Tuesday, January 20, 2004

University, Diversity, and Discrimination

When I was in high school, I applied to nine universities. I got rejected by some. In the judgment of those admission committees, I was probably believed to be unprepared. And I may very well have been. Admitting me, only to watch me fail, wouldn't have helped me or the university. Alternatively, to admit me and then lower the grading standards for me to "succeed" would in the long run not help me and would denigrate the reputation of the university.

The truth is universities must have standards; they stand or fall by them. The reason places like Harvard and Princeton and Oxford are so well known is that they are believed to have high standards, and produce very qualified leaders in the various disciplines and vocations of our society.

Standardized tests, admissions requirements, grades, hiring procedures, peer evaluations, tenure reviews---all are necessary to any university, since the institution of the university is itself part of a larger political and social order whose ideals and standards it should uphold.

The university can even be defined as an institution for the preservation and transmission of standards for many kinds of human excellence: excellence in wisdom, prudence, art, science, skill, even athletics.

Only very recently have we heard talk of diversity as a term to designate a distinctive area of excellence to be fostered by the university. Does the emphasis on diversity indicate the discovery of a new human excellence?

There must be something new here, something good and true and beautiful, but it is hard to tell. The reason is that the new use of the term "diversity" obscures what its usage aims to effect. The "celebration of diversity" has come to represent a kind of liberation from standards themselves, standards understood to produce homogeneity by systematically excluding and oppressing whatever is "different."

To be continued...

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