William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Thou shalt not be more able

The funniest thing I have read in a long time comes from Robert Shibley, a member of “FIRE”, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (more details).

The Virginia Tech University—an institution that awards “degrees” to students who can pay four-plus years of tuition—recently modified their list of tenure criteria to include (try not to be drinking anything as you read further) that professors demonstrate a “commitment to diversity.”

VT diversity

That is, in addition to pumping out papers, bringing in grants, and serving on endless committees, professors also had to prove that they engaged in a career devoted to diversity. More formally, the guidelines state, “The university and college committees require special attention to be given to documenting involvement in diversity initiatives.”

I say “had to prove” because when the policy became public, Shibley and FIRE pitched a fit, and the big boss at VT hastened to change the rule to aver that the diversity commitment would be voluntary and not mandatory. Which of course will come to mean—as you would agree if you have had any experience inside a university—mandatory.

Maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds. After all, what’s a little diversity? Here’s VT’s definition (asterisk in original):

We, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Diversity Committee, use the term “diversity” to mean the desirability and value of many kinds of individual differences while at the same time acknowledging and respecting that socially constructed differences based on certain characteristics exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege.* The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences is determined to eliminate these forms of inequality, hierarchy, and privilege in our programs and practices. In this sense, diversity is to be actively advanced because it fosters excellence in learning, discovery, and engagement.

* These characteristics include, but are not limited to ability, age, body size and condition, class, color, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, geographical and cultural background, health status, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, and veteran status.

The VT men’s basketball team, if they want to hold to this ideal, will be forced to accept all “body sizes and conditions”. Strike that. It will now be known as the VT basketball team, sans “men”, so that they do not discriminate on “gender” (a word which means, presumably, biological sex). Anything else would be inconsistent with the definition.

I think diversifying college sports is a fine thing, as a matter of fact. As I’ve said many times, universities devote far too much money and support to athletics. Making a team “diverse” will have the effect of immediately deemphasizing itself so that its student participants can spend more time actually studying (which, once upon a time was the intent of “education”).

But that is a minor point. The real meat comes when they acknowledge that “socially constructed differences…exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege.” We see that they award pride of first place to the socially constructed difference of ability.

In plain English, this means that professors are people who have used their socially constructed difference of ability to create and sustain a system of power which leads to inequality, hierarchy, and privilege. Thus, to be perfectly consistent and nobly diverse, professors will have to go.

Or they can stay, but they should not be allowed to exert or extend any iniquitous system of power over students, to include requiring class attendance, the taking of exams, or work of any kind. Who are professors to say what’s best for students anyway?

OK, my reading is absurd. But it is logically consistent in the sense that it is impossible to show how my interpretations are in any way flawed given their official definition of diversity (I invite you to try). So, since my interpretations are absurd, and obviously so, something must be wrong. What?

No secret. Diversity itself: the very idea of it is asinine. Prove this to yourself by taking any subject and then faithfully cataloging what diversity in that subject might be. Try babysitting for a start. We want—no, we demand—diversity in babysitters. This will include those sitters who change the diapers often and those that think one diaper sufficient for each twenty-four period. Sitters who assiduously check baby in its crib must be employed equally as often as those with no arms or legs who place baby in the oven to keep it warm.

Need I go on? Still absurd? Then you are not thinking of diversity as its actual definition demands. You instead might be thinking of diversity in the quota-like sense of discrimination based on desired traits to fit a specific purpose. Nothing wrong with that—except that this sense is the exact opposite of what is proclaimed. And those who champion diversity would swoon were you to use the word discrimination in any positive sense, or in a way which did not reflect the characteristics they felt important.

Or were you thinking of diversity in the sense of parity: where stated biological and political characteristics are found here in the exact proportion they are found in the wild? Ah, that becomes a statistical question, and we shall shortly see that this kind of diversity is just as impossible as the other kind.


  1. “The university and college committees require SPECIAL attention to be given to documenting involvement in diversity initiatives.”

    Well, th mor lin s you add, th shad d ar a g ts dark r.

    Sorry, spill d t a on my comput r k yboard whil r ading this post. On of the vow l l tt r k y is not working now.

  2. “OK, my reading is absurd.”

    No, it’s exactly on target, IMHO. We old farts are simply shocked at the absurdity of institutions that put this kind of totally illogical pap in print. Oh, I guess it affects the whole Nation…

  3. Harrison Bergeron works better as a short story than as performance art.

  4. Craig from Belvidere

    April 30, 2009 at 6:31 am

    “Socially constructed differences based on certain characteristics exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege.”

    Isn’t the SAT a “socially constructed concept”? What about grades achieved in high school? Participation in extracurricular activities? Participation in activities outside of high school?

    I would hope all Universities truly committed to diversity to remove these socially constructed concepts from their admission criteria. The only truly fair admission criteria would be a random drawing of names for admission as all other criteria are by their very nature socially constructed concepts.

  5. I notice that their definition of diversity is somewhat lacking in that it does not include ugliness as major point of inclusion. The ugly of the world are heavily discriminated against and it is a travesty of justice that such a progressive university sees fit to exclude them the umbrella of protection that they provide for almost any other discriminatory characteristic.

  6. The paradox in the diversity thematic is that in order to rejoice a supposedly “diverse”, multicultural and liberal society, it seems that many laws repressing the freedom of choice into a bureaucratic connundrum create a rather oppressed society, all in the name of a supposed liberating theme, as “diversity”.

    In the end, all we end up doing are nice propaganda pictures.

  7. This diversity statement applies only to the college of “arts and human sciences.” The basketball team plays for the university.

    Isn’t VT a “state school” that is obligated to accept a certain number of Virginia residents? Isn’t this aspect of its charter in direct conflict with the statement to not discriminate on the basis of geography?

    I had the same interpretation as Briggs did on the implications statement eliminate hierarchy. But “the academy” is about as hierarchical an institution as exists today. The irony of the statement twists the rest of the paragraph to suggest that “we the masters of the academy will arbitrarily punish the privileged to redress the sins of their elders.”

    And, I don’t think that “diversity” is entirely bulsh!t. I think that a multitude of backgrounds and experiences does improve the quality of discussion and educational environment on a university campus. But, increasing diversity (in my sense of the concept) does not suggest that quotas or “parity” are desirable.


    We are alowed to discriminate against ugly people. The ugly and the poorly groomed — they are last groups that are unprotected.

  8. BHO is showing us the way. Bow to your enemies, hug them, and don’t argue with them. Be nice to that guy with the turban carrying an AK-47. A committment to diversity will conquer all things in life.

  9. The only way to counter this is to bring it to the attention of doners (if they exist for a state school) and have them threaten to withdraw funding. Since it applies only to “arts and human sciences” it doesn’t matter; that whole discipline is already a hotbed of leftists and quite irrelevant. Let us hope that physical sciences are left untouched.

  10. “Socially constructed differences based on certain characteristics exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege” has that piquant PoMo bouquet about it, ie: utter BS . . . and a vast improvement on most PoMo, which is utter gibberish.

    Jae: Also be nice to the (young white) guy with the dreadlocks and molotov cocktail, and the (middle-aged white) guy with the sunburned scalp and total-body tatoos and the Uzi, and the (wrinkly old) white guy in the sheet carrying a burning cross. We must be inclusivist, yes?

    “Let us hope that physical sciences are left untouched.” Sorry; too late for that too – the physical sciences have provided the (pseudo)intellectual juice for the dangerous AGW hysteria. In fact, the PoMo’s may be right on this one: Science as practiced (vs Science the ideal) has gotten to be just one more socially constructed power play: Measurement, testing, falsifiability – all trumped by vain, funding-driven groupthink. Oh, well. It was nice while it lasted.

  11. At VPISU (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), business and liberal arts exist for those engineering students who can’t cut it. So claimed a former girlfriend who graduated from Blacksburg with a chem engr degree.

    Maybe vip-ee-sue is focusing on self esteem for those who already feel 2d class.

  12. So if I understand this properly it means a professor is be discriminating whilst practicing diversity? And that’s not how we got here in the first place because?

    Doug M is spot on, though. Common law always encourages discriminating again we “uglies”. Look it up!

  13. Jamie McDonell

    May 1, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Even the most “liberal” university ends up drawing the line somewhere. York University in Toronto is now fighting a “Human Rights” complaint filed by the mother of a Down Syndrome applicant to the school.

    For an op ed piece on the matter, see: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/Health/Devaluing+university+degree/1532849/story.html

  14. I feel compelled to say the following. So here we go….

    [P]rofessors are people who …and sustain a system of power which leads to inequality, hierarchy, and privilege. Thus, to be perfectly consistent and nobly diverse, professors will have to go.”

    Documents of this kind are usually put out by the Administration with the help of a few faculty who probably would like to be administrators in the future. Professors are not involved in the undergraduate admissions process. We, the knowledgeable professors, have only vague ideas about what the undergraduate admission rules are. We, the professors of diversified backgrounds, support the university by teaching students regardless of their social class, gender, sexual orientation, body shape, ugliness (love this one, Hilfy), age, or any other characteristics.

    “Who are professors to say what’s best for students anyway?”

    Professors assign grades based on students’ performances. Most of us don’t tell them what’s best for them.

  15. Glad to see JH’s keyboard dried up. Hot tea will do that.

  16. My diverse cultural opinion is that the purveyors of such arrogant, condescending, mindless gibberish should be boiled in oil and fed through a meat grinder. No doubt my views will be thought especially diverse, and respected.

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