The Citizens Handbook
Progressive politics gone wrong

The campaign for diversity undermines fairness at Canadian universities
National Post, November 24, 2019

The federal Liberal government has always been a big fan of “diversity”.

Recently, for example, if you are a Canadian faculty member, there is a good chance that you received an email or letter from Statistics Canada. The Survey of Post-secondary Faculty and Researchers was designed to assess "diversity" among the groups targeted because of the desire of the Liberals to increase "diversity" among those receiving funding. It long has been the case that research funding was dependent, as much as possible, on two factors, both intensely meritocratic: the research record of the applicant and the quality of the proposed research.

That appears about to change, and not for the better.

But the concept of diversity is a very slippery term. What it truly means is "let's aim for fewer white men in positions of authority," which would be a fine idea if race and sex were reasonable criteria by which to judge applicants, and if it wasn't motivated by a broad set of "progressive" beliefs, which include the idea that we live in an oppressive patriarchy and that men who work now should be required to step back so that a litany of hypothetical, definable and prejudicial historical wrongs might be righted {this even though those who do the righting weren't those who committed the prejudicial crimes, so to speak, and those who benefit not those who were the victims). There even was a recent article in Nature, a magazine that once was, with Science, one of the two unquestionably most influential scientific journals, suggesting male scientists should voluntarily delay their career advancement so that their underprivileged colleagues {underprivileged despite their status as university professors) could catch up and justice be properly served.

“Diversity” is a word that, on the face of it, masquerades as something positive — because it is positive, in some of its manifestations. It’s obviously not helpful to set up an organization where everyone thinks alike, or solely in the approved manner. It is necessary, for example, for healthy organizations to ally the conservative tendency to preserve with the more liberal tendency to transform. But that begs the question: where is diversity to be found? Among the ideologues — pushing the “progressive” doctrine that it’s part of, most frequently including “inclusivity, equity and intersectionality” — it is to be found in a set of immutable characteristics that typify different groups, including race, sex, gender (because that is distinguished by those same ideologues from sex) and sexual proclivity, above all.

There are real problems with this agenda, however. The first is that it’s dangerous, in exactly the manner it is hypothetically designed to fight. The argument made by those who are truly prejudiced has always been that the differences between groups are so large that discrimination, isolation, segregation and even open conflict, including war and genocide, are necessary, for the safety of whatever group they are part of and are hypothetically protecting. Why is it any less risky for the argument to be made in the reverse manner? The claim that group-based differences are so important that they must take substantive priority during hiring and promotion merely risks validating the opposite claim.

There's a second problem, too — and it's particularly interesting, because it has been made by the same ideologically-oriented groups on the left that are pushing the diversity agenda: considering race, say, and gender when making diversity decisions is not sufficient. Diversity that focuses on females is insufficient, because black, Asian or Hispanic women, for example, face more egregious prejudice that white women.

This brings us to the last word of the progressive set — "intersectionality." For the ideologues of intersectionality, true diversity cannot be limited to the features we already have considered — race and the like — because many people are alienated or, in the jargon, "marginalized," from the broader culture by more than one oppressed minority feature. In consequence, the "intersection" between the groups must be considered for any real justice to make its appearance as a consequence of policy.
But there appears to be no limit, practically or philosophically, to the number of group memberships that have to be taken into account for true diversity to establish itself. It doesn't take much thought — just a little arithmetic — to determine the nature of the problem: There are just too many potential intersectional categories. Let's break it down using American statistics — much more comprehensive and easier to come by than their Canadian equivalents.

There's race and sex and, following that, gender. But how many races, sexes and genders is it required to consider? Assume {and this is what the modern science suggests) that there are five major human sub-populations: African, European/Middle Eastern, East Asian, inhabitants of Oceania, and denizens of the New World. Let's assume two sexes and three genders — although many of those concerned with diversity would insist that there are a much larger number of the latter.

So that's 5 X 2 X 3 = 30.

Then we might as well add to that disabilities. I don't know how to calculate the appropriate number here, although according to the US National Center for Education Statistics, 20 per cent of undergraduates reported a disability in 2015 - 2016. These included one or more of the following nine conditions: blindness or visual impairment; hearing impairment; orthopedic or mobility impairment; speech or language impairment; learning, mental, emotional, or psychiatric condition, or other health impairment or problem. So, if we assume that two divisions (presence/ absence) are necessary to cover each disability (counting each listed in the last phrase separately), we now require nine additional multiples of 2 (two for blindness, two for hearing impairment, etc.) for our equation:

So that's 30 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 = 15,360.

I can't see why class/economic origin shouldn't be taken into account as well. According to the US Census Bureau estimates, 12% of Americans live below the poverty line. So, we need at least an additional two categories to even minimally account for economic disparity. And that brings us to 30,720 categories of "diverse" individuals (15,360X2).

If we are truly serious about diversity, and are willing to attribute it to group identity, and are going to apply its dictates to hiring, placement and promotion for every position, then we already have a minimum of 30,000 different categories to consider — and there are many other categories of exclusion that are arguably of equal import. There's height, strength and attractiveness, which all arguably provide an unequal starting place in the race for success. There's intelligence, native language and education. There's age, marital status and — of critical importance — presence or absence of dependent children. That's nine more categories.
Assuming we once again use two divisions for each additional category (short/ tall, strong/weak, etc.), the total of "diverse" individuals now reaches more than 15 million. We'd need to add only one more binary category — obese/non-obese — to dramatically exceed the entire 18 million person Canadian workforce. And why not? Who's to say, given that elimination of discrimination is hypothetic ally the goal, that one is more important than another? I say this in all seriousness: Isn't that just another form of discrimination?

As far as I am concerned, unless you accept it as a dogmatic given (and this would be if you were an advocate of the "equity" doctrine, which means all outcomes for all groups in all professions must be identical, and which therefore runs into the same arithmetical problem that diversity encounters) university hiring and granting practices are remarkably meritocratic. In the university departments I have worked within (McGill, Harvard and the University of Toronto) it was obvious to everyone that within the limits of human error, people were promoted when they deserved it and obtained research grant money for the same reasons. In both cases, the more productive people had a pronounced edge, which is exactly how it should be if scientific research is important enough to garner investment, be it from private or public funding sources. The three granting agencies are as meritocratic as our somewhat {and inevitably) flawed measures of research productivity can make them, and the universities themselves bend over backwards and tie themselves in knots {both clichés are necessary) to right past wrongs — even to the point where well-respected social scientists Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci demonstrated a 2:1 hiring advantage for female candidates for open science, technology, engineering and mathematical positions.

The proper way to determine who gets what slice of which pie in a given organization is the manner in which employers are legally bound to hire: first, they must conduct an analysis of the job to determine and list its requirements; then, with certain exceptions they are required to hire, place or promote the person who is most qualified to undertake that job, regardless of attributes that are not relevant to the task. These include the differences in race, sex, gender, and their combinations that are pushed so assiduously, self-righteously and thoughtlessly by the progressives who think they can replace comparatively well-functioning meritocracies, aimed at the solution of serious problems, by the most qualified people, with candidates chosen on the basis of attributes that would clearly be viewed as prejudicial if they were used as grounds for rejection, failure to promote, and firing.

The fact of the endless multiplication of categories of victimization, let's say (or at least difference) was actually solved long ago by the Western emphasis on the individual. We essentially assumed that each person was characterized by so many differences than every other person (the ultimate in "intersectionality") that it was better to concentrate solely on meritocratic selection, where the only difference that was to be considered was the suitability of the person for the specific and well-designed tasks that constituted a given job. That works — not perfectly, but less imperfectly than anything else that has been contemplated or worse, implemented.

We toy with it at our peril.


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