The Bar-On Brief: Diversity of opinion must be considered in faculty hiring

Link — The Bar-On Brief: Diversity of opinion must be considered in faculty hiring

 

“Diversity” is a word that gets thrown around daily without anyone stopping to think about what it really means. Employers want diverse workplaces, colleges want diverse applicants, and now the University of California school system insists on “diverse professors.” American culture is infatuated with diversity, but for all the wrong reasons.

Following in the footsteps of five other UC campuses, UCLA announced this month that it will require all prospective professors and all those seeking a promotion to “document their contribution to diversity” in an attempt to hire more diverse faculty.

There are significantly more white than African American and Latinx professors on UC campuses; the same is true for heterosexuals compared to members of the LGBTQ+ community. However, there is a significant area in which UC schools are not diverse — political ideology. According to a 2016 study by Econ Journal Watch, UC schools have a liberal to conservative faculty ratio of 12:1, despite touting other forms of diversity. College professors must educate students holistically and multi dimensionally. To effectively accomplish this, professors should embody a diversity of ideas and opinions.

If a university is diverse in race, ethnicity and gender but is composed of ideologically analogous professors, I would argue that this is as grave a sin as a college with exclusively white, straight and male professors. Universities are rightfully aiming to diversify their ranks, but ideology should be as important as all other factors.

In an ideal world, college campuses would have both appearance-based and political ideological diversity. But if colleges are striving for diversity based only on its faculty’s ethnic and cultural background without a similar push to hire politically diverse faculty, there’s definitely something wrong.

Perhaps it’s more important to analyze the “race gap” and compare it to the “ideological gap.” The results show that the gap in diversity of opinion is more worrisome than any gap in skin color. In fact, in looking at the numbers, it is evident that the “conservative gap” is exponentially larger than the “minority gap.”

In 2015, 6 percent of full-time faculty at U.S. universities were African American, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Compare this number to the 5.2 percent of African American doctorate recipients nationwide that same year and it is apparent why there are so few African American professors is influenced by a small pool of candidates. Full-time professors almost always have the highest degree possible in their field of expertise. Therefore, the composition of the pool of doctoral students is the best predictor for who will be the nation’s future professors.

Now look at the ideology gap: A Pew study found that the ratio of postgraduates who consider themselves “consistently liberal” and “mostly liberal” compared to their “consistently conservative” and “mostly conservative” counterparts is 5.4 to 2.4. At the professor level, there are 12 liberal professors for every conservative professor. The National Association of Scholars also reports that 39 percent of college campuses have zero Republican professors.

There is an alarming lack of political diversity among college professors, despite the hiring pipeline not reflecting such a large diversity gap. This may be a larger problem than the lack of minority professors where the hiring market does reflect a large gap.

It’s also important to understand why we strive for diverse campuses and faculty. Encouraging ethnic diversity is a strategy for bringing new perspectives and opinions to the marketplace of ideas. However, the reality is that while colleges look to hire candidates who are racially diverse, they often fail to consider ideological diversity, with their hires still dramatically skewing to the liberal side of the spectrum.

The purpose of college is to challenge students with different viewpoints, to give them the opportunity to doubt their previous opinions and ultimately let them weigh and debate their established ideas against what they disagree with. Only by having an opinion challenged can its holder really know if it is worth anything. If an opinion is repeated in an echo chamber and never attacked, a student would never gain insight into important criticism. Ultimately, it does not matter if an opinion is being challenged by a white professor, a Latinx professor or a heterosexual professor, so long as their challenges are equal in caliber.

Of course, diversity of thought is linked to but not necessarily dependent on race, ethnicity or gender. But if the underlying goal is to bring in diverse ideologies into universities across the nation, it would make more sense to target that core goal and bring in diverse thinkers — particularly in the political realm — with equal attention to the pursuit of hiring more minority professors. After all, conservative professors continue to be a minority on college campuses across the United States. Those numbers don’t lie.

Shauli Bar-On is a sophomore majoring in political science. His column, “The Bar-On Brief,” runs every other Tuesday.

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