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UCLA's infatuation with diversity is a costly diversion from its true mission

UCLA's infatuation with diversity is a costly diversion from its true mission
UCLA students rally to express their concerns about the lack of racial diversity in the student body on November 15, 2006. (Los Angeles Times)

If Albert Einstein applied for a professorship at UCLA today, would he be hired? The answer is not clear. Starting this fall, all faculty applicants to UCLA must document their contributions to “equity, diversity and inclusion.” (Next year, existing UCLA faculty will also have to submit an “equity, diversity and inclusion statement” in order to be considered for promotion, following the lead of five other UC campuses.) The mandatory statements will be credited in the same manner as the rest of an applicant’s portfolio, according to UCLA’s equity, diversity and inclusion office.

A contemporary Einstein may not meet the suggested evaluation criteria. Would his “job talk” — a presentation of one’s scholarly accomplishments — reflect his contributions to equity, diversity and inclusion? Unlikely. Would his research show, in the words of the evaluation template, the “potential to understand the barriers facing women and racial/ethnic minorities?” Also unlikely. Would he have participated in “service that applies up-to-date knowledge to problems, issues and concerns of groups historically underrepresented in higher education?” Sadly, he may have been focusing on the theory of general relativity instead. What about “utilizing pedagogies addressing different learning styles” or demonstrating the ability to “effectively teach and attract students from underrepresented communities”? Again, not at all guaranteed.

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As the new mandate suggests, UCLA and the rest of the University of California have been engulfed by the diversity obsession. The campuses are infatuated with group identity and difference. Science and the empirical method, however, transcend just those trivialities of identity that UC now deems so crucial: “race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, language, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity and socioeconomic status,” to quote from the university’s Diversity Statement. The results of that transcendence speak for themselves: an astounding conquest of disease and an ever-increasing understanding of the physical environment. Unlocking the secrets of nature is challenge enough; scientists (and other faculty) should not also be tasked with a “social justice” mission.

It does not do UCLA’s students any favors to teach them to see bias where there is none.


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But such a confusion of realms currently pervades American universities, and UC in particular. UCLA’s Intergroup Relations Office offers credit courses and “co-curricular dialogues” that encourage students to, you guessed it, “explore their own social identities (i.e. gender, race, nationality, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, social class, etc.) and associated positions within the campus community.” Even if exploring your social identity were the purpose of a college education (which it is not), it would be more fruitful to define that identity around accomplishments and intellectual passions — “budding mathematician,” say, or “history fanatic” — rather than gender and race.

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Intergroup Relations is just the tip of the bureaucratic diversity iceberg. In 2015, UCLA created a vice chancellorship for equity, diversity and inclusion, funded at $4.3 million, according to figures published by the Millennial Review in 2017. (The EDI vice chancellor’s office did not have its current budget “at the ready,” a UCLA spokesman said, nor did Intergroup Relations.) Over the last two years, according to the Sacramento Bee’s state salary database, the diversity vice chancellor’s total pay, including benefits, has averaged $414,000, more than four times many faculty salaries. Besides his own staff, the vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion presides over the Discrimination Prevention Office; BruinX, the “research and development arm of EDI”; faculty “equity advisors”; UCLA’s Title IX office; and a student advisory board. Various schools at UCLA, including medicine and dentistry, have their own diversity deans, whose job includes making sure that the faculty avoid “implicit bias in the hiring process,” in the words of the engineering school’s diversity dean.

These bureaucratic sinecures are premised on the idea that UCLA is rife with discrimination, from which an ever-growing number of victim groups need protection. The Intergroup Relations Office scours the horizon for “emerging social-identity-based intergroup conflicts,” according to its website. It has been hiring undergraduates and graduate students to raise their peers’ self-awareness of their “experiences with privilege and oppression.” These “diversity peer educators,” whose internship salaries come out of mandatory student fees, will host workshops on “toxic masculinity” and “intersectional identities” this fall. If UCLA is putting a comparable effort into organizing campus-wide workshops on the evolution of constitutional government or the significance of Renaissance humanism, it is keeping the effort out of sight.

Reality check: UCLA and the University of California are among the most tolerant, welcoming environments in human history for all races, ethnicities and genders. Every classroom, library and scientific laboratory is open to all qualified students on an equal basis. Far from discriminating against underrepresented minorities in admissions, UCLA and UC have sought tirelessly to devise surrogates for the explicit racial preferences banned in 1996 by Proposition 209. UCLA’s proportion of black undergraduates — 5% in 2016 — is less than one percentage point below the black share of California’s public high school graduates.

In 2016, 4% of UCLA’s faculty were black, 6.6% were Latino, 66% were white, and 18.6% were Asian. This distribution reflects the hiring pipeline, not hiring bias.

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Blacks made up 4.7% of all doctorate recipients nationwide in 2006, 4.9% in 2010, and 5.2% in 2016, according to the National Science Foundation. But black PhDs have historically been concentrated in education; in the sciences, which make up a large proportion of the UCLA faculty, less so. In 2016, for example, 1% of all PhDs in computer science went to blacks, or 17 out of 1,659 doctorates, according to the Computing Research Assn. Many fields — nuclear physics, geophysics and seismology and neuropsychology, for instance — had no black PhDs at all.

Given such numbers, it is unrealistic to assume that every academic department at UCLA will perfectly mirror the state’s demographic makeup, absent discrimination. And yet the equity, diversity and inclusion office puts every member of a faculty search committee through time-consuming implicit bias training.

The ultimate solution to any absence of proportional representation in higher education is to close the academic skills gap. In 2015, only 14% of black eighth graders in California and 13% of Latino eighth graders scored as proficient or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math test, compared with 57% of Asians and 43% of whites. In reading, 16% of black eighth graders and 18% of Latino eighth graders were proficient or above, compared with 50% of Asians and 44% of whites. Such gaps have been constant over many decades.

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It does not do UCLA’s students any favors to teach them to see bias where there is none. UC’s diversity bureaucracy is a costly diversion from the true mission of higher education: passing on to students, with joy and gratitude, the treasures of our cultural inheritance and expanding the boundaries of knowledge.

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Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Her latest book, “The Diversity Delusion,” goes on sale Tuesday.

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