April 1, 2003
More on the diversity rationale
It seems that nearly everyone, from the education establishment to the Bush administration, take as fact that "diversity" improves the educational experience. Only problem is, as noted here before, that this doesn't seem to be, in fact, a fact. Here are excerpts from a recent op-ed in the New York Times:
Is Diversity Overrated?
By STANLEY ROTHMAN
The Supreme Court hears arguments next week in the cases that may determine whether racial and ethnic preferences in higher education admissions and hiring are preserved or discarded. Whatever it decides, the court should be skeptical of one of the most popular justifications for preferential treatment of minority applicants: that a diverse student body necessarily improves the quality of education for everyone.
One of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken of diversity in higher education indicates that this contention is at least questionable. The study's findings show that college diversity programs fail to raise standards, and that a majority of faculty members and administrators recognize this when speaking anonymously.
With my colleagues, Seymour Martin Lipset and Neil Nevitte, I measured views of the educational benefit of diversity as it is now incorporated in higher education policy. ...
The results contradict almost every benefit claimed for campus diversity. Students, faculty members and administrators all responded to increasing racial diversity by registering increased dissatisfaction with the quality of education and the work ethic of their peers. Students also increasingly complained about discrimination. ...
A higher level of diversity is associated with somewhat less educational satisfaction and worse race relations among students. ...
We also asked students about policies used to increase diversity. Three out of four oppose "relaxing academic standards" to increase minority representation, as do a majority of faculty members. And an overwhelming 85 percent of students specifically reject the use of racial or ethnic "preferences"— along with a majority of faculty members. More telling, 62 percent of minority students oppose relaxing standards, and 71 percent oppose preferences.
Among the most striking findings is the silent opposition of so many who administer these programs — yet must publicly support them. Although a small majority of administrators support admissions preferences, 47.7 percent oppose them. In addition, when asked to estimate the impact of preferential admissions on university academic standards, about two-thirds say there is none. Most dismaying, of those who think that preferences have some impact on academic standards, those believing it negative exceed those believing it positive by 15 to 1.
One cannot help but wonder why the public and private views of higher education's leadership differ so greatly. It would be useful to have some good studies of that question.
Stanley Rothman, professor emeritus of government at Smith College, is director of the Center for the Study of Social and Political Change.