woody zimmerman 118 2007In an article entitled “Academic Dishonesty” (9/19/2012), noted economist and political columnist Walter E. Williams wrote:

Many of the nation’s colleges and universities have become cesspools of indoctrination, intolerance, academic dishonesty and an ‘enlightened’ form of racism…Yale President Benno Schmidt warned: ‘The most serious problems of freedom of expression in our society today exist on our campuses. The assumption seems to be that the purpose of education is to induce correct opinion rather than to search for wisdom and to liberate the mind.’

Dr. Williams went on to mention possible ways to recognize if there is academic dishonesty and indoctrination at an institution: i.e.,  …see whether a college spends millions for diversity and multiculturalism centers and hires directors of diversity and inclusion, managers of diversity recruitment, associate deans for diversity, and vice presidents of diversity. See whether a college spends money to indoctrinate incoming freshmen with programs such as ‘The Tunnel of Oppression,’ in which, among other things, students call one another vile racial and sexual names in order to develop ‘oppression awareness.’

In a closing comment, Dr. Williams quoted his grandmother’s oft-cited admonition: “If you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing, you can’t do what you’re supposed to do.”

Those cogent passages came to mind because I recently heard that several small, Christian liberal arts colleges have gone on a diversity kick. Suddenly, colleges that never had any difficulty accommodating and educating racial or ethnic minorities have plans for diversity recruitment, diversity enrollment and hiring targets, special celebrations of minority-achievements, proposals for a new Vice President of Diversity, etc. Where the funding for all this will come from is unclear, since most of these colleges are hanging on by their financial fingernails.

Reports also indicate that trustees and alumni who question how this concentration on diversity will help their schools to stay unified and achieve their historic purposes are being shouted down and, in some cases, all but accused of racism. It’s a confusing and contentious time for genteel, faith-based schools, some of whose religious roots reach back to pre-Civil War abolitionism. One informant said his alma mater’s new diversity plan “looks like a solution in search of a problem.”

Faith-based colleges that have no history of problems matriculating racial or ethnic minorities are now running hard – one might almost say hell-bent – down the diversity track. The diversity drive is nationwide. Flagship Christian schools like Wheaton College (IL) have established full-blown diversity programs. (Full disclosure: I am an alumnus of Wheaton College.)

Ironically, at this very time of exploding diversity-activism, the Project on Fair Representation – a not-for-profit legal defense fund program designed to support litigation that challenges racial and ethnic classifications and preferences in state and federal courts – has filed a lawsuit accusing Harvard University of using race-based preferences in its admissions policies. PFR charges that Harvard limits the numbers of Asian students it will admit, while giving preference to other races:

The university is engaging in a campaign of invidious discriminationWhite, African American and Hispanic applicants are given racial preferences over better qualified Asian Americans.”

Admission to prestigious Harvard is, of course, highly prized. Applicants contend for it fiercely. There are many more applicants than available entry-slots, so the least hint that racial preferences are being applied to admissions is likely to arouse protests from those who believe they have been victims of discrimination. Asian students are only the latest racial/ethnic group to raise this protest at Harvard. Early in the 20th century, Jewish students raised the same issue, followed by colored students from the 1960s onward. In the current era, administrators at Harvard and other big-name schools have operated under a kind of “gentlemen’s agreement” that countenanced discrimination to benefit favored minorities, such as “students of color,” but the PFR lawsuit suggests that this deal might no longer hold.

Small, faith-based liberal arts colleges don’t generally share Harvard’s problem. They always need students, so they typically welcome qualified applicants of any ethnicity or race without worrying about how many they have of which color.  Indeed, the data show that minority-student populations are steadily growing at most of these schools. It is rare for a charge of discrimination to be leveled against any of them.

If that is so, then why are such schools rushing to join the diversity parade? The answer is both simple and complex. On the “simple” side of the ledger, some financially strapped schools hope their enrollment problems can be solved by attracting more students of various ethnicities and races. That could happen, but many of those schools also desire students of excellent academic ability. High-quality minority students are out there, of course, but the wild card is that the big-name schools want them, too.  As Hollywood agents might say, they are “hot properties.” Many will head for Yale, Princeton, Harvard and other flagship schools on full scholarship. The small schools will have to settle for lower-tier minority students, except when excellent students are motivated by family ties or religion to attend a particular faith-based college. All this diversification is acceptable so long as a school’s academic standards can be upheld.

On the “complex” side of the diversity-ledger, administrators of faith-based colleges have begun to notice how sexual preference, orientation and practice have lately crept into the civil rights tent. Discrimination against these new “preferred classes” is now as taboo as racial discrimination. An earlier article in this column (“Christian Education in the Crosshairs” – http://www.ahherald.com/columns-list/at-large/18672-christian-education-in-the-crosshairs ) detailed how Gordon College, in Salem, Massachusetts, might lose its academic accreditation because its policies exclude students or faculty of homosexual disposition or practice. Under the code of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, this uncorrected “discrimination” could be grounds for denial of accreditation.

As “groupthink” typically prevails on such issues in higher education, other faith-based schools might soon face similar pressures from accreditation boards if they refuse to drop homosexual restrictions on enrollment or hiring. For many of these schools, undoing these policies would contravene Bible-based positions on sexuality and marriage that are central to their faith and religious practice.

Loss of accreditation might mean that federal money could no longer be spent at that school – very probably including federally-guaranteed student loans. The diversity push at many schools is evidently motivated by a fear of losing vital funding, to the point of driving the school into insolvency. Thus, diversity programs look like “sacrifices” which college governors hope will appease the gods of political correctness, who might otherwise destroy their institutions.

Some administrators speak hopefully of crafting admissions and hiring policies that will allow same-sex advocates into their schools, provided that they refrain from actual sexual practice. But they are dreaming. Letting the fox into the henhouse is never a safe or valuable tactic. Those who attempt it will come to ruin.

No one knows where all this will go, but so far I don’t like the look and smell of it. Faith-based schools with long, honorable records of service to their communities and to the nation could find themselves either stripped of their academic accreditation and financially ruined, or destroyed as viable instruments of education for their faith. Neither result is acceptable. College administrators and trustees will be well advised to consider carefully before they bow down to diversity’s false god. This will go far beyond ethnicity and race. The devil is in the details.