Friday, April 20, 2007

"Diversity" Uber Alles

This story just looks atrocious. According to Inside Higher Ed, Colgate University's President is urging his departments to alter their hiring criteria so as to value "diversity" over subfield specialization.

For those who aren't in academia, here's how the hiring process generally works. A department has a certain number of budget lines that determine how many people they can hire. And so when they have an open line (either through someone leaving, retiring or just getting a new line) they'll come together and decide what sort of scholar they'd like to hire. So when a political science department (my discipline) has an open line, they'll decide whether they want to hire someone who teaches political theory or comparative politics or whatever. What's more, they'll typically even have a preference, say someone who teaches women's politics or Latin American politics. They do this because they're either trying to fill a gap in their teaching or because they think the area is important intellectually. Of course, sometimes these rules are merely prima facie and if the department finds a truly excellent candidate who is outside what they advertised, they may go ahead and hire him or her anyway. Typically, though, to put it in sports terms, academic hiring is sort of like a team that drafts the best position player as opposed to just the best athelete.

At Colgate, the President wants the departments to elevate their "diversity" priority over subspecialty because, he says, Colgate has a hard time hanging on to their minority candidates. (They don't seem to have a problem holding onto their female candidates as the faculty is 40% female). In practice, this will mean that the President is urging departments to prioritize hiring the best minority (read black or hispanic) candidate, irrespective of sub-discipline. If departments actually *do* this (and I doubt they will), this might mean they'd have a bunch of people who might be quite good, but who don't cover the department's teaching needs. A good political theorist should be able to teach, at an undergraduate level, the full range of theory courses (Plato to NATO, as the saying goes) but he won't be any good at teaching, say, Latin American politics or political economy or Congress.

But I guess this really isn't about the education the school gives the students, it's more about what the school can do to make itself feel better about the color of its faculty. Very sad.

No comments: