Evangelists for Diversity

While I was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I occasionally heard about the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. Sometimes the office was mentioned in the Daily Tar Heel or on message boards, but I never really understood what the office did.

Recently I’ve had the chance to look into it and find out what it does. I’ve concluded that its services—and the services of similar offices throughout the UNC system—are unnecessary.

No budget for the UNC system has yet been finalized for the 2011-2012 school year, but cuts on the order of  $130 million to $260 million are expected. The various offices of diversity/multicultural affairs/inclusion/etc. cost millions of dollars to run every year and cutting them would be a substantial step in filling the budget hole.

These offices, such as UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, NC State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and UNC-Wilmington’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, perform a role analogous to that of, well, a high priest. For the most part, they don’t actually enforce diversity policies in admissions or hiring (i.e., affirmative action), but instead they sermonize on the goodness and importance of diversity (and, by extension, affirmative action policies) and they bestow their blessings on efforts aimed at enhancing diversity.

For example, in its most recent annual diversity plan report, UNC-CH’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs lauded those who publicly paid homage to diversity. Recipients of praise included the department of athletics (“held open discussions and elicited feedback on issues related to diversity”), the university registrar (“continued to promote open discussion on diversity topics”), and the school of medicine (“conducted discovery and action dialogue with students, faculty, and staff”).

These offices also sponsor events during which the public can gather to give thanks for diversity or repent of any perceived lack of diversity. An example was the recent February 9th speech by Dudley Edmonson at NC State, “Understanding the Disconnect between African Americans and the Outdoors.” Edmonson, a nature photographer and author of Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, apparently believes that the conservationist movement isn’t diverse enough. According to promotional material for his visit, he was going to share “his perspective on the causes of the great divide between African Americans, conservation stewardship and outdoor recreational activities.”

All of this we can do without.

As part of their devotion to diversity, these offices sponsor classes and seminars on the desirability and importance of diversity. One such class was Diversity 101, which former Pope Center intern John Eick attended and wrote about last year.

Diversity 101 was a seminar that represented the first step to a certificate as a Diversity Advocate. Eick described the class as “a full two hours listening to Dr. [Melva ‘Cookie’] Newsom lead a discussion exclusively about promoting racial and gender diversity and nothing about fostering or encouraging intellectual diversity on campus.”

Many of the offices also write reports, either annually or once every few years, that monitor current diversity and advocate for more. See, for instance, the following excerpt from the introduction to UNC-CH’s 2005 Report of the Chancellor’s Task Force on Diversity.

[Diversity] matters, too, because the world is a diverse place, and we must all learn to live and work in it. Trade, travel, and the threat of international terrorism show what puny things borders can be. Carolina’s students will become leaders in this complex world. Here on campus, we must help them prepare by presenting that world in all its rich diversity of cultures, ideas, and perspectives. We must show them the way, through their studies and through our actions. Like other institutions of higher learning, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill holds huge responsibility for preparing students and for establishing an example that demonstrates the world as it can be at its best.

The same report’s executive summary lists eight recommendations for achieving a more “diverse and inclusive” community, the first of which is that the university “clearly define and publicize its commitment to diversity.”

Four pages later, however, the report’s authors explicitly refuse to give a clear definition of diversity: “For its own work, the Task Force elected not to apply a narrow definition of the term, one that could become limiting or outdated, but to adopt a framework for understanding the concept of diversity relative to the work of the university.” The irony of refusing to give a clear definition of diversity after making a clear definition of  “commitment to diversity” priority number one is apparently lost on the authors.

In addition to advocating for more diversity, clear definition or not, the offices of diversity track statistics on the state of diversity in the colleges.

Despite some lofty rhetoric about diversity including “differing social backgrounds, economic circumstances, personal characteristics, philosophical outlooks, life experiences, perspectives, beliefs, expectations, and aspirations,” it’s clear from recent reports that the only differences these offices care about and track are the standard racial and gender categories. In the reports, such as NC State’s latest one here, there are no categories for liberals, conservatives, rich, poor, Christian, Jew, etc. Predictably, there are just male, female, white, Hispanic, African American, Asian American, Native American, and “other.”

Moreover, the monitoring done by these offices of diversity/inclusion/multicultural affairs/etc. is already being done elsewhere, several times over.

Consider: UNC-CH’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs is at least the fourth group keeping tabs on racial and gender representation at the university. It follows the admissions office, the human resources department, and UNC-CH’s Office of Institutional Research. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is also responsible for making sure certain groups are sufficiently represented, though it generally acts only in response to specific complaints.

Another function of the various offices of diversity/inclusion/etc. is to help pick up the pieces of race relations smashed by affirmative action policies. Cookie Newsom, UNC-CH’s director of diversity education and research, told John Eick that the number one complaint brought to her office is the fear expressed by black students that others will think that they were admitted to UNC because of their skin color rather than their abilities. When I asked her about this, Newsom backed off a bit, saying that such sentiments are a “persistent problem” and represent “certainly one of the more troubling issues” she deals with.

Viewing such fears as stemming from a lack of appreciation for diversity, Newsom, along with the Diversity Education Team that she chairs, seeks to produce a more “inclusive climate” through diversity education. “We have lots of programs and workshops and presentations,” she said, “designed to help campus community members understand diversity of all kinds better.”

The UNC students I knew were quite aware that people are different in a number of ways. These programs and workshops seem to belabor the obvious.

Finally, as the chart below reveals, all of these services provided by diversity offices—lectures on diversity’s importance, numerous reports tracking diversity, and the comforting of affirmative action’s victims—are costly. To produce the table, I added up all the salaries of the diversity office employees for whom salaries were available in the Raleigh News & Observer database.

Judging by NC State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (for which I was able to obtain more extensive budget data than salaries alone), the total tabulated above probably represents only a fraction of the total money spent on diversity offices. At NC State, salaries added up to $586,063 whereas the total amount allocated to the office was $1,644,283, or almost three times as much. It also costs at least a little in terms of lost productivity for the rest of the university to pay lip service to diversity.

The system wouldn’t necessarily have to lay off all of these people. They could potentially fulfill other, more productive roles at the university. Dr. Jose Hernandez of UNC-W’s office of institutional diversity and inclusion, for instance, told me that the three directors of his office teach one course per semester; perhaps they could teach more. In any case, they certainly should not continue doing what they’re doing now.

UNC schools need to cut about $200 million in spending. The several million we could save by cutting the diversity offices would be a good place to start.