As we know, the term “diversity” is the buzzword of the century. Few public policy debates in the realms of business or education in this country are conducted without it. The use of racial/ethnic admissions preferences at public universities, for example, is often defended by grossly exaggerating the types of diversity they promote.
For most people who see The Big Short, what it teaches about the 2008 financial crisis will likely be the sum total of their knowledge about the event. And that is troubling. The movie is entertaining and offers a good description of securitized mortgages and similar financial instruments but oversimplifies the cause of the crisis as the greed of bankers. Worse still, it omits important facts that about the crisis that are at odds with this explanation.
The Big Short has been nominated for Best Picture. Its great commercial and critical success may portend Hollywood’s growing capacity to manipulate public opinion, because the film perfects a smoothly innovative form—the hybrid fact-fiction documentary. Except for Michael Burry, the characters are fictional but loosely based on real people. This fictionalization creates a powerful mechanism for spinning the facts to support a tendentious and politically motivated thesis.
The movie’s most important omission is the role of government in creating the crisis.
There are no doubt many causes of the renewed rise of political correctness on campus, but one of the most important is the increasing power and size of universities’ diversity bureaucracy. The recent events at Yale began with an e-mail from a collection of no fewer than thirteen university bureaucrats (e.g, officials of LGBTQ Resources, Gender and Campus Culture, Native American Culture, La Casa Culture, to name just a few) who advised students how to dress for Halloween. Similarly, at Harvard the Office of Diversity, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion created politically correct place mats for “social justice” to help students confront benighted family members on the issues of the day.
Cornell University distributed guidelines on the public display of holiday symbols (short version: avoid religious symbols but mistletoe too). That ukase issued from the Department of Environment Health and Safety, since it also included fire safety tips. But there can be little doubt that advice on how to be inclusive came from diversity bureaucrats. The rules have the Orwellian touch we have come to know from these officials: promote diversity by preventing people from offering in public evidence of their diverse religious sentiments. As in 1984 War was Peace, in 2015 Diversity is Uniformity.
Diversity bureaucracies are proliferating for three reasons.
Fisher v. University of Texas turns on whether Texas’s preferential treatment of certain minority groups is necessary to achieve “diversity.” Diversity in the academic world is now one of its central organizing principles, although diversity remains an instrumental good, not a good in itself. Racial and ethnic diversity, it is said, helps students learn about different points of view and prepares them to live and lead in a multiracial and multicultural society. This new orthodoxy creates a relentless focus on race and ethnicity in admissions, and at times even more so in faculty hiring.
A few days before Fisher was argued but not in connection with the case, Ezra Klein of Vox amassed data suggesting that the greatest cleavages society were not between racial and ethnic groups, but between members of different political parties. A high percentage of members of both parties, for instance, expressed horror at thought of a daughter or son marrying outside the faith. Large majorities of both parties would be likely to hire a member of their party over that of another. As Ilya Somin has noted, such partisanship has troubling implications for democracy. Partisans will be more likely to dismiss opposing views reflexively, making beneficial decision making far less likely.
Thus, assuming we accept diversity as essential in higher education, it would seem that we need at least as much political diversity as diversity with respect to race and ethnicity.
Last Friday, the following missive (sent, I believe, to the entire George Mason University “community”) landed in my inbox:
Racism has no place at George Mason University.
In the week that a new organization, Heterodox Academy, was established to press for more ideological diversity in academic life, the learned association in my own profession showed how much it is needed. The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) sent around a notice of its prospective annual meeting, highlighting its most prominent speakers. Of the thirteen announced, none is associated predominantly with the Republican party, but eleven are associated with the Democratic Party. Many are prominent liberals. None is a conservative or libertarian.
Five are judges, including Stephen Breyer, all appointed by Democrats. Another is the incoming Senate leader of the Democrats. Three others contributed predominantly to Democrats. One for whom no contributions could be found held a fund raiser for President Obama. Another worked for the Democratic side of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Clinton.
It is true that Michael Bloomberg is also speaking. He has been at various points a Democratic and a Republican and is now an independent. Perhaps the AALS thought that a single person could create diversity through his many political avatars! But seriously, Bloomberg, who has crusaded for gun control and limitations on permissible ounces in a sugary soda, does not resemble a conservative or libertarian. He ran as a Republican in 2001 for Mayor of New York City because it was the nomination he could acquire.
Now my point is not to disparage the highlighted speakers. They are all eminent men and women.
Hillsdale College is justly acclaimed for not taking federal funds. The Michigan liberal arts college even employs an attorney to make sure it does not unintentionally receive any. It fears the intrusiveness of federal regulations on its academic freedom and the quality of student life. (I taught for Hillsdale’s Washington, DC program, before they raised its standards. In fact, Larry Arnn, as President of the Claremont Institute rehired me there and, perhaps fearing the consequences of his decision, shortly left and became President of Hillsdale.)
The University of Texas affirmative action case of Fisher v Texas reminds us that UCLA stands for University for Caucasians Lost among Asians (link no longer available). And at 38% UCLA is behind other University of California campuses, such as Irvine (50%) and Berkeley (41%). Stanford lags behind (or forges ahead?) with only 24% Asian enrollment.
Of course these enrollment percentages are multifold greater than the Asian population, even in southern California. As President Clinton once hyperbolically asserted, without racial preferences for others, some universities would have all-Asian freshman classes. At the University of Texas, Austin the freshman class was just under 16%, while the Asian population of Texas was just under 4%. In light of such figures, how can Asian-Americans, the argument goes, claim discrimination?
A glance at the briefs in the upcoming (October 10) Supreme Court case of Fisher v. Texas reveals the variety of arguments for and against preferences. The appellant, an unsuccessful white applicant, Abigail Fisher, claims that she was denied admission to the University of Texas while minority students who had considerably lower SAT and academic achievements were admitted.
When last month during an FA Cup quarter-final, the 23 year old Zaire-born former under-21 England international footballer, Fabrice Muamba, collapsed after a heart attack, a palpable wave of sympathy broke out for him among supporters of both teams at the north London stadium where the match was being played.
Unfortunately, that wave of sympathy did not extend to one inebriated 21 year old British biology undergraduate who had been following the match. He promptly tweeted a disgusting and highly abusive comment about the incident, followed by still more disgusting responses to those who tweeted to him in protest at what he had written.
His original tweet ran: ‘LOL [Laugh out loud) **** Muamba, He’s dead!’
Seldom has an American president so enthusiastically embraced a public policy doctrine than President Obama has the doctrine that diversity benefits groups possessing it. Last August, he began an Executive Order ‘establishing a coordinated government-wide initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workplace’ by declaring:
‘Our Nation derives strength from the diversity of its population…’
That from which the American nation has derived its strength is not its diversity in terms of race, creed, color, religion, gender and sexual orientation, but in equality under the law, which permits the magnitude and diversity of the skills and talents of its members to be employed usefully.