Integrating Alabama as Prelude to Diversity

Posted on June 21, 2020


This is the second piece in a series of Op-eds devoted to the subjects of integration, diversity, equity, and inclusion within the University communities of the nation but with particular emphasis on the University of Alabama. This is largely, obviously, since we are here, not in someplace like Boston, Seattle, or Miami. Much of what has been happening here is nonetheless a microcosm of changes across the nation.

We began with an exploration of diversity, inclusion and equity in the University of California system done by George Wills in one his columns earlier in 2020. Alabama however lived through something California only had to address tangentially in the 1950s and 1960s, the need to integrate.

However, by the early twenty-first century Alabama had thoroughly integrated. Its Strategic Diversity Plan 2008 was a response to the settlement of the 35-year-old suit in U. S. courts, Knight v the State of Alabama. As the 2008 Plan noted, “since December 31, 1991, the University of Alabama has, along with all the other public four-year institutions of higher education in the State, operated under a remedial decree entered in the Knight case, which required the University to demonstrate good faith efforts in recruiting, hiring, and retaining black faculty, students, and senior-level administrators, and which required it to show substantial progress in increasing the number of black senior-level administrators (categorized on the IPEDS national statistical reporting database as “EEO-1”s).” And, “in October of 2005, the parties in the case entered into settlement agreements with the Knight class plaintiffs. After a fairness hearing on December 5, the federal court dismissed the case effective December 12, 2006.” End story.

The University had complied with various court decisions with ending racial discrimination against blacks. Another chapter in Alabama’s racial history was closed. But not quite.

As the goal of racial equality was met, a new strategy evolved: promoting diversity, inclusion, and equality within the University community as its principal “strategic” mission, defined as such in a major statement of University policy in 2008.,

Universities invariably issue immensely pleasing pronouncements about what they are about, usually in strategic plans. See for example “The UA Strategic Plan: Advancing the Flagship” of 2016, or the Strategic Diversity Plan of 2008 or the more recent Strategic Plan of the Office for Research and Economic Development, 2019. They make for good public relations, and, in fact, may persuade you if you are credible enough to believe them all.

They are well intentioned in the main and give glowing accounts of where the University is now (all achievements) and where they hope to go (all goals). But instead of reading the exaggerated virtues composed by overzealous administrators, and hired specialists in creating such overheated prose, let’s do what good historians do: follow the money as our economics brethren taught us, but also follow the facts, not the public relations “plans” and announcements.

In doing this, some may be offended, and others find support. Some may think educating gays to be more successful in teaching others to be gay and promoting gay life is not what UA should be about. I suggest reading some dissertation topics awarded by the College of Education in the past few years.

Others like to crunch numbers, most drawn from the Halualani Report: like 1/3 of UA’s teaching budget of tens of millions of dollars goes to fund over 1000 courses devoted in some fashion to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI in argot of educators). DEI is not your old liberal arts curriculum.
DEI is devoted instead to multiculturalism, radical feminism, identity studies, the diversity doctrine, the idealization of victimhood, socialism, sustainability, and postmodernism.

In due time, we’ll provide some vignettes of the new UA, but, for now, let’s take a look at something familiar to all of us, especially in the South: racial discrimination and its aftermath, for that’s where the modern UA began.

The key ingredient in altering the mind set of UA (the Board, administrators, etc.) were a series of decisions mentioned above, among them Knight v. State of Alabama in a federal court for almost thirty years.

The bottom line was that the state’s colleges and universities were accused of continuing to be racially discriminatory into the twenty first century. At issue were the low property taxes which produced low state revenues which inherently jeopardized the ability of the state to fund properly education, at all levels, and consequently deprived colleges and universities of adequate funding for blacks, as well as, of course, all students.

How did UA respond to the charge of continued racial discrimination? The answer is very positively. The University promised to increase the African-American presence at UA but then expanded the general principle that while diversity was good (more African-Americans) the definition and goals of “diversity” needed to be expanded quite a bit to include a lot more changes in the structure and goals of the University than just bringing the African American dimension up to snuff.

Published as “Integrating Alabama as prelude to diversity,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday June 21, 2020.