13.2.08

THE END OF TENURE, AND OF GRADES? A Phi Beta Cons post quotes a definition of diversity issued by a college committee at Virginia Tech. The committee comes from Tech's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, an intriguing amalgam of some social sciences, some humanities, education, and military science.

The college diversity committee is reflective of the merger of two units, the former College of Human Sciences and Education and the Division of Liberal Arts which was partitioned from the College of Arts and Sciences. Both units have a long and distinguished history of diversity work. The college diversity committee serves in an advisory capacity to the dean and is led by a steering committee consisting of faculty and the Associate Dean. Membership on the committee is open to faculty, staff, and students in the college. Representation from each department is encouraged. Four to six meetings are held during the academic year; sub-committee meetings are held as needed.
The racing sailor in me rejects the notion of a "steering" committee, and the open invitation calls forth the expected mix of the usual suspects. (A department's non-participation on such a committee can be a signal of seriousness of purpose among its faculty.)

As is often the case, the diversity statement is part of a time-sucking strategic plan (as .pdf). (How about a simple one: More like North Carolina than like a diploma mill?) And it's an attempt by the Diversity Boondoggle to respond to, and head off, another massacre. (A tougher policy toward loonies strikes me as more practical.) And, at the next meeting (as .pdf) a draft statement emerged. That draft contained what became the first part of the statement Phi Beta Cons posted.
We, the CLAHS Diversity Committee, use the term diversity to mean socially constructed differences among people that serve to create and sustain privileges for some while creating and sustaining disadvantages for others. These differences include but are not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, health status, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, and geographical location.
As it stands, it's incoherent. Perhaps "diversity" refers to the existence of "differences" but that "socially constructed" covers a multitude of phenomena. Health status "constructed?" We could wish the flu away? Age? We count by something other than years, or in something other than base ten?

Somebody did a bit of wordsmithing. I haven't located those minutes. Any Virginia Tech readers are welcome to provide the link in the comments.
We, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, use the term ‘diversity’ to mean the desirability and value of many kinds of individual differences while at the same time acknowledging and respecting that socially constructed differences based on such characteristics as gender, race, ethnicity, class, ability, health status, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, and geographical and cultural background exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege.
The revision suggests that there are differences that are not "socially constructed" but it still doesn't resolve the incoherence. Now "diversity" means desiring and valuing individual differences (including acting asocially in writing class?) rather than recognizing differences.

Then comes this:
The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences is determined to eliminate these forms of inequality, hierarchy, and privilege in our programs and practices. In this sense, diversity is to be actively advanced because it fosters excellence in learning, discovery, and engagement.
Aren't standards for tenure, or for grading, socially constructed systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege? I leave the generalization to excellence, discovery, or engagement to the reader as an exercise.

I'd appreciate any clarification: what socially constructed systems of power does this committee view as acceptable?

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