” and in need of further interventions, however, the diversity therapists will have to contend with several awkward facts: Every ethnic group but Caucasians has its own academic department; the college awards honorary degrees on the basis of color, according to its former president; and it woos black high school seniors of middling academic achievement with four-day, all-expenses-paid visits to the campus, complete with tickets to rap concerts and football games, and waives those students’ application fees, as the Times itself reported in 1993.

As for women and gays, Dartmouth’s women’s and gender studies department offers them a cornucopia of ego-massaging fluff, courses such as “Here and Queer,” “Writing, Eating and the Construction of Gender,” “Gender, Space and the Environment,” “Constructing Black Womanhood,” and “Television and Histories of Gender.”

It would undoubtedly be possible to find black and female students who will tell you that they feel “damaged” by Dartmouth. The chance that this feeling represents objective injury rather than the eager consumption of academic victimology is almost nil. As Shelby Steele has forcefully observed, the burden of civil rights discourse today is to convince blacks that they are perennially weak, not strong. The same goes for feminist ideology.

THE TIMES’S DIVERSITY ARTICLE also presents the third locus classicus of academic diversity-speak: the complaint from minority students that they are regarded as group spokesmen. A Dartmouth student tells the paper that she is “tired” of being looked to in class for the “black opinion,” and of being perceived as an affirmative action admit.

This is known as wanting to eat your cake and have it too. The founding premise of diversity admissions is that skin color equates with point of view. Universities justify admitting black students with lower academic qualifications than white students on the ground that they are thereby creating a more intellectually diverse student body: A class on European history, argue the diversocrats, would not be complete without black students there to give the “black” perspective on the Peace of Augsburg, for example. Some minority students vocally support this argument. But you cannot demand admission because of your skin color, and then turn around and demand to be treated as an individual, rather than as a representative of your race.

As for being regarded as a possible beneficiary of affirmative action, that is the poisonous price of affirmative action itself. Colleges tell the world that without diversity admissions, they would be virtually all white and Asian. Yet diversity deans, as well as many minority students, claim that it is racism, not double admissions standards, that often leads white students to presume that their minority peers have benefited from those double standards. Are there highly qualified black students who would have been admitted under a colorblind system? Of course. But their achievement is tainted by the stigma of affirmative action.

And it is in fact the taboo on acknowledging the effects of affirmative action that is the fourth standard topos of diversity propaganda. To the extent that racial tension exists on campus, it is because of unequal admissions and academic standards. But that is the one thing that will never be mentioned in an article on campus race relations, including in the Times article.

A bigot could not have engineered a better policy for segregating the races than admitting one race with lower academic skills than the other. The alleged “beneficiaries” of that policy usually start blaming the institution for their feelings of inadequacy and retreat behind a defensive wall. Meanwhile, students admitted under competitive admissions standards see their minority peers not performing as well but sometimes getting special treatment. The administration will then chalk up any resulting tensions to white racism and order up more sensitivity training.

Such a system has one purpose only: to stoke the egos of college administrators and faculty with the fuel of moral righteousness. Architects of academic double standards believe that their liberal paternalism is all that stands between abused minorities and a racist society. As for the recipients of that paternalism, nothing could be crueler.

What desperate fear led the Times to run “Colleges Find Diversity Is Not Just Numbers” on the front page? The paper could have performed a great public service by exploring the consequences of academic double standards. Instead, its recycling of diversity pablum suggests a worry that difference ideology may be losing its imperium.

Equally bizarre has been the Times’s frenzied daily coverage of the fact that Augusta National Golf Club, host of the Masters Tournament, is all male, as it has been throughout its history. At a time when more women than men attend college, when every profession is not just open to women, but usually aggressively courting them, when the biggest problem for the Times’s female readers is how to balance the demands of the executive track with family responsibilities, the Times would have us believe that a 300-member golf club in Georgia is a horrific impediment to women’s equality.

America’s “rights” struggles have come to this: Elite private colleges that spend mightily to persuade black students to attend them are criticized as not caring enough about minorities, while women’s groups rally frantically for the “right” to sit in the members-only grill room at an exclusive golf club.

Osama bin Laden and his thugs don’t care a whit whether they kill black or white Americans, male or female; they see America as one unified force for evil that must be destroyed. Obviously they’re wrong: According to the New York Times, only some of us are evil, and you know who you are.