A few weeks ago, Iowa state Senator Mark Chelgren introduced a bill asking the state election commissioner to turn over voter registration records to the Iowa Board of Regents so that political party affiliation can be used in the hiring of faculty members at any school governed by that Board. He argues that partisan balance among faculty is necessary to ensure that students are exposed to meaningful diversity of thought. Maybe this is just one more attack on liberals and/or higher education. But you know what it’s definitely not? It’s definitely not a policy that expresses any genuine concern about the very real and very troubling lack of diversity on college and university campuses in this country.
Sen. Chelgren argues this is about protecting a particular type of diversity: diversity of thought. Before we get into why this is among the worst possible ways to promote diversity of thought, let’s give it the most charitable read possible. Diversity of thought is important, both generally speaking and for the purposes of higher education in particular. Over the past couple of decades, academia has experienced a fairly sharp increase in the percentage of faculty identifying as liberal, raising questions well before Sen. Chelgren took the spotlight about how best to ensure students are still exposed to meaningful diversity in higher education.
There. Charity over. Setting aside the fact that partisan balance does not seem to concern Sen. Chelgren in, say, the Iowa statehouse, and setting aside the fact that partisan balance does not ensure diversity of thought any more than partisan imbalance precludes it, there’s a glaring problem with Sen. Chelgren’s sudden concern for diversity.
Academia is not diverse. It is overwhelmingly white and mostly male, and the higher up the academic food chain you get, the whiter and male-r it becomes. And yes, it’s also got a lot of liberals hanging around. But those liberals? They’re probably still teaching exclusively (or almost exclusively) western perspectives and/or white (and probably male) authors. So yes. Academia needs to be more diverse. It needs more diverse faculty teaching more diverse curricula, overseen by more diverse administrations. Any quick scan of college initiatives or journals addressing issues in higher education will reveal that (most) academics know they’ve got a long, long way to go to ensure that students’ education reflects the diversity of thought and perspective so essential to the education of global citizens.
But looking at faculty at colleges and universities, who are majority white, majority male, majority liberal, and teaching majority western curricula, Senator Chelgren, a white conservative representative from a state with a Republican governor and Republican statehouse, considered exactly one of those majorities a threat to the diversity that’s so essential to expanding students’ minds. Specifically, he’s worried about the one majority he’s not in, the one where the views are different from his own. So concerned, in fact, that he called for legal action to limit exposure to that view.
You know, for the sake of diversity.