ELIZABETHTOWN, PA — The Elizabethtown College faculty recently
voted to endorse (and presumably to implement) a 19-page document titled “Embracing
Inclusive Excellence: A Five-Year Plan for Strengthening Campus Diversity.”
The plan passed by a margin of five to one, although nothing would
suggest that most of those who voted for it ever read the text. The
expressions of endorsement from its authors and advocates were mostly
anecdotal. Statements of support included these observations: “My
black students and advisees show courage by coming to class” and “The
blacks where I live in Philadelphia look as if they’ve no hope
When the committee’s head was asked why no critics of the document
were appointed to his group, his candid answer was “They’d
have pulled in the reins.” A much younger colleague of mine,
who is publishing a book with Johns Hopkins Press on diversity policies
on college campuses, was not permitted to serve on this committee;
neither was I, although my book on multicultural practices here and
in Europe (Multiculturalism and the Politics
of Guilt: Toward a Secular Theocracy) has been translated into 10 languages, most recently Rumanian.
Some of the assertions in the document made my head spin. Claims that
Jews, Muslims, and Hindus on our campus are feeling the brunt of white
Christian insensitivity are never documented. In fact, there is no
evidence of prejudice being vented against any of the allegedly victimized
groups; nor would the lack of interest in Christianity among my nominally
Christian students indicate that they are full of religious rage against
non-Christian students. Those non-Christians who were interviewed about “prejudice” on
campus were asked if they noticed others “glancing” at
them. The impression conveyed is that they were being stared at.
Moreover, the solution that the college is supposed to embrace, in
order to deal with outbursts of prejudice against the largely absent
Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, seem to have nothing to do with the evils
cited. We are supposed to work harder to recruit and retain “historically
underrepresented minorities,” a term that, as best I can figure
out, refers to inner city blacks. The students and faculty who engage
in this enterprise will be showing “deep critical intelligence,” as
opposed to the ordinary kind of thinking that students need to learn
calculus or ancient Greek. I would be delighted if all of my students
displayed enough smarts to do serious college work. We will leave the “deep” stuff
to those who specialize in murky rhetoric.
But the story goes on! Once the obligatory outpouring of good will
is underway, “deep critical intelligence” will lead to “engagement” among
white students and the members of minority groups drawn from urban
areas. Presumably all diversitarians will come to appreciate each other’s
differentness, although there is not a shred of evidence that would
justify this conclusion.
My colleague, who has done considerable research on diversity policies
at UCLA and the University of Michigan, stresses these policies often
yield unpleasant consequences. Members of the educationally and socially
diverse groups who are brought together have little in common and tend
to stay away from each other. Where this is not the case, it is only
because students, albeit from different ethnic backgrounds, are culturally
similar and manifest comparable learning skills. One might also ask
whether our college would be willing to put additional funds into remedial
education, to bring up to speed those they intend to recruit. Well-prepared
and gifted minority students have more promising educational options
Most of my colleagues had no desire to discuss any of these problems.
They were also averse to making changes on the document under consideration
for the sake of factual accuracy. They just yearned to endorse it.
Although the college administration clearly wanted to pass a diversity
plan, the president, who was at the meeting, showed concern about the
quality of the document. But most of the faculty members had no such
interest. They were too busy salivating over the word “diversity” on
the title page and vying with each other in their manifestations of
political correctness. Some may have been trying to wangle a pay raise
or a promotion, but I doubt this explains the behavior of most of the
No pressure was put on them to support the plan; on the contrary,
the president was willing to integrate dissenting opinions into what
was sent to the board. The faculty members, not the president, behaved
with a degree of ideological zeal that I have rarely encountered. What
they voted for, without much evidence of critical thought, will affect
the classroom assignments; and it will require them to attend training
classes in affirmative action. Their impatience with factually-grounded
objections and the way some of them looked suspiciously at dissenters
took me aback. After this gathering, the last thing I would attribute
to my colleagues is a capacity for reasoned discourse, a quality that
I once associated with college teaching.
One week after the events described in this commentary were published
in the Lancaster newspapers, the Elizabethtown College Student Senate
voted overwhelmingly against the diversity plan passed by the faculty
and supported by the administration. The student vote was achieved
in the face of organized bullying by faculty members and administrators
sent by the president to make sure the students voted the right way.
Despite the name-calling engaged in by one social work professor in
particular, all the evidence indicates that the students were not intimidated.
They showed up the faculty and provost by asking them to define the “social
justice” that the student opposition was alleged to lack. Several
students scolded the provost for using statistically invalid measurements
to arrive at the unfounded judgment that the college was deeply bigoted.
After this embarrassing incident, the president sent his letter of
endorsement to the trustees, noting that the “students had reviewed
the plan.” Not surprisingly, the report did not mention what
the review consisted of.
The Ornery Observer archives
The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2009
by by Paul Gottfried and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All
rights reserved. A version of this column appeared in the Lancaster
(Pennsylvania) Newspapers in October 2008. All rights reserved.
Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities
at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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