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There’s a new favorite word being thrown around campus among the movers and shakers at Penn.

Diversity, diversity, diversity.

However, shouldn’t the defining paradigm of education be education itself?

The winds of anxiety and worry began swirling last December, when Penn released data that revealed that the number of minority faculty has increased only 3 percentage points since 2002.

This meager increase is made woefully more embarrassing considering the fact that Penn pledged to increase minority faculty by establishing a Minority Equity Committee. Then, in 2005, a progress report attempted to re-emphasize this concern, concluding that there were “clearly too few minority faculty at Penn.”

This issue has been prevalent for a while now. Despite concerted efforts to increase minority representation among the faculty, the gains have been paltry — year after year.

With all due respect to the Opinion Board of The Daily Pennsylvanian — which advocated for a detailed plan to increase minority representation — efforts to increase faculty diversity have fallen flat, and overzealous initiatives on that end have overshadowed a more necessary bedrock of the Penn experience — a superb education.

Lately, Penn hasn’t done a pristine job of maintaining that foundation.

Look no further than Penn’s shining city on a hill, also known as the Wharton School. Although still ranked as the top undergraduate business school by U.S. News & World Report, Wharton has tumbled in the equally prestigious Bloomberg News rankings, lowering from third in 2009 to fourth in 2010.

And, of course, Penn has failed to crack into the vaunted Holy Trinity of universities — Harvard, Yale, Princeton — in terms of statistical rankings and public perception for decades.

So there is clearly room for improvement on the education front — Penn is viewed exceptionally well, but it has flaws.

That is why the mania over diversity makes little sense in light of these underlying structural issues that continually place Penn beneath the top tier of Ivy League schools and has eroded our once dominant grip over undergraduate business programs. In a school where academic excellence is not given but earned, Penn must continually strive to provide students with the strongest, most reputable professors and instructors.

As much as faculty diversity can be heralded as an important facet of a vibrant academic community, the most vital concern of any university is always to maintain a high caliber of academic excellence. To hone this excellence, a variety of corollary factors can be addressed — including faculty diversity ratios.

But a college must primarily adhere to its binding principle — educating and molding young adults for a successful future. Increases in faculty diversity, without similar increases in the actual competence and merit of professors, will merely amount to a diverse — yet floundering — academic community at Penn.

However, strengthening the academic community by attracting the best professors in a given field — regardless of religion, race, gender and political outlook — will reinforce an academic foundation upon which diversity can be more enthusiastically sought after.

The data released in December showed that all the minority hires in the last five years were roughly equal to the number of minority departures.

Instead of seeking new ways to incentivize minority hires, we need to incentivize minority retention, first and foremost. Then the University needs to focus on figuring out ways to bring the best and brightest professors available to campus.

It is disconcerting to imagine that Penn would prioritize anything except bringing in the most accomplished professors to teach. Before we start getting riled up in chants of diversity, we would be wise to throw a new word around campus.

Merit, merit, merit.

Brian Goldman is a College junior from Queens, N.Y. His e-mail address is The Gold Standard appears every Monday.

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