In one way or another, the concept of diversity pervades every piece of marketing that America’s colleges and universities distribute to unsuspecting students and parents. Diversity today assumes primacy in every conversation about the state of American higher education. The attainment of diversity—whose definition remains as uncertain today as it did when the idea was first introduced as indispensable in education—seems to have become a virtuous goal unto itself.
Certainly at Cornell University, diversity is viewed as part and parcel of education itself, an undoubted blessing if absorbed properly, and a transgression if ignored.
Yet, one is hard-pressed to find among Cornell’s marketing and public statements mentions of intellectual or ideological diversity.
Fine. This is not unexpected. For the better part of the past five decades, academia in America has served as a bastion of liberal oneness.
Cornell, much like most American institutions of higher education, cares far less—at least in public, operational terms—about intellectual or ideological diversity than it does about racial or gender diversity.
But what about Cornell’s own conception of diversity? Does the university implement its own idea of diversity consistently and thoroughly?
The following appears as one of Cornell’s many statements on diversity: “Cornell is committed to extending its legacy of recruiting a heterogeneous faculty, student body and staff; fostering a climate that doesn't just accommodate differences, but engages with them; and providing rich opportunities for learning from those differences.” However, the most untrained eye can observe that, even according to its own conception of the matter, the university continues to endorse an abhorrent lack of diversity.
Take, for instance, the Department of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. The department, founded presumably in response to what some students and faculty perceived to be a bias against, and underrepresentation of, women, ironically is engaging in the very same practice of homogeneity that it likely sees throughout academia in the hiring of men. Of the department’s 28 core faculty members, a grand total of 1 is male. But not a word emerges from either the students or faculty in the department about its lack of gender diversity. Might not a man have different and, indeed, probably unique knowledge worth the time of students and faculty of FGSS?
Similarly, the Department of Africana Studies is riddled with conspicuous contradiction. Presumably, this department, too, concerns itself with promoting diversity. It was, after all, founded in response to protests by a group of black students who demanded an academic discipline, among many other things, such as independent housing on campus for the black community. Or does the department care merely about promoting diversity through the continued employment only of individuals from the African diaspora? It certainly appears that way. Of the department’s 12 core faculty members—including tenured and tenure-track professors and language lecturers—all appear to be of Africana heritage. According to the prevalent metric system of diversity used by Cornell, it seems that an addition of a professor of another race might only increase the diversity of the department. Then, why has the department not hired such an individual?
Surely, numerous departments at Cornell behave this way, manipulating a term as innocuous as diversity into an unruly beast that encroaches daily upon classical liberal education. But the two departments mentioned here possess a particularly strong penchant for resorting to vague and apocryphal language found only in diversity’s dictionary. If given the opportunity, they would likely claim that they provide a special place at Cornell for promoting this now-meaningless thing called diversity, specifically for groups historically underrepresented in academia.
Maybe the explanation for homogeneity in these departments is grounded in reality: there simply aren’t many males who want to teach feminist, gender, and sexuality studies or individuals from outside the Africana diaspora who want to teach Africana studies. But that simply should not be, at least according to the reasoning that racial and gender diversity advocates use when discussing affirmative action or discrimination in higher education. The real reason for this imbalance is that the departments are discriminating against particular groups of people.
There is no way to explain away the transparent contradictions between the university’s diversity policy and its supposed commitment to a competition of ideas. If gender and race are the crux of diversity, then there is little to no diversity in FGSS and Africana Studies, departments created partly to provide an infusion of diversity to the university. On the other hand, if the university finds it acceptable to leave untouched the lack of racial and gender diversity in these departments, then it is quite unfair for it to advocate for diversity (generally through altered recruitment policies) in a number of other departments and disciplines in order to manufacture heterogeneity. Is it not?
It appears that the university wants diversity. But only when desirable.
Raj Kannappan is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.