“The UTK [University of Tennessee, Knoxville] diversity office was sponsoring ‘Sex Week,’ a program of lectures and demonstrations on, well, ‘innovative’ sex practices. Sex Week started at Yale more than a dozen years ago and since been presented on campuses from Harvard to the University of Kentucky.” James Piereson & Naomi Schaefer Riley
In May, Tennessee lawmakers banned all funding for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The $436,000 that had been budgeted for the office will instead be put toward scholarships for minority students in engineering. The UTK diversity office was sponsoring “Sex Week,” a program of lectures and demonstrations on, well, “innovative” sex practices. Sex Week started at Yale more than a dozen years ago and has since been presented on campuses from Harvard to the University of Kentucky.
It should come as no surprise that the Office of Diversity brought embarrassment to the university. Diversity enclaves like this are supposed to promote tolerance and understanding among students, but in reality they are a main source of turmoil at schools across the country, including protests at the University of Missouri and Yale this last school year. The administrators and faculty who run these diversity programs have a vested interest in disruption—making the protests go away usually entails boosting the budgets of the diversity offices that were behind the protests in the first place. As long as schools sponsor such centers and offices, there will be no peace on the American college campus.
In the 1960s, universities caved to the demands of radicals on campus by expanding academic departments to include women’s studies, black studies, and, more recently, “queer studies.” These programs are college mainstays, making up in ideological vigor what they lack in academic rigor.
But it wasn’t until the ’80s and ’90s that universities began to expand their support of nonacademic centers offering extracurricular programs to promote what they called diversity and inclusion. In practice they did just the opposite. Universities such as Cornell offered students race-specific dormitories. The goal was to make minority students feel more at home on campus. And though schools couldn’t officially discriminate regarding who was placed in these race-designated dorms, self-segregation resulted.
Today, most of the ferment on campus comes not from academic departments—even the most politically charged ones—but from diversity centers and the faculty and administrators who staff them. At Yale, for instance, the Afro-American Cultural Center hosts a “Black Solidarity” conference each year. Its Social Justice programming includes a Black Lives Matter series. The emphasis of these centers is not just academic study but social action.
Another such diversity outfit at Yale is the Intercultural Affairs Council, which sparked a controversy last October with an email to students warning them not to wear racially or culturally insensitive Halloween costumes. One contrarian lecturer made the mistake of disagreeing. Protests ensued. By the time the fuss was over, the university had committed $50 million for diversity training and recruiting.
Brown University, typical of the trend, recently committed $100 million to create “a just and inclusive campus,” planning to diversify not only its faculty but adding new staff to its women’s center, its LGBTQ center, and its center for students of color.
There’s clearly a lot of money to be made in diversity and inclusivity. The Chronicle of Higher Educationreported a surge in demand for “diversity consultants,” who “offer colleges not just specialized expertise, but also the voice of a detached third party whose recommendations are likely to be received with less skepticism than those of administrators on the defensive.” Invariably, these “detached” consultants demand schools pour more funds into promoting causes that have little to do with academics and everything to do with activism.
Rather than offering them more resources, college administrators should reduce their ranks and eventually get rid of them altogether. As professors Jonathan Haidt of New York University and Lee Jussim of Rutgers recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, most of the diversity-promotion efforts on campus actually increase resentment on the part of both white and minority students. “There may be academic reasons for creating these ethnic centers,” Haidt writes, “but if the goal of expanding such programs is to foster a welcoming and inclusive culture on campus, the best current research suggests that the effort will backfire.”
Recent campus protests have all concluded with demands for more resources for these kinds of programs. No dean of diversity or inclusivity is ever going to announce that a center’s goals on campus have been achieved and that it’s time to close up shop. Their task, as they see it, is to promote fears that racism, sexism, and “white privilege” are rampant on campus.
Diversity centers don’t hide that they are engaged in political activism. The University of Texas Multicultural Engagement Center claims its “efforts to raise awareness continue to strongly emphasize social justice and leadership development.” It sponsors leadership institutes and teach-ins in order to “assist in the development of leadership skills that our students must possess in order to be effective agents of social change in the community.” Such centers train students in the kinds of protests and confrontations that have raged on campuses in recent years and do so on the colleges’ dime. Claremont McKenna College recently announced that it would actually pay students to work as leaders in the multicultural organizations that have been protesting the school’s policies.
It is plainly absurd to claim that colleges and universities, among all institutions in American life, are bastions of racial bigotry and violence against women. What are supposed to be institutions based on reasoned discourse are increasingly consumed by irrational fears, fears stirred up by small, but now powerful and well-funded, campus groups. Instead of sending them more money, academic presidents and deans should follow the lead of the Tennessee legislature and defund them altogether.
James Piereson is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute & Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.