Saturday, August 12, 2023

#224 / Is Diversity About To Be Denied?


In recent years, I have turned into a college professor (more or less). In fact, I am not, really, a "professor," at all, though I don't complain when students use that title. I an "continuing lecturer" at the University of California, Santa Cruz, teaching courses in the University's Politics Department, and specifically in its Legal Studies Program. 
Having now done this for a number of years, I have started having "ideas" about how our system of higher education is structured, and about how it might be "restructured." I always read with interest articles like one that appeared a month or so ago in The Wall Street Journal. The article to which I refer (possibly available to those who can penetrate The Journal's paywall) was titled, "Great Books Can Heal Our Divided Campuses." The subtitle on this story reads as follows: "Colleges need more programs where students of different backgrounds can wrestle together with the big questions posed by the humanities."
A stimulus for this "Great Books" article was what was then an upcoming Supreme Court decision on the future of "affirmative action."  The Court has since ruled that "affirmative action" is unconstitutional. Wikipedia calls "affirmative action" by another name, and one I hadn't heard before reading the article. This other name for "affirmative action" doesn't sound quite so nice: "positive discrimination." 

In fact, a major critique of "affirmative action" is that it is nothing more than good old fashioned "discrimination," but discrimination of, by, and for the "woke" liberal elites that have, allegedly, been running our country - and ruining it, too. Andrew Delbanco, author of the article in The Wall Street Journal to which I have linked, teaches at Columbia University and has received a "Great Teacher Award" from Columbia graduates. Delbanco understands the value of "diversity." He is interested in seeing how diversity might be preserved when, he predicts, our current system of "affirmative action," or "positive discrimination," is eliminated by the Supreme Court. The following excerpt from Delbanco's article provides a pretty good idea of where Delbanco is coming from:

Back in 2004, in a book titled “Defending Diversity,” a group of scholars from the University of Michigan warned against “a policy of simply recruiting a diverse student body and then neglecting the intellectual environment in which students interact.” More recently, the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ronald Daniels, has had the candor to say that while universities are right to seek “diversity in admissions,” they have “neglected to foster pluralism once students arrive” and have “given students a pass to opt out of encounters with people dissimilar from themselves.”
In other words, Delbanco doesn't think our traditional "affirmative action" programs are enough, and he doesn't want students to have that "opt out" escape he describes. He believes that "diversity" should not only be recognized, but promoted, and that a course centered on "Great Books" is one way to get the benefits that "diversity" is able to provide. He touts, not unexpectedly, what his own university has done: 

In the wake of World War I, Columbia introduced a required “core curriculum” that still survives today, anchored by courses in literature and political thought taught in groups small enough to allow discussion, with common reading lists across all sections.
The courses I teach at UCSC are structured in just the way Delbanco recommends, with "political thought" the focus of small group discussions, and student presentations, throughout the entire quarter. The courses I teach include "Property And The Law," "Cities, Urban Planning, And The Law," and a Legal Studies Senior Seminar on "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom." I see, in the classes I teach, all of the educational benefits that Delbanco advises are possible with a "common curriculum" and a dedication to the promotion of genuine dialogue and discussion among those from different backgrounds. 

What Delbanco doesn't address is how our system of higher education is going to ensure a student body of such "different backgrounds." If there is no legal requirement for "affirmative action," to ensure that there is truly "diversity" in university admissions, the "Great Books" courses that Delbanco is promoting will engage only those who are actually admitted to the university. 
In the courses I taught last quarter at UCSC, there were students from China, from Thailand, from Central America, from Mexico, from Scandinavia, from the Central Valley, from San Diego, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and other locations within California. Black people, white people.... people of every kind of color and ethnic background and gender were represented in my classes. If colleges and universities can restrict their admissions to those whose families have the money to be benefactors (and if legal impediments are put in the way of colleges and universities that might want to require broad "diversity" in their admissions), how long will there actually be a truly "diverse" student body?
The discussions we had in the classes I taught, using the principles espoused by Delbanco, were immensely enriched by the genuine "diversity" of the students engaging in the discussions. If our institutions of higher education cannot promote that kind of diversity among the student body - and that is what the Supreme Court has not abolished - all the "Great Books" in the world won't bring genuine greatness to our educational endeavors. 

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