Although I have posted enough political stuff for the day (month?), I can’t resist commenting on this Record editorial on faculty diversity. The Record has a cool feature whereby articles from the archives are displayed on the right whenever you pull up a story. That’s how I came across this year-old editorial. Here are some highlights along with my comments:

Yet, does the College have a faculty of sufficient diversity to reflect the values of our nation’s culture? The answer to this question is undeniably no, and this lack of diversity in the faculty is one of the most disturbing shortcomings of the College today.

It is hard to know how to parse this sentiment. Our nation has a culture. That culture has values. How, precisely, does diversity “reflect” those values? Is it because a diverse (meaning racially diverse) faculty is more likely to share/promote the values of our culture? Or is it that the act of having a diverse faculty would allow the college to live up to the ideals of our nation’s culture? Presumably, the author just wants to suggest that diversity is as American as apple pie, which is fine, as far as it goes.

As it currently stands, minorities compose just 14.1 percent of the voting faculty, which represents a minuscule 0.1 percent increase from the 1994-1995 academic year.

So, what percentage would make the Record happy? 15%? 25%? 50% 99%? If diversity is a good thing, and more diversity is better then less, then a simple rule of thumb would be: Don’t hire any more Anglo men. To be fair, the call for diversity will decrease once the faculty starts to “look like America,” as in President Clinton’s description of his goal for his cabinet. But the Record should give some guidelines as to what it would consider a success.

The virtues of a diverse faculty probably do not need to be explained.

Try me. Why not just hire the best teachers, regardless of their skin color? Assume, counterfactually, for a moment, that I am a better math teacher than my (differently colored) wife. Why is it that Williams students aren’t better off with me than with her? Of course, the suggestion here is that my wife’s color gives her certain insights and experiences that, ipso faco, make her a better teacher. This could very well be true. But, in that case, she is already better teacher. No preferences are needed. But what if she fails to bring any of these experiences to the class room? What if she just teaches math in a way that is totally independent of her skin color? Hiring her would still increase the magic percentage to 14.5%, but, by construction, the education provided would be hindered and not helped.

Even the most enlightened and well-intentioned of professors – a category which, we would argue, includes the entire Williams faculty –

Your naivety is charming. Of course, the Williams faculty, taken as a whole, is excellent. But, if they are all the “most enlightened and well-intentioned of professors” then, surely, we are already in the best of all possible worlds and no further suggestions need be made.

can provide only limited insight into an experience that they have not personally had. Minority faculty members bring a perspective that is of vital importance to the community and simply will not be adequately expressed until the faculty is more diverse.

Perhaps. But, again, if their perspective informs their teaching and makes it better than those with whom they are competing, there is no need for preferences. Professor David Smith is a fine teacher. (I took a class from him during Winter Study.) Perhaps he is a fine teacher because, at least partly, of his expereinces. Perhaps he would be a fine teacher without those experiences. From the perspective of Williams, it shouldn’t matter. Hire the best teachers that you can find. Such a procedure, honestly implemented, will provide for all the diversity you need.

The administration undoubtedly knows more about the problems that the College needs to overcome to achieve this objective than we do, so we urge them to take whatever steps are necessary so that Williams can buck the national trend of stagnation while maintaining the high quality of our faculty.

But in the end, choices need to be made. You can have Katie Kent, Tom Smith, Drew Erdman, Rob Chase on the Williams faculty or you can have someone else. In this, the second best or all possible worlds, you can not have it all. If you can find someone who is a better teacher (leaving aside how difficult this is to define, measure and predict), then, by all means hire her. If she is a different color, then more power to you. But to hire someone who is not as good a teacher, even once you have accounted for the life experiences that she brings to the classroom, is to cheat Williams students out of the education that they deserve.

Of course, lest I be accused of being too hard on the editors, let me note this passage:

There is a significant conservative intellectual presence in our nation. This movement is often overlooked at Williams and in academia in general. It is disappointing that the commitment that the administration has to bringing qualified minority scholars to Williams has not been expressly extended to qualified conservatives.

You know how to reach me . . .


Print  •  Email