31.5.05

IDIOCY IS A FORM OF INTELLECT. The powers that be at the University of Oregon have taken the Diversity Boondoggle to new extremes. First there are the courses (introductory writing and math) with a number of slots reserved for minority students ... special permission required for anybody else. Next comes the latest iteration (as .pdf) in the sycophants of color diversity hire hit parade. But rather than provide additional resourses directly to departments that identified sufficiently diverse-looking tenure-trackers (how last century) the new plan envisions hiring up to 40 additional professors with expertise in the usual identity politics fields. Presumably there will be additional advisors hired to redirect the students closed out of the courses they seek. (No, we don't have any available sections of economics, but there will be ample opportunities to study the social construction of sex-segregated bathrooms.) The latest invention is a new hurdle for the purpose of denying the non-diverse their tenure, or an additional lever for separating the annoying tenured from their jobs: a cultural competency audit. No, this has nothing to do with knowing which wine goes with what vegetables or with picking up the spoons in the proper order. The objective, "the ability to successfully work with people from all cultural backgrounds," might be nothing more than "Plays well with others" applied to adults. But I doubt that. Rather, it will give promotion committees additional opportunities to nitpick research records. "You wrote all those papers yourself." "Your only coauthor is your spouse." "Why are all your coauthors Korean?"

King at SCSU Scholars correctly summarizes the situation: "Those job titles are a doppelganger for the continued encroachment of the diversity cops." John at Discriminations has been following the story closely, with numerous links, and a lively bull session in progress. An article temporarily in the free space at the Chronicle of Higher Education summarizes a process that is dispiritingly common in the academy these days.

The plan sparked complaints from many professors. Some were frustrated by what they saw as a secretive process that created the plan, saying that faculty members did not have a large enough role in drafting it. Others were disturbed by the proposal to change tenure reviews.

"I was hired to teach chemistry and do research," said Michael Kellman, a chemistry professor. "I wasn't hired to be evaluated and even interrogated about cultural competency, whatever that is."

In a letter to the president, David B. Frohnmayer, 24 professors called the draft plan "frightening and offensive." They complained that it would spend too much money on "diversity-related bureaucracy."

Note the expense-preference behavior, the secret hatching of a plot to make the administrators feel good without doing anything to ensure that the students are learning, the diversion of resources from other functions of the university, and the arbitrary redefinition of job descriptions. Poor Professor Kellman. Some functionary is likely to inform him that when he signed on at Oregon, he bought into the transformative ethos spawned in the fever swamps of a Sixties block party. Not only that, he is likely to discover that many of his colleagues support the plan despite the inconveniences. (That has been a sore point with me for years. Administrators are capable of engaging in expense-preference behaviors that are compatible with the worldviews of sufficiently many campus politicians that those campus politicians acquiesce in administrative power grabs sufficiently frequently that come a truly obnoxious power grab, those same campus politicians have no consistent basis for stopping it.)

Rose at No Credentials, with Oregon connections of her own, notes that there are market tests, even for academicians.
It won't do much good for would-be defenders of academia to complain about the unfairness of having to fight such characterizations. Unfair it may be, but other enterprises have to constantly manage their public images, and must scramble to make up for one-time disasters, or even the appearance of disaster (think Tylenol; think the recent Wendy's finger-food case). Humanities departments are feeling pressure to justify their funding to trustees, administrators, and an increasingly restive public. I don't think a "We're smarter and more open-minded than you provincial hicks" attitude is the best choice, not just because it's condescending, but because it's not too hard to pick apart. Nor do I think it would be wise to paper over explicit departmental political biases by claiming there are no litmus tests in the interview process, and therefore no problem exists. Anyone who spends time reading, say, academic literary journals (has my pity, first of all, but), will see that the slant is in the scholarship itself. Evasions and high-flown rhetoric, a la Prof. Dennis, aren't going to cut any ice.
Expense-preference behavior that seeks to impose a constructivist view of the world on the faculty and on the students is unlikely to help the defenders of the new dispensation very much.

No comments: