Chopp Shop: Colgate U. Wants More Color, Less “Subfield Coverage”

In 2004 Colgate University President Rebecca Chopp launched a Diversity Initiative with a Diversity Council to oversee and direct “the multiyear effort to examine the recommendations contained” in a report by a Diversity Pre-Planning Workgroup. Now the recommendations have begun, and according to an excellent article today in the Colgate Maroon-News, Colgate is “Divided Over Diversity.”

At recent faculty meetings, Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs proposed a reordering of the three current faculty-hiring priorities. The first priority, that the applicant demonstrate excellence in both teaching and scholarship, would remain unchanged. At issue is whether the current second priority, that the candidate have a subfield specialty avoiding overlap with those of existing professors in the applicable department, should defer to the third criteria, diversity.

At the February faculty meeting, Dean Roelofs proposed that, “as often as possible, we prioritize diversity above subfield concerns.”

The proposal, in other words, is to increase the color spectrum of the faculty at the cost of reducing the range or variety of expertise that it contains. Anticipating a concern of students, and others, that such a plan might also reduce the range and variety of course offerings, Dean Roelofs hastened to insist that that need not happen. The current faculty, he said, would simply teach more courses outside their “subfield specialty.”

Under Roelofs’s proposal, a faculty member would adjust their teaching of a particular subfield to accommodate the new hire of a candidate with an overlapping specialty. This would entail “a little bit of sacrifice” from faculty, admits Roelofs.

The article did not state whether Roelofs also admitted that such a plan might involve “a little bit of sacrifice” on the part of students subjected to classes taught by professors teaching courses outside their areas.

This departure is necessary, Roelofs stated, in order to make Colgate “a more welcoming campus.”

Roelofs said most of the nationwide growth in college attendance is due to growth in attendance from minorities, who are “much encouraged by encountering some persons that look like them in…departments and programs.”

Not everyone was pleased by this proposal.

“I think it’s a tragedy that sub-division specialization is being de-emphasized in the hiring process,” said senior Kevin Glass. “It’s precisely that quality in our teachers that makes Colgate such an outstanding institution. De-emphasizing sub-division specialty degrades the quality of our institution as a whole.

There was also opposition from quarters some might find surprising.

Junior Wil Redmond, the Second Lieutenant of Brothers, a group that promotes the issues of men of color on campus, dissented.

“To hire someone simply because of their race and discredit their specialization seems like a move backwards,” Redmond said. “I agree that Colgate needs to be more welcoming of students of color … but simply hiring more faculty of color is not going to change the climate on campus.”

Political Science professor Robert Kraynak argued that Colgate’s commitment to diversity was only skin deep.

Kraynak of the Political Science department pointed to Colgate’s paucity of intellectual diversity. A study done by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) indicates Colgate has demonstrated improvement in diversity in every area except intellectual diversity. The study showed that 76.2 percent of Colgate faculty identify as liberal or far left but only 2.4 percent identify as conservative.

Roelofs disagrees that intellectual diversity is lacking at Colgate. Roelofs stated the Colgate faculty is “dominated by people who are middle-of-the-roaders” and he “does not think any opinions at Colgate feel silenced.”

Kraynak believes conservative voices among students and faculty are silenced at Colgate. He noted many students feel that their grades will suffer if they voice opinions that counter those of their liberal professors.

“The administration claims to be promoting diversity and critical thinking, but they are actually promoting intellectual conformity to political correctness,” Kraynak said. “A white male with a hint of conservative viewpoints would have a difficult time getting hired. Freedom of thought has left the campus.”

Dean Roelofs’ threshold of “diversity” is apparently pretty low: an institution is acceptably diverse so long as no opinion, no matter how lonely and isolated, is “silenced.” The only requirement of intellectual diversity, on this view, is an absence of repression.

Apparently Colgate wants to be “welcoming” to people of all hues, who should be able to find people who “look like” themselves, but is perfectly happy to be a skewed marketplace of ideas where some ideas are much more welcome than others.

UPDATE [21 April]

InsideHigherEd weighs in on Colgate’s choice to restrict the variety of its subject coverage in order to expand the “diversity” of its faculty. As is frequently the case with InsideHigherEd articles, the comments were even more interesting, especially this one by Prof. Challenger (April 20, 3:50 pm):

I’m sorry, but this whole thing reads like a satirical article in the Onion, or an Orwell essay. To wit: “Colleges Increase Diversity By Abandoning Variety and Breadth in Departments.”

Say What? (1)

  1. Twill00 April 22, 2007 at 5:47 pm | | Reply

    Typo – next to the last paragraph should read “lack of complete repression.

    You can be repressed without being completely silenced.

Say What?