Excerpts from Dr. Arthur E. Levine’s Diversity on CampusAugust 31, 2000 |
Excerpts from Dr. Arthur E. Levine’s Diversity on Campus
The Meaning of Diversity
The academy does not agree on what diversity means or how it should be achieved. To be more precise, over the past four decades, the term has taken on a number of different, competing, even conflicting meanings, often on the same campuses. Several years ago, during a study of race relations on campuses, I interviewed the presidents of 14 very different institutions. I asked them whether diversity was an important issue at their colleges. Most said yes. I next asked them to define the term diversity and to explain the specific goals this entailed for their campuses. In general, the presidents had a hard time with the question. There was a good deal of rhetoric, circumlocution and imprecision in language. Neither the presidents, nor their institutions had a clear sense of what they meant by diversity, but what emerged from the conversations were four rather distinct notions of diversity and associated activities.
The first, very much a product of the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement, was the need to admit more minority students to college. A second set of diversity goals, developed in the 1970s, is the support or retention of minority populations…A third diversity goal, very much a product of the 1970s and early ’80s, is integration…A fourth and final notion of diversity, which emerged in the late 1980s and continues into the present, is pluralism or multiculturalism.
With regard to the curriculum, competing claims boom loud. Some say the college curriculum has been largely impermeable to diversity: that it remains unalterably Eurocentric, offering a dead, White, male, Western curriculum and ignoring, or at least marginalizing, diversity concerns. Others say that colleges and universities have sold their souls in the name of diversity; that higher education has abandoned the Western canon and rushed willy-nilly into embracing non-Western, ethnic and gender studies.
In a study of a representative sample of 196 colleges…I found both claims to be incorrect. We learned that more than a third of all colleges (34 percent) has a general education diversity requirement. At least a third offered coursework in ethnic and gender studies. More than half (54 percent) of all institutions introduced diversity into their departmental offerings. A majority sought to increase the diversity of their faculty. Half of all colleges had advising programs targeted at diverse populations. More than a third (35 percent) of all colleges and universities had diversity research centers and institutes.
The conclusion of the study was that the sheer quantity of activity belies the notion that the curriculum has been impermeable to diversity. On the other hand, the character of the changes, largely add-ons rather than replacements or substitutes, makes untenable the idea that the traditional canon is being abandoned.
Diversity is an issue that frightens college and university administrators. Prior to coming to Teachers College, I directed a management-training program for senior higher education administrators…Each summer, I taught 95 presidents, vice presidents and deans using a case study on the politics of a student effort to get a women’s studies program adopted at a small liberal arts college — one-third role-played the leading student advocate, another third played the key faculty opponent and the final third played the academic dean on whose desk the problem landed. Year after year, I would turn to the group playing the administrator and ask: ‘In your heart of hearts, what do you want to see happen with this issue? Regardless of the race, gender or age of the person I asked, the answer was usually the same: ‘I want it to go away.’
College presidents I interviewed responded in much the same fashion when asked about diversity. The reason is not that they are bad people. The reason is that college presidents are hired to solve problems, not to create them…It is easier to keep the lid closed…and handle the complaints as they arise, one by one…The problem is this: At one campus there was a Puerto Rican studies program. The Dominican students wanted a Dominican studies program. The president proposed a Caribbean studies program. It was flatly rejected by all quarters. The issue of diversity simply cannot be handled problem by problem, Band-Aid by Band-Aid. Institutions must know where they are going and presidents must lead. A clear definition is the yardstick for determining which efforts are good, better or worse. A comprehensive plan is superior to piecemeal decisions.
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