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Aug 5, 2005 3:33 pm

What's Up at Columbia?

Earlier this year, Columbia president Lee Bollinger affirmed his commitment to promoting intellectual diversity at the Morningside Heights campus. It’s difficult, however, to see how that commitment can co-exist with the $15 million “diversity” hiring initiative announced earlier this week. Although superficially comparable to Harvard’s $50 million pledge to increase the number of women among its faculty, the Columbia program is different in four important—and disturbing—ways.

1.) Bollinger isn’t Larry Summers. Regardless of the propriety of Summers’ original remarks, his subsequent reaction—apologizing profusely, admitting that his statement was misguided—could be construed as an admission by Harvard’s leadership that it had discriminated against women in the science appointment process. Columbia has, to my knowledge, made no such finding of current discriminatory practices. The university’s attorneys have, obviously, signed off on the new initiative—but it clearly comes very close to quota hiring, especially since it seems as if Asian males are not to be included in the preferred hiring cluster.

2.) Jean Howard’s record isn’t exactly reassuring. Howard, Columbia’s diversity vice provost, has been in the news previously. She signed the petition demanding that Columbia divest from companies doing business in Israel—a petition Bollinger rightly denounced as “grotesque”—and she re-emerged this past term as a member of the committee that seemed to whitewash the MEALAC controversy. Given this background, why should anyone believe that women or minorities who have taken pro-Israel public positions will be recruited by Howard’s initiative?

3.) Columbia’s initiative goes beyond Harvard’s. It will recruit women, minorities, and white men—but only white men who, in Howard’s words, “through their scholarship and teaching and mentoring, in some way promote the diversity goals of the university.” Let’s take, then, the example of a white male professor, of distinguished scholarship and teaching, in political science or sociology. Let’s say, further, that this professor has publicly argued that a color- and gender-blind legal code is the best way to sustain a diverse society. Columbia’s academic freedom policy “guarantees that [its faculty] will not be penalized for expressions of opinion or associations in their private or civic capacity.” But does anyone seriously believe a white male who has taken such a position would pass Howard’s “diversity” test? How, then, can the pro-diversity white men aspect of this initiative be reconciled with Columbia’s academic freedom policy?

4.) Howard’s initiative is designed to be self-replicating. She informed the Chronicle that the initiative would “bring on board a critical cluster of new talent” that would then help recruit additional women and minority faculty members. How, exactly? To return to the sociology example, let’s say that after completing a search stating that “white men with undesirable views on ‘diversity’ need not apply,” the Sociology Department hires two new senior professors who fit Howard’s parameters and who promise that in future searches, they will support the hiring only of candidates who fit Columbia’s diversity profile. The department currently has 12 associate or full professors, so adding these two new professors would not necessarily alter votes on new hires. Will the diversity professors’ votes be given additional weight in hiring practices? Probably not. Instead, they’ll undoubtedly form the roster for search committees fulfilling Howard’s desire to “undertake more interdisciplinary hiring”—or, in other words, hires outside departmental control, that her office can shape to ensure the preconceived outcome.

So, how does all of this fit with Bollinger’s previous desire to improve the intellectual diversity of Columbia’s faculty? Unless Columbia is seriously maintaining that the cultural hard left currently constitutes an underrepresented ideological minority among its professoriate, the faculty hired through Howard’s initiative will clearly not improve Columbia’s intellectual diversity. Indeed, there’s every reason to believe that the new hires will be ideologically acceptable to the current campus majority. But that seems to have been Howard’s goal all along.

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