Diversity Mania Gets More Costly

East Carolina University recently announced the hiring of a new administrator with the title Assistant to the Chancellor for Institutional Diversity. ECU’s choice, Sallye McKee, currently associate vice provost for urban and educational outreach at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, begins her duties at ECU July 1.

According to ECU, the Assistant to the Chancellor for Institutional Diversity “will play a principal role in crafting and articulating a vision of East Carolina University as a diverse and inclusive institution of higher learning.” More specifically, this administrator “will contribute to the institution’s diversity efforts through honest, open dialogue and collaborative networking with administrative, faculty, staff and student colleagues in the development and evaluation of campus diversity programs, policies, and practices.”

In compensation for all that work, the position pays an annual salary of $145,000.

The appointment of McKee to this new position comes one year after ECU created its new Office of Institutional Diversity. ECU already had in place such diversity offices as its Office of Intercultural Student Affairs, its Office of Institutional Equity, and its Ledonia Wright Cultural Center.

Despite those existing offices, the 2003 ECU Diversity Task Force Report reported its desire to “facilitate the development of a culturally pluralistic curriculum,” one of the objectives of the Office of Institutional Diversity. In essence, that means spending more money to create new courses and programs designed to placate vocal pressure groups rather than to teach useful bodies of knowledge to students.

Take, for example, the Ethnic Studies minor at ECU, which has been an option for students since 1991. The ethnic studies program does not define “ethnic studies” on its website. And the program’s director, Dr. Gay Wilentz, declined to provide the Pope Center with even the names of the courses required for the minor. It’s easy to find out what most minors require – why not this one?

The aforementioned Task Force Report defined diversity “in a broad context to include the representation, integration and interaction of different races, ethnicities, cultures, national origins, abilities, religions, orientations, intellectual positions and perspectives.” Nevertheless, the only types of diversity ECU seems really interested in are gender, race, and ethnicity. Concern for intellectual diversity is lacking. One looks in vain for evidence that ECU is working to make sure that students receive any instruction that would improve their understanding of the contributions of Western civilization or the virtues of economic freedom, for instance.

In 2003, 60 percent of faculty and staff at ECU and 60 percent of the student body were women. In addition, 21 percent of faculty and staff in 2003 and 22 percent of students in 2004 were ethnic minorities. This does not seem like an alarming “underrepresentation,” considering that only 28 percent of North Carolinians are ethnic minorities, but it persuaded ECU’s leaders that what the school needed was yet another diversity office, headed by a $145K/year administrator.

If there had been ongoing strife on campus stemming from racial or other animosities, one might be able to justify ECU taking some action (even if hiring a diversity administrator wouldn’t necessarily be it). However, ECU has not experienced anything of the kind. But even if harmony and diversity already prevail on the campus, those facts don’t dissuade the administration from indulging in greater and more expensive diversity efforts.

For all of ECU’s costly efforts on the “diversity” front, it is hard to see that it has led to any notable improvement at the university. Students don’t graduate any better equipped to enter the working world. The only difference is that running ECU costs more than it used to.

Rather than creating new “diversity” positions and institutions every now and then to prove its loyalty to the fad, ECU and the rest of academe should try to improve the intellectual climate on campus. There are far more useful ways to spend $145,000 annually.

Brian Sopp is a UNC-Chapel Hill junior majoring in journalism and an intern with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.