Expanding Diversity at the University of Alabama

Posted on June 29, 2020


A few weeks ago we began an examination of racial integration, diversity, and its brothers “equity” and “inclusion” in the overall scheme of education across the nation, but more specifically at the University of Alabama for the obvious reason that we are here, not someplace else. At various points between 2008 and today UA moved–in most ways copying trends well underway across the country from the Ivy League of the Northeast to California and the West—to expanding its “strategic mission” to include many, if not all, the ingredients associated with the modern Left and a population increasingly wedded to identity politics.

These include emphases on multiculturalism, radical feminism, identity studies, the diversity doctrine, the idealization of victimhood, socialism, sustainability, and postmodernism. A report commissioned and approve by the University in 2017, the Halualani Report, includes some astounding data and statistics on achieving the goals of a transformed university.

The new universities are driven by political and cultural ideologies very much different from the liberal arts universities of the past which emphasized individualism, truth, open inquiry, critical thinking, personal responsibility, open debate, religion and learning across the spectrum of human activities that all large, and great, universities putatively embrace.

But as Bobby Dylan sang in the 1960s, the times they are a changing. As the Plan of 2008 stated, quite explicitly: it reaffirms “the University of Alabama’s long-established commitment to diversity as an educational policy [italics iadded here and below]; reviews the progress made since 1991 in increasing representation of African Americans and other minorities within the student body, faculty, and senior level administrative positions; identifies programs and initiatives that the University administration believes have helped and will continue to help it achieve the diversity it believes is essential to achieving its educational mission and achieving its strategic goals previously identified in its 2004-2014 Strategic Plan.”

I had to chuckle a bit at “Alabama’s long-established commitment to diversity” when looking back at the University’s reception to the forced integration of its classes in the 1950s and 1960s. Things, however, can change dramatically in a few months, a few days, or a few hours as we have discovered with the Corona virus pandemic, the wild gyrations of the stock market, and recent rioting, looting, and pillaging in the cities all in the name of social justice.

Papers circulated in the late 1990s—all mentioned in the 2008 plan– drew attention to the fact that “ethnic diversity in the student body and faculty” should be cultivated for the enrichment of student life. Or diversity is good. One can hardly argue with that. If University life is meant to promote the study and exchange of information and knowledge, this is consistent with the role of traditional universities to open the minds of students to different cultures and points of view, both at home and globally.

Diversity, and later “inclusion” and “equity,” had different meanings to educators outside of the old South. It didn’t simply mean more African American students, faculty and administrators. It had some specific, political, meanings. Think identify politics for a second. We are right and you are wrong. End discussion.

These changes ultimately challenged the concept of a University open to debate and different views in the tradition of unencumbered access to facts and truths in which all views were welcome, not just those of specific constituencies.

Some astute students of higher education in the last half century clearly identified diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as basically promoting a politically correct, Leftist-socialist agenda in university communities. Polls in the period 2010-2020 indicate that usually more than sixty percent of faculty identify themselves as far left or liberal, twenty to twenty-five percent “middle of the road” and the rest, or about fifteen percent as in some category of conservative. Other surveys are even more explicit.

Alan Jacobs noted in The Atlantic in 2019, “by 2014, one study reported the ‘the ratio of liberals to conservatives among American college and university faculty was 6 to 1 nationwide, and 28 to 1 in New England [and…] more recent research suggests that the overall national trend may be moving further to the left.” Samuel J. Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College noted that even just pointing out these tendencies can land you in trouble with students and peers.

Thus, the overwhelming consensus among those who take the pulse of the nation is that faculty is largely devoted to a leftist-socialist agenda with a politically correct dimension. And one of the principal tools to achieve their agendas is DEI.

Faculty at UA needing encouragement and ideas from California on how to get it right might wish to consult a long document–UCLA Diversity and Faculty Development–made easily available on UAs DEI web page. (link on the DEI web site).

If UA faculty are largely representative of faculty across the country, is there any doubt that the almost explosive expansion of DEI at UA was predictable? What is interesting to note is that academic administrators, especially the Board which is supposed to be representative of opinion and culture across the State, has so willingly loosened the purse strings to make this transition come to pass. To be up front, diversity has replaced excellence as the goal of higher education.

Published as “Expanding Diversity at the University of Alabama.” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday June 28, 2020.