Diversity, moving from theory to practice

Posted on July 18, 2020


We left off a few weeks ago with the commitment to diversity made explicit in 2008 by various official documents issued by the University of Alabama. How was diversity itself to be diversified at UA to include more than just hiring increasing numbers of African American faculty and administrators, and recruiting more students in the same category? Equally important, what did diversity and its partner goals, “equity” and “inclusion,” mean? And for those of you with a bent for practical economics in the making and operation of America, how many millions have been invested into the enterprise of DEI?

Like so many corporations and institutions, you have to “follow the money” to determine the size of the commitment and to “follow the money” inside a university community like California or Alabama takes a lot of detective work in a sometimes deliberately murky environment.

The 2017-2018 UA Annual Budget is 81 pages alone. What is the annual budget? It depends upon a lot of factors and how you measure them, but the “total operating expenses” were over a billion dollars—or $1,108,966,258 to be exact.

The total amount devoted to instruction was about $359 million while the lion’s share, or $728 million, went to salaries, wages, and benefits.

I am not interested at this point in the detail as much as in the general sense of what is being done. How’s this nugget from the Halualani Report commissioned by UA in 2016-2017: “Over one-third of UA’s undergraduate curriculum (36%, 1083 courses) is diversity related” and “UA has over 70 different student organizations which have diversity and inclusion as a focus.”

If we divide $359 million devoted to instruction by half, just to play it conservatively, that’s about $180 million for instruction/teaching. Let’s divide that by half, leaving us with $90 million for instruction.

And since, according to Halualani, 1/3 of UA’s instruction is diversity related, that’s about $30 million for DEI. Is this possible? $30 million? Let’s divide that in half to be—perhaps—closer to fiscal reality. That’s $15 million give and take a few million to diversity, equity, and inclusion. And we’re not even throwing in the Halualani fact that UA has “over 70 different student organizations” which have diversity and inclusion as a focus.

And down in the middle of the 36-page Halualani report we find number 12: “Design and implement more creative (“outside the box”) or next-level strategies to recruit diverse faculty and staff.  Examining innovative practices in recruiting diverse faculty and staff at other comparable public higher educational institutions, may provide useful information.” Maybe study how California recruits faculty, if UA not already making DEI the major hurdle for faculty applying for appointment at UA?

Let me be as clear as possible here as we briefly analyze some of the above data. George Wills got it right. Faculty are being forced to be political and promote the agenda of DEI at California. There doesn’t appear to be a similar requirement at Alabama yet. Is this good or bad?

That’s a question you must answer yourself. Let me reframe it a bit: do we want to promote diversity at the expense of quality and excellence? Or, do you want my son, a professional pilot, or my stepdaughter, a surgeon, flying you or operating on you for some other reason than they earned their credentials based on their intelligence, skills, and desires to be the best they can be in their professions? Or are you willing to bet your lives that they got to the cockpit or into the operating room for some other reason, like their race, sex, ethnic origin or other criteria that DEI champions rather than academic excellence and true achievement?

And here’s the real toughie. Can we have diversity and live to the standards of excellence as twin criteria of what higher education should stand for and promote? My answer is a guarded yes, [italics added] but don’t sacrifice one for the other. How do we do this?

Write me with your thoughts. I have suggested one solution based around the concept of an “Alpha College” to be started by some enterprising college or university, public or private, to create the new curriculum for the twenty-first century. I could run that piece again.

So far it has been ignored with a resounding silence. I am, definitely, swimming against the stream.

 It would only cost, for you budget people, a small percentage of what UA is spending on DEI. Ask yourselves, just for starters: are reading, writing, math, critical thinking, languages, law, medicine, marketing,  journalism, education, philosophy, history and sciences for example just as important as intercultural communications, racial/ethnic identity, diasporic and global movements, critical indigenous studies, identity, agency, imagination, power, resistance and identities and mis-identification for a few examples of DEI curriculum?

Published as “Diversity, moving from theory to practice” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday July 12 2020.