Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68, made a most peculiar statement in The Crimson last Friday (March 13) when discussing the new Lowell House master, Diana L. Eck. Lewis said, "There's a natural resonance between her scholarly life and the position she will be taking at the head of this very diverse House."
Now, Lewis's claim that Professor Eck's scholarship in comparative religion and Indian studies resonates with Lowell House is clearly fatuous but benign. His characterization of Lowell House, on the other hand, illustrates the malign instinct in the academy to worship at the cult of "diversity."
According to Lewis, Lowell is not just a "diverse" House--oh no, Lowell is a "very diverse" House. But Lowell is no more diverse than any other House. Lewis himself saw to this when he began randomization, with the intent to make each house a diverse microcosm of the diverse College.
Yet the one adjective he chose to describe Lowell was "diverse." Such careless and meaningless use of language--of public relations euphemisms, to be exact--indicates the monolithic commitment to diversity among intellectuals today. Unfortunately, the intellectuals commit themselves only to specious diversity, to diversity they can quantify easily and trot out to belligerent students, faculty members and, most importantly, donors. They care little for true diversity, diversity of the mind and the soul. This short-hand diversity appears most clearly in the way intellectuals now defend affirmative action.
Intellectuals told us that affirmative action was a mere "plus factor" used in cases where the qualifications of applicants were excruciatingly equal. They told us that affirmative action was the lightest of feathers, landing gently on the scales of admission(and justice), tipping those scales ever so slightly in favor of "underrepresented minorities." They told us affirmative action was a temporary solution, implemented to help achieve social equality, until society could achieve equality itself. They told us in no uncertain terms that affirmative action was not--was not--preferences or quota for unqualified applicants.
They lied to us. They lied brazenly and shamelessly.
The lies appear most clearly at the University of Texas and in the lawsuit it lost, Hopwood v. Texas. Lawsuits inconvenience dissemblers because they force dissemblers to testify and release documents under oath. The evidence revealed in the Hopwood case reveals how affirmative action really works, which Texas law professor Lino A. Graglia knows all too well.
In a word, Texas race-normed its admissions process. Most admitted white and Asian-American students invariably came from the top of the national pool of law school applicants. Most black students came from the lower half of the national pool. In 1992, the median LSAT score of white admitted students was at the 91st percentile; the median LSAT score of black admitted students was at the 78th percentile. More than 600 whites with higher LSAT scores were denied admission before the first black was denied admission.
(If you think Harvard does not act similarly, see Professor of Government Gary King's article, "The Science of Political Science Graduate Admissions," in the December 1993 issue of PS: Political Science and Politics. King meticulously yet recklessly describes how the government department race-norms its graduate admissions process.)
With such damning and incontrovertible evidence that affirmative action is in fact preferences and quotas, Graglia said last fall that the emperor had no clothes. He said "blacks and Mexican-Americans are not academically competitive with whites in selective institutions."
Unsurprisingly, Graglia's simple honesty elicited the ire of Jesse Jackson, who characterized Graglia's comments as "racist, fascist, inaccurate speech" and recommended that he be treated as a "moral and social pariah." Unsurprisingly and frighteningly, many of Graglia's colleagues on the Texas Law School faculty hoisted Jackson's banner, accusing Graglia of "racial harassment" and asked that he no longer teach classes that included "preferred" (that is, black or Hispanic) students.
In the face of the Hopwood evidence (or King's article), intellectuals no longer defend affirmative action and persecute the likes of Graglia by contending that affirmative action is merely a "plus factor." Instead, they claim that affirmative action is necessary to achieve diversity. That argument, they think, arrests any opposition. Who, after all, will deny the value of diversity?
Everyone should deny the value of the diversity spawned by affirmative action and trumpeted by intellectuals. It produces and artificial, superficial diversity. It demeans blacks and Hispanics by saying that the essence of their being is their skin color, that the diversity they bring is literally skin deep. It treats them as an undifferentiated and homogeneous mass, characterized by Orwellian groupthink of the sort that post-war intellectuals said would never exist and that present-day intellectuals seem all too eager to abet.
If intellectuals wanted a truly diverse academy, they would first set rigorous and unyielding admissions standards and then look to the individual convictions and character of applicants, not their skin colors. Alas, they do not adopt this policy because it would result in less outwardly "diverse" students, and they cannot place inner diversity--diversity of the mind and the soul--on a pie chart. We are all the worse for it.
Thomas B. Cotton '98 is a government concentrator in Adams House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.