Race and Diversity at Utah Colleges

by Gordon Jones

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune of 18 May conveys some good news and a dire warning of future mischief.

The article asks “how many women and minorities are faculty at Utah’s universities.” The good news is (tho that is not at all the conclusion of the reporter, or of her sources), again in the words of the article, “no one really knows.”

I regard it as profoundly encouraging that, though the Utah Board of Regents, the supervisory body over the state’s eight public institutions of higher learning, has asked the schools for this information for 34 years, none of them have ever supplied it.

Why do I regard this dereliction of duty as a ray of sunshine? Quite simply because no one can or should know the answer to the question, and the compliance failure might, just might, signal that our long national obsession with minority classifications is fading.

I don’t know exactly how the Board of Regents phrases its demand to the schools, but I do know that in seeking tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service, colleges are required to report “the racial composition …of (a) the student body, (b) the faculty, and (c) the administrative staff.” I know that because Mount Liberty College, the nascent liberal arts college my colleagues and I are in the process of founding, is being asked that question.

The only honorable answer to such a question is “we don’t know, and we don’t care.”

Mount Liberty does not discriminate in employment, admissions, or financial aid on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, country of origin, or any other criterion except the ability to do the work we require. Frankly, the only reason to ask prospective employees, faculty, or students for that information would be for the purpose of discriminating (see below), and since we do not discriminate, we have no need for it.

But even if we asked for it, how could we trust the answers? As Elizabeth Warren has (interminably) reminded us, we are all pretty sketchy about our own racial and ethnic background. If we were to ask, a student might report her race as “black” (or whatever euphemism is currently in vogue), but how do we know she is telling the truth? She might think she is black (or she may be passing), but as we learned not long ago from Strom Thurmond, surprises in our heritage abound.

Utah is required by federal law to track the ethnicity of those to whom it issues drivers’ licenses. The purpose of this intrusion is to determine if the Highway Patrol is more likely to ticket members of some groups than others. The options include Spanish, Hispanic, Latino, Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Cuban. I wonder how Latino arrest rates compare with Hispanic, or, for that matter, Chamorro, another option.

The federal census asks about race and has done since 1790. But the results are changing rapidly, and are likely to continue to do so. The 2010 census found, for example, that “Some Other Race” was the third most common response, and there is a very real possibility that next year, SOR will overtake Black, and be the second-largest racial classification in the United States. This possibility is terrifying to those who make their living splitting hairs. “People are increasingly not answering the race question,” says Roberto Ramirez of the Census Bureau. “They are not identifying with the current categories.”

Terrifying to Mr. Ramirez, who is “trying to come up with a [better] question.” But I am frightfully bucked by this trend. I suspect that the popularity of “other” is as much a result of disgust with the whole idea of racial classification as anything else. It certainly is for me, for I am one of those terrible people Mr. Ramirez fears: I report my own race as “other.” (Years ago, when I was required to report the ethnic heritage of my children to the IRS, I put them all down as Hispanic. After all, their grandmother was born in Mexico. I thought it might help them get into Yale. It didn’t.)

The situation with respect to gender is hardly better and is potentially even riskier. No one is likely to object much to a gender question on an application form, but the traditional dichotomous gender division is under serious attack. Sally today may be Solly tomorrow, and Heaven help any college administrator who makes assumptions in these matters if Solly decides to take offense.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that this requirement poses a danger, and here it is: the only possible reason for seeking this kind of information is to facilitate political intervention in academia.

The article admits as much.

Following a description of the racial and gender composition of the faculty at the University of Utah, the article notes that “Ruth Watkins [President] at the University of Utah and Astrid Tuminez [President] at Utah Valley University— have expressly made it their goal to hire more diverse staffs.” Not the best staffs. Not even better staffs. The goal here is not improving the instruction of the student body. It is the continuing sacrifice of institutions of higher learning on the altar of diversity, a diversity that diminishes daily, as the examples of Steph Curry and Kamala Harris remind us (not to mention Tiger Woods and Cory Booker).

Jeff Olsen, Provost at Utah Valley University describes the process. (I paraphrase here from the Tribune article.) Because men tend to have more experience, UVU has “re-evaluated” the requirements for faculty applicants, lowering the number of years of experience required. It has also “broadened its definition of experience to attract more candidates.”

In other words, in pursuit of an increasingly irrelevant will-o-the-wisp, UVU is intentionally seeking to hire less-qualified applicants. How the student body will benefit from being taught by less-qualified and less-experienced teachers is not explained. But it doesn’t matter, because education is no longer the mission of higher education in America.


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