For over 40 years, American universities have been working to increase the diversity of their faculties. Now, in response to last fall’s wave of protests from student groups representing people of color, women, and LGBT individuals, many universities are redoubling their efforts in this regard.
For example, Yale’s response to the student protests includes 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. Clearly, American universities are committed to having a diverse faculty.
But why? What makes diversity so important?
Advocates of academic diversity offer four answers to this question.
- First, learning requires “the robust exchange of ideas,” which is enhanced when students and faculty have “the greatest possible variety of backgrounds.”
- Second, being exposed to people from different backgrounds breaks down unfair stereotypes and promotes understanding of those who come from different circumstances than oneself.
- Third, being in a diverse academic environment “better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society” and helps them develop the skills “needed in today’s increasingly global marketplace [that] can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints.”
- Fourth, a diverse faculty provides students with role models that demonstrate that people from all backgrounds can achieve intellectual excellence and are worthy of respect.
These are good arguments. But note that they are not limited to genetically determined factors such skin color, sex, or sexual orientation.
The robust exchange of ideas is surely enhanced by the presence of people with differing political and ideological viewpoints as well. Further, actually engaging with socialists, libertarians, religious conservatives, social justice liberals, etc. can break down unfortunate stereotypes associated with these groups and promote understanding across ideological divides.
And if exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints is required for students to develop the skills they need in the global marketplace, then the more viewpoints the better. Finally, if students see that there are faculty members who share their ideological or political viewpoints, they may be more inspired to pursue intellectual excellence themselves.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to increase the racial, gender, and ethnic diversity of university faculties. The main impediment to doing so is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which makes it illegal to base employment decisions on applicants’ race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
The inability to openly give hiring preference to members of the preferred under-represented groups has turned the quest for faculty diversity into an arduous, multiple-decade-long process.
In contrast, there is no legal barrier to pursuing viewpoint diversity. Nothing stops universities from increasing the political and ideological diversity of their faculties. And yet, university faculties are famous for their ideological insularity.
- Only 12 percent of university faculty identify as politically right of center, and these are mainly professors in schools of engineering and other professional schools.
- Only five percent of professors in the humanities and social science departments so identify.
- In a country fairly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, only 13 percent of law professors identify as Republican.
- Among social psychologists, 96 percent identify as left of center, 3.7 percent as moderate, and only .03 percent as right of center.
What accounts for this marked lack of intellectual diversity among university faculty?
In my experience, it is because universities make no effort to promote such diversity.
I have been a professor at Georgetown for more than 20 years. During that time, I have been involved in many faculty searches. Every single one begins with a strong exhortation from the administration to recruit more women and minority professors. Every single one begins with the explicit reminder that “every search is a diversity search.” Every single one requires submission of a plan to vigorously recruit applications from women and minority candidates. Before we even begin our selection process, we must receive approval that our outreach efforts have been vigorous enough. No expense is spared in the effort to increase the genetic diversity of our faculty.
Yet, in all my time at Georgetown, no search committee has ever been instructed to expand political or ideological diversity. On the contrary, I have been involved searches in which the chair of the committee stated that no libertarian candidates would be considered, in which the description of the position was changed when the best resumes appeared to be coming from applicants with right-of-center viewpoints, and in which candidates were dismissed because of their association with conservative or libertarian institutions.
The reason for the relentless exhortation to actively recruit women and minority candidates arises from the fear that if left to their own devices, predominantly white male faculties will identify merit with those who look and think like them, undervalue the contributions of those from different backgrounds, and perpetuate the white male stranglehold on the academy. But, of course, without a parallel exhortation to pursue viewpoint diversity, this is exactly what happens.
The predominantly left-liberal faculties identify merit with positions that are consistent with theirs, see little value in conservative and libertarian scholarship, and perpetuate the left-wing stranglehold on the academy.
I believe that having a diverse faculty is a genuine value for a university. Indeed, it may be valuable enough to justify spending $50 or $100 million to overcome the barrier the Civil Rights Act poses to increasing the percentage of women and minority professors. But if diversity is really such an important academic value, then why are universities making no effort to increase the political and ideological diversity of their faculties when it can be done at virtually no cost?
One possibility is rank hypocrisy.
But a second, more benign possibility is that despite their continual use of the term “diversity,” academics simply don’t appreciate the true meaning of the word. If so, then it may be apropos to quote Inigo Montoya in the movie The Princess Bride, when he said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
John Hasnas is a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and executive director of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics.