This week's column.
Diversity, UW system and American casserole
First of all, I am not now, nor have I ever been, authorized to speak on behalf of the University of Wisconsin System. They don’t even like it when I ask questions at meetings. My comments reflect only my own views. Having said that:
Last week the UW Regents discussed the current plan for diversity in UW System. As he has in the past, Sen. Glenn Grothman protested what he called the university’s “obsession” with diversity and dared the Regents to answer a few questions. Sen. Grothman doesn’t like diversity, but his letter raises more questions than it asks.
Most of his questions are built around his first one, which asks “even if diversity is good for its own sake ... doesn’t this imply a climate promoting excessive focus on one’s ancestry as opposed to one’s individual accomplishments?”
First of all, nobody said diversity is good for its own sake. There are great reasons to want a big buffet of different cultures and students or faculty with different experiences on a university campus. Diversity for diversity’s sake is not one of them.
The senator forgets that America is already a diverse country – shoot, we invented diversity. Remember, E Pluribus Unum? Moreover, being diverse has never created a climate that promotes excessive focus on ancestry as opposed to individual accomplishment.
Good grief, my ancestry is Norwegian and German Lutherans: imagine if America forced me to focus on lutefisk and herring rather than on my individual accomplishments. Or, more frightening for you non-Norwegians out there, imagine if America forced the rest of you to eat lutefisk and herring. I love ‘em but, c’mon – I can’t reasonably expect anyone else to.
The American casserole (hot dish, paella, hot pot, jambalaya) – doesn't excessively focus on carrots, peas, or (if you’re a Norwegian Lutheran) the cream of mushroom soup. In fact, the main reason any university promotes diversity is that no education is complete until a student becomes familiar with other parts of the American – and now, global – casserole.
So why would the senator worry about the university giving students a taste of the whole world? I suspect his real worry is that some of the carrots are being admitted simply because they’re carrots – something a lawyer should know is explicitly prohibited by a number of Supreme Court decisions.
OK, I'm being metaphorical. The Supreme Court decisions don’t mention carrots, but they do mention race.
The court has ruled specifically on how universities may use admissions procedures to insure an adequate amount of cultural and ethnic diversity, most famously in the Bakke case. Justice Powell’s opinion was crystal clear: preferring members of any one group for no reason other than race was itself racial discrimination. But there is a constitutionally approved justification universities can use to make sure the Pluribus gets to participate in the Unum. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor echoed it when she wrote the majority opinion in a case called Grutter v. Bollinger, the current model for constitutionally acceptable practice in university admissions.
She wrote: “Today we endorse Justice Powell's view that student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.”
A compelling state interest – so long as racial quotas are not used, so long as there is a common admission standard used to evaluate all students and so long as race or ethnicity is only considered one factor among many, there’s no problem. At least, not for the Supreme Court.
The UW System’s diversity plan, and the Regent’s resolution (No. 8970) that approved it, follow these requirements to the letter.
So why is Sen. Grothman writing letters asking the Regents whether the university is “obsessed” with diversity, hates white men or if diversity programs at the UW might keep “minority” kids becoming “normal?”
If he thought the plan violated somebody’s rights then, surely, as a UW-Madison trained lawyer, he would have cited case law and said so. But he didn’t. Or perhaps he objects to the Supreme Court ruling itself ? If so, is he suggesting the university should daringly ignore the Supreme Court? Would a politician, in office as long as Sen. Grothman, advise the state to violate a Supreme Court ruling? Hard to imagine.
It’s much easier to imagine he simply doesn’t like casseroles.
Frankly, it seems more likely that Glenn doesn't like carrots in his casseroles.