Faculty diversity misunderstood

If one listens to the quotes from high-ranking members of the administration, Williams is poised at the edge of a precipice. On one side, we are presented with a “great opportunity” to set a wonderful course for the future. However, if we make the wrong choice we will “be set back a generation” and be on the course to ruin as an institution of higher learning.

In case you are not sure, this issue, which was deemed crucially important by the president himself, is increasing the diversity of the Williams faculty. This issue has apparently become so central to the future of the College that President Schapiro has even implied that his job hinges on increasing minority representation in the faculty. Summing up the attitude the College is carrying into these new hirings, President Schapiro stated, “If we just hire a greatly disproportionate number who are Caucasian we are going to have missed a great opportunity.”

What is most disturbing about this statement is that the success or failure of the faculty expansion is defined solely by the issue of race. Nowhere does the president state that if Williams does not hire scholars of the highest caliber we will have missed a great opportunity. I am willing to give President Schapiro the benefit of the doubt and assume that he felt such a principle was understood. However, it is still very disappointing that the College is thrusting skin color and race high above any other standard when it comes to hiring faculty members.

This does not seem to be a problem for the majority of the Williams faculty, who agree with the Record editorial board that the “virtues of a diverse faculty probably do not need to be explained.” This statement would probably be news to the National Association of Scholars, who released a study based on data collected by the American Council on Education since 1966 that states that diversity on college campuses has no demonstrable affect on the quality of the college education. It would also be news to college students across the country, 95.7% of whom reported in a Zogby International poll that ethnic diversity was secondary to intellectual diversity and high academic standards in assuring a quality education.

In their defense of the virtues of diversity, the Record editorial board writes, “Even the most enlightened and well-intentioned of the professors. . .can provide only limited insight into an experience they have not personally had.” Perhaps somebody should inform the history department of this. After all, there are no more living witnesses to the Roman Empire, so a class on Roman History will only provide “limited insight” to its students. The same goes for almost all of their other classes on issues such as the Formative Period of Islam and the American Civil War. And to think that just the other day I spent a good deal of my time reading a paper by a so-called “scholar” about the Eisenhower presidency. The author was not President Eisenhower, so what could he possibly have to tell me?

Essentially, the idea that experience is the only way to gain knowledge is a foolish one that undermines the entire educational system. If I accepted it as true, why would I bother to take any courses on cultures other than my own when my own understanding of those cultures will always be limited by my lack of personal experience? And if the supremacy of personal experience is affirmed, then the entire reason for having a diverse faculty is undermined. These professors may be quite knowledgeable about their own cultures, but they can never hope to fully convey this knowledge to students limited by their lack of experience.

And even if we assumed that personal experience was a crucial component in being a good teacher, it would still be too small of a factor to be weighed so heavily in faculty hirings, for only a very small number of courses would require this experience in its professors. Mathematics and the sciences are certainly not in this category. History courses are also mostly outside of this category, as any witnesses to the majority of events taught in these classes are long gone. Political science, sociology and other social sciences attempt to deal with their issues on a more scientific level, and thus personal experience may even be a detriment to the learning process in those classrooms. And teaching positions in the languages already require fluency in the language you are to teach, thus removing it from consideration.

So in the end we are left with only a small collection of courses that this increase of diversity would affect, even if we assume that personal experience is an important component of being able to properly teach certain classes. However, let us take the idea further and assume that increased diversity would bring all of the best results that its advocates present. Even if we knew that we would gain a tangible benefit from hiring more minority teachers, would that outweigh the fact that we are judging candidates to a significant degree based on their race. What ends justify those means?

A similar question has been asked recently on the subject of racial profiling. Some have suggested that using race as a factor in judging potential suspects contributes to a decrease in crime. This proposition, however, has been roundly criticized, and I would not be very surprised to find that many of those in the Williams faculty and administration who support increasing diversity on campus were among those critical of this practice. If we are going to condemn racial profiling in the arena of crime and justice, where it truly may be a matter of life and death, then how can we accept racial profiling in our colleges and universities?

That is the thing that really concerns me. Once again we are going to be using skin color and racial identity as a factor in judging applicants and hiring professors. Talk about being set back a generation.