|NUMBER 308||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||SEPTEMBER 2011|
|Less Academics, More Narcissism|
By Heather Mac Donald
California's budget crisis has reduced the University of California to near-penury, claim its spokesmen. "Our campuses and the UC Office of the President already have cut to the bone," the university system's vice president for budget and capital resources warned in advance of a July meeting of the university's regents. Well, not exactly to the bone. Even as UC campuses jettison entire degree programs and lose faculty to competing universities, one fiefdom has remained virtually sacrosanct: the diversity machine.
It's not surprising that the new vice chancellor's mission is rather opaque, given its superfluity. According to outgoing UCSD chancellor Marye Anne Fox, the new VC for EDI "will be responsible for building on existing diversity plans to develop and implement a campus-wide strategy on equity, diversity and inclusion." UCSD has been churning out such diversity strategies for years. The "campus-wide strategy on equity, diversity and inclusion" that the new hire will supposedly produce differs from its predecessors only in being self-referential: it will define the very scope of the VC's duties and the number of underlings he will command. "The strategic plan," says Fox, "will inform the final organizational structure for the office of the VC EDI, will propose metrics to gauge progress, and will identify potential additional areas of responsibility."
What a boon for a taxpayer-funded bureaucrat, to be able to define his own portfolio and determine how many staff lines he will control! UC Berkeley's own vice chancellor for equity and inclusion shows how voracious a diversity apparatchik's appetite for power can be. Gibor Basri has 17 people working for him in his immediate office, including a "chief of staff," two "project/policy analysts," and a "director of special projects." The funding propping up Basri's vast office could support many an English or history professor. According to state databases, Basri's base pay in 2009 was $194,000, which does not include a variety of possible add-ons, including summer salary and administrative stipends. By comparison, the official salary for assistant professors at UC starts at around $53,000. Add to Basri's salary those of his minions, and you're looking at more than $1 million a year.
UC San Diego is adding diversity fat even as it snuffs out substantive academic programs. In March, the Academic Senate decided that the school would no longer offer a master's degree in electrical and computer engineering; it also eliminated a master's program in comparative literature and courses in French, German, Spanish, and English literature. At the same time, the body mandated a new campus-wide diversity requirement for graduation. The cultivation of "a student's understanding of her or his identity," as the diversity requirement proposal put it, would focus on "African Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, Chicanos, Latinos, Native Americans, or other groups" through the "framework" of "race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, language, ability/disability, class or age." Training computer scientists to compete with the growing technical prowess of China and India, apparently, can wait. More pressing is guaranteeing that students graduate from UCSD having fully explored their "identity." Why study Cervantes, Voltaire, or Goethe when you can contemplate yourself? "Diversity," it turns out, is simply a code word for narcissism.
UC San Diego just lost a trio of prestigious cancer researchers to Rice University. Rice offered them 40% pay raises over their total compensation packages, which at UCSD ranged from $187,000 to $330,000 a year. They take with them many times that amount in government grants. Scrapping the new Vice Chancellorship for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion could have saved at least one, if not two, of those biologists' positions, depending on how greedily the new VC for EDI defines his realm. UCSD is not disclosing how much the VC for EDI will pull in or how large his staff will be: "We expect that [budget/staffing] will be part of the negotiation with the successful candidate at the end of our search process," says Senior Director of Marketing and Communications Judy Piercey. Since the new UCSD vice chancellor will be responsible for equity, inclusion, and diversity - unlike the Berkeley vice chancellor, who is responsible only for equity and inclusion - the salary at UCSD will presumably reflect that infinitely greater mandate.
UCSD is by no means the only campus bullish on the diversity business, despite budgetary shortfalls hitting the UC system everywhere else. In 2010, Berkeley announced the UC Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, funded in part by a $16 million gift from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. The "new" initiative duplicates existing "equity" projects, not least the Berkeley Diversity Research Initiative, established by Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau in 2006. This latest initiative boasts five new faculty chairs in "diversity-related research" — one of which will be "focused on equity rights affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community," according to the press release, and "will be one of the first endowed chairs on this subject in the United States." (Sorry, Berkeley, Yale got there first.)
The main purpose of the UC Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion seems to be to buy for the academic identity racket the respectability that no amount of campus mau-mauing has yet been able to achieve. "Area studies such as ethnic studies, queer studies and gender studies tend to be marginalized and viewed as less essential to the university than such fields as engineering, law or biology," glumly noted the press release. (The use of the term "area studies" to refer to the solipsist's curriculum is a novel appropriation of a phrase originally referring to geopolitical specialization.) According to a campus administrator on the Berkeley Diversity Research Initiative's executive committee, the new initiative will change the character of Berkeley's area studies by "asserting [sic] them squarely into the main life and importance of the campus."
Conferring academic legitimacy on narcissism studies is apparently a superhuman task deserving of superhuman remuneration. The salary and expense account of the likely new director of the UC Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, John Powell — who is currently the executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University's law school — will likely dwarf anything seen so far among diversocrats, according to inside sources.
The one observable activity performed by these lavishly funded diversity bureaucrats is to pressure academic departments to hire more women and minorities. (Even that activity is superfluous, given the abundant pressure for race and gender quotas already exerted by campus groups, every accrediting agency, and external political bodies.) Should a department fail to satisfy — as it inevitably will in every field with low minority participation — only one explanation is possible: a departmental or campus "climate" hostile to diversity, which then requires more intercessions from the diversity bureaucracy. The fact that every other college and university in the country is scouring the horizon for the identical elusive cache of qualified female and minority hires is not allowed into the discourse. Even less acceptable is any recognition of the academic achievement gap between black and Hispanic students, on the one hand, and white and Asian students, on the other, which affects the pool of qualified faculty candidates in fields with remotely traditional scholarly prerequisites. Student admissions offices are under the same pressure, which in California results in the constant generation of new schemes for "holistic" admissions procedures designed to evade the ban on racial and gender preferences that California voters enacted in 1996.
UC San Diego's lunge toward an even more costly diversity apparatus was inspired in part by one of those periodic outbreaks of tasteless adolescent humor that every diversity bureaucrat lives for (and whose significance is trivial compared with the overwhelmingly supportive environment that today's universities provide all of their students). But it was hardly out of character on a campus presided over by a chancellor fond of "social justice" rhetoric. And UC's other campuses are equally committed to bureaucratic diversity aggrandizement, even without a pretext for accelerating those efforts.
Meanwhile, in light of a $650 million cut in state financing, the University of California's regents increased tuition rates to $12,192 at their July meeting. Though tuition at UC remains a bargain compared with what you would pay at private colleges, the regents failed to meet their responsibility to California's taxpayers by passing over in silence the useless diversity infrastructure that sucks money away from the university's real function: teaching students about the world outside their own limited selves.
California's budget crisis could have had a silver lining if it had resulted in the dismantling of that infrastructure — but the power of the diversity complex makes such an outcome unthinkable.
Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. This piece is reprinted with permission of the author and City Journal.