Diversity can be a mixed blessing

Graduating from college can be a ruse. It isn’t really so much a culmination of anything as a signal of the start of the quest for even higher education.

So, alas, my desk has turned into a repository of glossy brochures touting various law schools and graduate programs. Catch phrases and buzzwords are prominent throughout, but none more than the amorphous claim of diversity.

Most institutions tout it all – geographic, intellectual, gender and even racial diversity. But the quest for diversity on college campuses has provided very mixed results. It may be a great recruiting slogan, but the results are quite debatable in practice.

For example, take a recent article in The Economist that focused on a series of stories Daniel Golden has written in the Wall Street Journal. Golden’s findings were that elite schools “are not so much engines of social justice as bastions of privilege.” Examples abound, including Steven Spielberg’s stepdaughter getting an interview from Duke’s admissions director at Spielberg’s house and Lauren Bush, the president’s niece, getting into Princeton despite missing the application deadline by a month.

These cases shouldn’t be too surprising, really. Colleges like to showcase first-generation college students from underprivileged families, but those students don’t pay the bills. Wealthy alumni and legacy graduates are better able to fund library expansions, building projects and other cash-strapped desires of college administrators.

USF’s campus isn’t near the precipice of elite status, but rest assured that an attempt to get closer to it is underway. No doubt, the USF Alumni Foundation is feverishly working the phones.

Intellectual diversity has also proved to be a mixed bag in terms of results. The college experience should certainly allow for a diversity of viewpoints, but to promote it so heavily in the classroom can be detrimental.

This type of diversity has the effect of increasing the propensity toward subjective grading. Instead of telling a students they are wrong about a concept, the more accepting classroom environment gives them credit for voicing an erroneous view from past socialization.

Gender diversity has also found its way into the administration’s priority list of things to fix. A story in the Tampa Tribune last week indicated that of the 325 professors who had tenure or expected to earn it last year, only 72 were women.

In response, Provost Renu Khator said, “We try to make the environment more women-friendly,” in terms of stopping the tenure clock for those wishing to raise a family, but that “you can see a lot needs to be done.”

It is true that women often suffer statistical or prejudicial discrimination, and this must be addressed. However, artificial manipulation to influence the quantity of either gender within the university environment is an inherently inefficient means to improve the quality of professors.

More importantly, whether it even matters what percent of either gender earns tenure is a question that needs to be asked. Such a shortsighted goal sends the message that perhaps the most qualified professors will not be in the classroom due to an implicit desire for a numeric quota.

In fact, never has the thought crossed my mind that a course was engaging and interesting, but might have been better served by having a professor of the opposite sex. On the other hand, I can point to several professors I felt were not as well qualified as they should have been.

Diversity is one of those areas most students don’t like to contest. After all, to point to the negatives that diversity can bring to a campus is often interpreted as racist, sexist or even worse.

But the desire to take on the negative aspects of diversity is essential to making higher education more efficient. Campuses should strive for attracting the best and the brightest regardless of the socioeconomic class, skin color or gender of a potential student or faculty member. Otherwise, the hypocrisy and mixed results of the intense drive for diversity will continue unabated.

Aaron Hill is a seniormajoring in economics.