Increasing the diversity of university and college faculties is a perennial problem. Every year, year after year, demands for a more diverse faculty increase. Last fall, a wave of protests from student groups representing people of color, women, and LGBT individuals caused universities to redouble their efforts to diversify their faculties. For example, Yale announced a $50 million, five-year, university-wide initiative to enhance faculty diversity. Similarly, Brown has committed $100 million to hiring 60 additional faculty members from historically under-represented groups over the next five to seven years.
Am I crazy or is everyone ignoring a perfectly obvious, costless way to solve the problem in one year?
A large percentage of those who advocate for increasing the diversity of the faculty are tenured and tenure track white male professors. This being the case, isn’t the solution to the problem of diversity obvious? The proper percentage of white male tenured and tenure track professors can simply voluntarily resign from their positions to be replaced by the proper percentage of women and people of color. By doing so, diversity will be realized in a single year at virtually no cost.
What objection could there be to this proposal?
The argument for diversity rests at least partially on the assumption that in the past the academic world was biased against women and members of minority groups. The claim is that the predominantly white male professoriate applied standards of merit that favored people like themselves, and illegitimately discounted the value of the scholarship of women and people of color. At least part of the argument for diversifying the faculty is that doing so is necessary to combat this unconscious bias.
If this is the case, then the farther back in time we go, the more biased the system was. As affirmative action in faculty hiring slowly increased the diversity of the faculty over the past few decades, the unconscious (and conscious) bias in favor of white male job candidates has been reduced. Therefore, the older the white male professor is, the more his appointment was a result of unfair bias and the less legitimate it is.
What justification can there be for placing the burden of attaining a diverse faculty on young, new white male job candidates, who obtained their degrees under a less biased system, in order to preserve the jobs of older white male professors, who obtained their academic appointments under a more biased system?
Further, all that is required is for those white male professors who believe in the value and importance of a diverse faculty to have the strength of their convictions. If enough do and the proper number resign, the problem is solved.
But perhaps expecting professors to voluntarily resign is asking too much. Perhaps all that should be required is for all white male tenured and tenure track professors who advocate for increasing faculty diversity to be willing to place their name in a lottery. The required number of white male professors needed to resign their positions could then be randomly selected from the list. What could be fairer than that?
Am I wrong or is there something hypocritical about older white male tenured and tenure track professors arguing for increasing faculty diversity as long as only young, new white male PhDs bear the burden? Isn’t there something untoward about arguing for a diverse faculty on the condition that one does not have to bear any of the cost of achieving it? Do we really want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to protect the jobs of those who are themselves arguing that their possession of those jobs is illegitimate?
When it comes to questions of diversity and affirmative action, I am often told by my more left-leaning colleagues that I just don’t get it. In this case, I must agree with them. I truly don’t get why one would advocate spending millions of dollars and several years to achieve what can be achieved costlessly in a single year, if the advocates had the strength of their convictions.
Oh, wait a minute. Perhaps I do get it after all.