Thursday, June 01, 2006

U of O, Diversity, and a Silly Abstract

Mike Adams takes a stick and pokes at the University of Oregon's new 46 page "diversity plan". Now Dear Husband attended U of O as have many of his family members, so this particular article caught my attention when a story highlighting Yale might not. Mike's column is formatted as an open letter to President Frohnmeyer and questions the assumptions and muddy thinking that pervade the "diversity plan" - including it's inability to articulate what "diversity" is.

But, of course, all of this discussion of diversity is moot unless UO can decide just what diversity really means. The following footnote in your report suggests that no one can be certain what anyone is really talking about when the subject of diversity is broached:

We recognize the difficulty of using a term like diversity that is subject to multiple interpretations. We intend to be inclusive when we use this term. The risk of listing examples of diversity is that no list can be all inclusive. In defining diversity for use in this document, we do not intend to leave out any group. In this document when we discuss persons "of diverse backgrounds or experiences" we mean by that description to refer to the broad range of diversity intended by our definition here. Further, when we discuss "underrepresented groups" we intend to refer again to the broad definition of diversity.

UO ought to be embarrassed by that definition. And any taxpayer reading your report should demand that you de-fund all of your diversity initiatives until you decide exactly what “diversity” really is. I don’t have a good definition of “diversity fund” but I do have a synonym. It is called “slush fund.”


I immediately thought of that little jingle: "one of these things is not like the other...." Diverse according to Merriam-Webster is simply unalike. How a person identifies themself often falls outside of the neat little catagories that the staff at U of O have decided are diverse. So the U of O has decided that some elements of identity are more important than others but declines to call it a value judgement. As a woman I am under represented, as a white I am not. As a woman I am valued by U of O as a descendant of European immigrants I am not. Says the U of O:
Programs such as Ethnic Studies and Women's and Gender Studies provide courses, opportunities for advanced study, and scholarly work of interest to students and faculty from underrepresented groups. Strengthening these and other programs that focus scholarship and teaching on issues of diversity will serve to strengthen diversity at the University.

Oh please. Gender and ethnicity define parts of identity but are not what make me unalike. It doesn't matter what facet of identity is thrown into the equation, defining the value of individuals by a single characteristic is like saying all equations with irrational numbers in them are better than others. For a silly example:

What makes me unalike, diverse, is that I am a clarinet player. The ratio of clarinet players to the rest of the campus are diminishingly small and if you think clarinet players are never discriminated against just ask yourself- why is it that oboes always get the privilege of tuning the orchestra? No one is going to defer to me for being a clarinet player, though you probably don't think of yourself as being a clarinetist bigot. Let me ask you some questions:

Have you ever made a disparaging remark about clarinets?
Have you ever felt uncomfortable in a room with someone who plays the clarinet?
Have you ever shown a preference for another orchestral instrument?
If the first clarinetist got up to lead the orchestra would you think, "hey! that's the first violin's job?"
Would you deny your discomfort has anything to do with that person's clarinetist affiliations?
Would you rather I not make a big deal about my clarinet playing?

At this point some of my readers are shaking their heads and saying, "Stop being idiotic, no one has ever killed a clarinetist for being a clarinetist."

Au contraire, say I, they did in Mao's China.

Says the U of O:
Cultural competence is an active and ongoing process of self reflection, learning, skill development, and adaptation, practiced individually and collectively, that enables us to engage effectively a culturally diverse community and world. Cultural competence allows us to recognize that our statements, convictions, and reactions are conditioned by the culture in which we live.
Persecuting clarinetists isn't a moral wrong, it's only cultural conditioning according to the U of O, if you follow it's logic to a Swiftian conclusion.

1 comment:

WhidbeyIslander said...

Have you ever made a disparaging remark about clarinets?

Q: Why do clarinetists place their cases on the dashboard?
A: So they can park in handicapped spaces.

Have you ever felt uncomfortable in a room with someone who plays the clarinet?

Only while they were playing.

Have you ever shown a preference for another orchestral instrument?

That great and stirring, that noble instrument, the Horn.

If the first clarinetist got up to lead the orchestra would you think, "hey! that's the first violin's job?"

No, I'd think, "Hey! That's the conductor's job!" Then I'd throw things.

But you are right. I'd rather throw things at Frohnmayer.