The Campus Diversity Swarm

A slightly revised version of this essay appeared in City Journal on October 10, 2018. Thanks to Instapundit (here). Thanks to The College Fix (here).

By the time a homeowner discovers a termite infestation, chances are that the destructive pests have already caused serious structural damage. So it is with “campus diversity officers,” a category of academic bureaucrat that didn’t even exist until a few years ago. Within a short period of time, diversity apparatchiks—in charge of cultivating students from a shifting array of “oppressed” or “marginalized” demographic groups–have taken root on most college campuses, in many cases expanding into sprawling bureaucracies with multimillion-dollar budgets. “Diversity departments” have become a common campus amenity, like gourmet dorm food, climbing walls, and lazy rivers. Unlike lavish recreational facilities for students, which turn college campuses into an expensive Club U, administrative bureaucracies breed inertia. With size and resources come power, and according to Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, a relentless quest for aggrandizement.

It is no wonder, therefore, that campus diversity officers have already formed a rent-seeking trade association, the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, complete with annual conferences, self-serving “standards for professional practice” (in effect codifying the grievance industry), a political agenda, and—since this is academia after all—a pseudo-scholarly publication, the quarterly Journal of Diversity in Higher Education (a tad pricey at $681 per year for institutions).  A typical article is entitled “The influence of campus climate and urbanization on queer-spectrum and trans-spectrum faculty intent to leave.” Hundreds of universities, public and private, large and small, are members of the NADOHE, including Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin. The NADOHE is able to finance its activities with hefty membership dues ($1,250/year for institutions). The NADOHE also offers individual and student memberships at a lower cost for aspiring diversity officers.

“Diversity and inclusion” is the latest fad in higher education, and elite schools compete with each other to see who can field the largest and most extravagantly-paid team of diversity bureaucrats—“diversicrats” for short. It is an article of faith that diversity—originally a euphemism for affirmative action–somehow enhances the educational environment, but data supporting the “mismatch” theory refute this claim. Nevertheless, diversity officers have become ubiquitous at colleges and universities nationwide, often sporting important-sounding titles such as “dean,” “provost,” or “vice president.” As in corporate America, diversity in academia is a burgeoning industry, large enough to support multiple trade associations, such as the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity (formerly known as the American Association for Affirmative Action) and the American Council on Education, with whom the NADOHE coordinates some activities and its annual conference.

The numbers are staggering. For example, the University of Michigan’s diversity bureaucracy employs nearly 100 full-time employees, one earning over $300,000 per year, at an annual cost of more than $11 million.  More than a quarter of UM’s “diversicrats” make more than $100,000 a year, far more than the average salary of assistant professors with doctorates. UM is not exceptional. The University of Texas at Austin employs a similar number of bureaucrats in its Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (boasting eight vice presidents), at an annual cost of $9.5 million. The head of UT’s diversity bureaucracy makes over $265,000 a year, more than most tenured faculty.

The Economist reports that UC Berkeley has 175 diversity bureaucrats, and nationwide the trend is toward increased spending in this area. According to The Economist, “Bureaucrats outnumber faculty 2:1 at public universities and 2.5:1 at private colleges, double the ratio in the 1970s.”  Over the same period, tuition has soared. Ohio State’s Richard Vedder estimates that over 900,000 non-teaching administrators—most of them unnecessary—bloat university payrolls. Virtually all colleges exhibit this malady.

What do all these diversity administrators do? By one account, “Diversity officials promote the hiring of ethnic minorities and women, launch campaigns to promote dialogue, and write strategic plans on increasing equity and inclusion on campus.” NADOHE Standard Six helpfully supplies examples of other “delivery methods” for diversicrats:  “presentations, workshops, seminars, focus group sessions, difficult dialogues, restorative justice, town hall meetings, conferences, institutes, and community outreach.”

Campus diversity officers also advocate progressive causes, which coincidentally justify an enlargement of their bureaucratic empire. For example, past speakers at NADOHE conferences have included left-wing figures such as Erwin Chemerinsky, Joy-Ann Reid and Lani Guinier. NADOHE has issued press releases or filed “friend of the court” briefs in favor of same-sex marriage and racial preferences in college admissions, and opposing President Trump’s so-called “travel ban” order. Each new “victim” group increases diversicrats’ clientele.

When the Trump administration rescinded the controversial interpretation of Title IX by President Obama’s Departments of Justice and Education, which had ordered schools receiving federal funds to provide full access to bath rooms, locker rooms, and even showers, to students of the opposite sex identifying as “transgendered,” NADOHE reacted with predictable outrage—the diversity empire was being threatened! Eager to preserve the compliance measures no longer required by federal law, NADOHE urged its members to proceed as if the Obama-era edict was still in effect:

Now, more than ever, colleges and universities must hold fast to their values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Our campuses need to be a safe and welcoming environment for members of our campus communities, and our transgender students must feel confident that they are welcomed members of our diverse student communities. Diversity is a strength and evidence demonstrates the educational benefits [sic] derived by having a student body that reflects our broader society. Higher education must not retreat from civil rights advancements. To do so will be detrimental to our students and society as a whole.

NADOHE will continue to monitor national events, and respond and provide guidance to the higher education community. As the preeminent voice for diversity in higher education, we urge higher education administrators to continue to provide protections and accommodations for transgender students and reinforce policies that protect students from discrimination and harassment. These are challenging times but in the face of these challenges, our resolve as educators to support our students, faculty and staff must be unwavering.   (Emphasis added.)

In this fashion, diversity bureaucracies–like a ratchet—only grow larger. When laws or regulations impose new compliance requirements (sometimes at the urging of the diversity bureaucrats themselves), the administrative ranks and budgets swell. When, as a result of political changes, compliance measures are no longer required, the bureaucrats stubbornly resist on the grounds that “best practices” or imagined “educational benefits” justify maintaining the status quo. Despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal of Obama’s administrative edict under Title IX requiring one-sided proceedings to investigate and adjudicate campus sexual assault claims, many colleges and universities are retaining the flawed kangaroo court procedures (and accompanying regulatory infrastructure) created for that dubious purpose.

Diversity bureaucrats don’t solve problems; rather, they exist to service the grievances of an evolving—and potentially unlimited—number of “oppressed” groups recognized by postmodern identity politics. Thus, by promoting “social justice” and encouraging “marginalized” students to wallow in their victimhood, diversicrats ensure their own job security. The mission of campus diversity officers is open-ended and self-perpetuating. Affirmative action (i.e., racial and ethic preferences in admissions) leads to grievance studies. Increased recognition of LGBT rights requires ever-greater accommodation by the rest of the student body. Protecting “vulnerable” groups from “hate speech” and “microaggressions” requires speech codes and bias response teams (staffed by diversicrats). Complaints must be investigated and adjudicated (by diversicrats). Fighting “toxic masculinity” and combating an imaginary epidemic of campus sexual assault necessitate consent protocols, training, and hearing procedures. More work for an ever-growing cadre of diversicrats. Each newly-recognized “problem” leads to a call for more programs and staffing.

Unless the phony (and never-ending) cycle of promoting—and then nursing—grievances is ended, diversity bureaucracies will take over our colleges and universities, supplanting altogether the goal of higher education. Like a termite-infested house, college campuses need to be fumigated to eradicate themselves of this destructive pest.


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