Thursday, May 3, 2007

Math, Diversity, and Colgate

I read this report (via Volokh Conspiracy and Instapundit) on Colgate’s goal of diversifying their staff and their stated desire to place diversity above the subfield specialties of prospective professors. It caught my attention because it betrays a fundamental flaw in logic that afflicts many pundits on areas of race and diversity today; namely, a lack of any sort of acquaintance with math.

They say that they’ve seen “the percentage of minority faculty members rise to about 20 percent, with the percentage of women topping 40 percent,” apparently before putting this plan into action (it's not entirely clear in the report). They seem to assume that this is bad, thus the need to reorganize their priorities. But is it bad?

It turns out that when you discuss diversity, there’s a powerful tool available to help you know the diversity of the United States: it’s called the US census. And if you’re a US college, I’ll assume (perhaps wrongly!) that you would like to reflect the US population when you say you want “diversity”. In that way, your professors will reflect your basic student body, thus being diverse enough to be welcoming to the average student.

Now, then, what does the census tell us about race? Well, it says that 75% of people identify themselves as “white.” So 20% “minority” (non-white) professors is really not too bad. I leave aside the long discussion of degree rates between minorities and whites, which I'm not qualified to discuss, and the hair-splitting of which particular minority (black, asian, etcetera) we're addressing.

We can also find, for comparison purposes, a study at Penn about diversity among faculty. They said that their minority professorship was something like 13%. So I’ll conclude that Colgate is doing fairly well in this area, with some room for improvement.

What about women? Well, women make up 51% of society (according to the census). So 40% is way too low, right? Not exactly. Again, the census (on page 11) tells us that the female participation in the labor force is about 60%. So if only 60% of available women work, and only 51% of the population ins female, then we’d expect that at universities the teachers should be 31%.

WAIT! Aren’t females over-represented in teaching? Yes, they are. But at the peak of the profession, shouldn’t we see a gender ratio that is more representative of society as a whole? The outcome of the over-representation of women as teachers means that at Colgate they are over-represented by 1/3, where they have 40% women instead of the 30% we expected.

However, Colgate has decided it has a “problem” with diversity, so Lyle Roelofs will take steps to address it. And his suggesetion is this: degrade the value of acquirable competencies, and increase the value of non-acquirable preferences.

This is wrong. It is wrongly thought, wrongly reasoned, and wrongly enacted. If the college seeks someone who can teach the 18th century reflection of Shakespeare, prospective applicants can learn this as a competency. We choose competencies all the time, regardless of our race, sex, gender, or etcetera. It’s how we make ourselves more marketable.

But if Colgate seeks someone who is a minority, there’s nothing that non-minorities can do. If Colgate seeks a woman, then no males need apply. We’ve already done away with this system when it existed in the reverse, where employers searched for non-minorities and men. Do we need to go through the exercise a second time? Did we not learn enough the first pass?

This plan is discrimination; certainly enacted for a noble goal, but its discrimination nonetheless. And to dress it up otherwise requires mental gymnastics that one rarely finds outside of academia.

Further, the report states that “But as a small liberal arts university in a rural setting, Colgate has a hard time holding on to minority professors — and so needs to keep hiring them as well as trying to encourage more of them to make their careers at the university.”

I would presume a small liberal arts university in a rural setting would have a hard time holding onto any professors, not just the minorities. But if this statement is true, then their 20% minorities is exceptional and they are to be commended.

Instead they’re concerned and preparing to enact unequal measures.

Only in a university setting would a group find a problem that doesn’t really exist (lack of diversity), then in order to solve it take the most hypocritical route to get there (discrimination).

Colgate needs to think again about what the whole purpose of their college is, which they spell out in the first paragraph of their way-too-long mission statement:
Colgate's mission is to provide a demanding, expansive, educational experience to a select group of diverse, talented, intellectually sophisticated students who are capable of challenging themselves, their peers, and their teachers in a setting that brings together living and learning. The purpose of the University is to develop wise, thoughtful, critical thinkers and perceptive leaders by challenging young men and women to fulfill their potential through residence in a community that values intellectual rigor and respects the complexity of human understanding.
How best to do this? Hire the best teachers, who know the subject, being sure that you don’t hire all people “like you” and reflect society at large. In that order, please. Any other order betrays the mission and the whole purpose of being a college in the first place.

And maybe some basic math and internet search classes might help the critical thinkers that wrote the report, too.