Monday, November 11, 2019
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an essay by Pamela Newkirk. The article, Why Diversity Initiatives Fail, addresses the measurable lack of progress at elite U.S. universities in creating sustained diversity. The article cites that African Americans and Hispanics, who account for about 31% of the national population, are just 4% and 3%, respectively, of full-time professors. I would add to that statistic the fact that women and people classified as minorities disproportionately hold untenured and non-tenure track positions in law schools, which feeds status issues within the legal academy.
Newkirk references the millions of dollars spent on in-school diversity initiatives, but says “there is little indication that they have resulted in more diversity or less bias.” A disheartening reality, finds Newkirk, “there’s some evidence that some of the anti-bias strategies can actually make matters worse.” I am pained at the notion that many educational institutions that profess inclusive and non-discriminatory policies have not effectively confronted the systemic and implicit biases that stunt the academic, professional, and career development of their students, faculty, and administrative leaders.
“Strategies for controlling bias — which drive most diversity efforts — have failed spectacularly,” said sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in their study, Why Diversity Programs Fail, (Harvard Bus. Rev. 2016). For me, reading articles like Newkirk’s, and studies like Dobbin and Kalev’s, are like amening a sermon from the choir stand. Their published works simply add discourse to the reality of my existence. Too often, I have witnessed or experienced the dismissive nature of privilege and its righteous indignation when it dares be challenged. Inside and outside of the classroom, I have been mansplained, prof-splained, and most recently student-splained. I struggle to describe the simultaneous disbelief and frightening foreseeability that I experienced when I distinguished two legal principles in response to a student question, only to have another student repeat my explanation verbatim, but in a tone that would suggest that the student had added, expanded, or corrected my explanation in some way. The resultant outcome was a head nod and an audible “thank you” from the questioning student, and an internal eye roll from me.
Diversity, as we have come to use the term, is a disruptor of the presumption and perpetuation of privilege. To the extent that diversity promises, or threatens, to disrupt the status quo in higher education, we are all affected. Lawyers and affirmative action opponents must be confronted with the hypocrisy of their fight against race-based denials for entry into competitive graduate programs and prestigious positions. Law professors, academic support professionals, and student affairs administrators must continue to promote diversity, inclusion, and opportunity for our students even when our own statuses are minimized and disregarded.