In the early 1970s, advocates of affirmative action regarded it as a democratic principle wrapped in a moral command. (1) For years it was promoted as adhering to the policy of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (2)--to eliminate discrimination by making it illegal to deny or award opportunities on the basis of race, color or creed. In 1971, the Department of Labor charted a new course by issuing Affirmative Action Guidelines Revised Order No. 4, (3) which stipulated that affirmative action obliged companies to create timetables to increase hiring of minority workers. (4) College admissions officers quickly interpreted the order to mean that race-conscious preferences were now acceptable. (5) Later, affirmative action was met with resistance as the growing, and often secretive, (6) practice of using racial preferences confronted core American values like equality, (7) fair play, (8) and individual opportunity. (9)
The use of race-based preferences preceded the multiculturalism movement (10)--a movement embodying the egalitarian efforts of administrators, faculty, and students to "diversify" campus life. Today the "diversity" mantra is invoked on seemingly any occasion. In inauguration addresses, for example, new college presidents not only speak of "diversity" as a personal commitment but virtually proclaim it as the most compelling value of the university. (11) Of course, our universities, especially our public universities, are responsible for serving increasingly diverse constituencies. We too often witness, however, the celebration of diversity as if it rested on a set of basic assumptions shared by all groups. Diversity has become a universal good presumed to be so self-evident that it need never be defined or can conveniently be redefined according to the occasion.
Not surprisingly, black and white students have concerns when they hear university officials extol tolerance and diversity. Black students appreciate that while diversity sounds good, white administrators will ultimately make all the decisions. (12) In the early 1970s, a group of black undergraduates seeking affirmation of their identity and self-esteem, asked Stanford University to house a substantial number of black students in one "concentration" dorm. (13) The proposal was accepted. (14) In the name of diversity, blacks wanted to create a "comfortable home" where they could be "free to be black," a haven distinguished by its separation from "white Stanford." (15)
Prior to this fundamental change, Stanford's policy (and that of many other universities) had been to scatter black students as widely as possible among the various campus residences. (16) The idea was to give the maximum number of white students a chance to get to know black students and black culture and to encourage black students to learn about white culture as well. (17) College administrators felt that this was the goal of integration. But times were changing. Official race barriers began to fall at colleges and universities during the 1960s. (18) Only a few years later, however, black pride, black power, and black nationalism were in the air. (19) Black students were now demonstrating (sometimes violently) to help define "black consciousness." (20) College was a period of cultural shock for many black students who felt isolated and inadequate upon arriving at a predominantly white campus. (21) Universities across the country, meanwhile, committed themselves to greater minority-group representation. They firmly believed an ethnically diverse student body would benefit students of different races and backgrounds by enabling them to study and learn together. (22)
Perhaps due to my years as president of San Jose State University, I can sympathize with efforts to put a good face on the unexpected consequences of "forward-looking policies" on diversity. (23) But we also need straight talk about how these policies have been administered. As Harvard economist Robert Klitgaard noted in his authoritative book Choosing Elites, college administrators have been "conspicuously vague" about their admissions policies. (24) They prefer to point to the "diversity" they create in the student population, rather than specifically state how many students of which type they admit. (25) But invoking an imaginary consensus on "diversity" is no substitute for open discussions by campus officials about what they seek to achieve. Is the goal of "diversity to achieve an ethnic mix of undergraduates that matches the applicant pool? The state population? The national population? None of these? What is the underlying reason for ethnic diversity? Is it indispensable as an educational goal? Admissions officers should do more than simply affirm their commitment to "diversity," especially since that nebulous term can mask the controversial criteria these officials use in making their selections.
II. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION GONE AWRY
I will not review the hackneyed arguments for and against affirmative action. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the all-out push for diversity has reopened thirty-year-old questions about affirmative action's purpose in higher education: Should it be targeted towards groups like African Americans, who have suffered pernicious discrimination and perhaps should be given preference for college admission? Should it be geared towards promoting diversity across the racial and ethnic board, even at the expense of blacks? These are not rhetorical questions. The freshman class entering the University of California in 2001 has an 18.2% increase of Hispanic students and an 8.7% increase of Asian-American students. (26) "Such jumps in campus diversity," Steven A. Holmes reports in the New York Times, "are generally considered cause for celebration." (27) The University of California's change of policy, now disallowing race or gender based preferences as admissions factors, (28) has resulted in a more ethnically and linguistically diverse campus. (29) The new policy may also benefit Hispanic immigrants who may not have been historically oppressed but face contemporary discrimination. Nevertheless, many African Americans (and those who speak on their behalf) remain unhappy. Their presence on the flagship campuses of Berkeley and UCLA not only lags far behind that of whites and Asian-Americans, but affirmative action, which they regarded as a remedy for centuries of cultural deprivation, has been trumped by diversity. (30) Diversity, originally intended to be a secondary benefit of affirmative action, has now became the primary objective. (31)
I am frustrated with the lack of candor of campus officials who support diversity in almost unqualified terms. Too often, there is not even the slightest intimation that diversity comes with a cost. I recall the white Stanford students who lamented that while administrators talk in terms of inclusion, the reality of campus politics had little to do with either inclusion or diversity. These students agreed with a Carnegie Foundation national survey indicating that "students are separating themselves in unhealthy ways." (32) Across the bay at Berkeley, a sixteen-month report on racial attitudes entitled the "Diversity Project" revealed there is far less mingling of cultures at Berkeley than its ethnic and racial diversity might suggest. (33)
My argument should not be misconstrued. I am not arguing against diversity and inclusion or calling for a color-blind campus. (34) I am instead questioning identity politics that foster suspicion and create misunderstandings. My concerns arise not only from the splintering of student groups along racial and ethnic lines, but also from the emergence of separate academic departments dominated by race--departments that frequently do not meet sound academic standards. I am similarly alarmed by the call for speech codes designed to offer special protections to racially sensitive minorities. These are a few of the developments that too frequently have been rationalized away by administrators invoking "diversity" without openly acknowledging that diversity has become "untethered from integration" to the point of becoming "integration's rival." (35)
For the last twenty years, the term "diversity" has been used in so many different ways it now means whatever one wants it to mean. Take, for example, "A Diversity Action Plan for The Ohio State University" which set precise numerical goals for ethnic and gender groups and stipulated that quotas be used not just for the University as a whole but for each individual department. (36) Declaring its short-term goal as the creation of "a faculty, student and staff profile that reflects the demographic profile of the state," the plan also states the University must eventually look like the rest of the nation and reflect national demographics. (37) These goals put the "diversity rationale" (38) to a very stern test inasmuch as Ohio's demographic profile differs from that of the whole country. (39)
The elasticity of the term "diversity" has masked many kinds of questionable conduct. When asked why Asian Americans' admissions rates in the 1980s were so low, many university officials said their goal was to achieve "ethnic diversity" and that Asian Americans were "overrepresented." (40) Harvard's former Dean of Admissions, Fred Jewitt, was concerned that a "terribly high proportion of the Asian students are heading toward the sciences." (41) It follows, then, that "in the interests of diversity, more of them must be left out." (42) The Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs and Special Programs for the entire State University of New York system went so far as to claim that "diversity is excellence." (43) Some faculty members wish to elevate diversity above all other values, including merit and excellence. A Harvard education professor has observed that excellence should not be the primary concern of the university because such a focus excludes minorities. (44) He believes the university should instead be more concerned with "adequacy," adding that many academically distinguished whites will have to make room for those qualified on the basis of other kinds of "intelligence." (45) He justifies turning away white and Asian students with straight A averages at places like Berkeley to foster "diversity." (46) In hiring their faculties, he says, universities should not choose the "best" but should give precedence to minority candidates who fall within the range of adequacy. (47)
When some Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) (48) officials realized that long-standing professional standards (49) might inadvertently keep minority faculty …