The Daily Pennsylvanian has featured several articles over the past year on the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in Penn’s upper administrative positions, sparking heated debates among readers on the emphasis of race and ethnicity in the hiring of deans and provosts.
The most recent article on Penn’s lack of administrative diversity discussed the rising pressure among current administrators, including President Amy Gutmann, to appoint “diverse” candidates for the upcoming four dean positions.
As a student of the University, I favor the need for diversity but question its meaning and why it must be so exclusively linked to skin color. I hope to stimulate conversation about the complex motives, ethics and effects of this distinction and whether it truly benefits equality.
A common argument invoked to support racial and ethnic affirmative action in higher education is the even playing field argument — that a history of discrimination has necessitated race-based diversification.
This argument is absolutely tenable for socioeconomically disadvantaged minorities — especially youth — for which affirmative action can provide a fighting chance. I embrace the benefits of affirmative action in schools and even in some entry-level work positions. However, the topic of this piece is not the underprivileged, but rather already distinguished members of elite institutions. Candidates for the four deanships at Penn will likely come from Ivy League universities — indeed, nine of the 13 current University deans at Penn were either educated or educators at an Ivy League institution before taking their deanship at Penn. These individuals — regardless of race — are already exceptional candidates.
A second argument often made is the creativity argument — that diversity promotes a creative working environment.
Absolutely — few would disagree. But why must diversity be circumscribed by race? Furthermore, why do we assume that one racial group inherently differs from another? Shouldn’t a group of people with varied backgrounds, experiences and ideas — regardless of their appearance — promote more creativity than a group of different-looking, yet similarly thinking individuals?
While there exists a correlation between race and the aforementioned metrics of diversity, correlation does not equal causation. To focus on skin color or ethnicity as the lone proxy for diversity is naive, only setting us back in thought to an era when the masses believed blacks had fundamentally distinct physical and mental capacities than whites.
Even if one could make a cogent argument for emphasizing race in Penn’s hiring process, there are still two important points to consider.
Firstly, putting pressure on racial factors will be tenuous for the future, insofar as it generates complex, lingering questions regarding the role of race in subsequent hiring: At what point have we filled this proverbial racial quota? Does it become unethical to replace a dean of color with one that is white?
The second and more important point is one of merit. Quoted in the Oct. 24 article, professor Camille Charles said that she “ideally would like to see two of the four dean appointments be of racial or ethnic minorities.” However, this pressure to hastily improve diversity statistics leads to an inorganic process that may threaten the perception of an individual’s accomplishments. It would be most unfortunate to view the selection of Anita Allen — appointed in June to vice provost of faculty — merely in the context of her minority status rather than in her impressive skills and qualifications. Do we want the pioneers of the future — be they women, homosexuals or people of color — to be questioned of their merit and success because of preferential policies?
In his original 1961 executive order, President Kennedy decreed that we must “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin.”
Now, 50 years later, affirming these words requires an advancement in thought in which, outside of socioeconomically disparate conditions, we disregard external factors altogether. The constant re-surfacing of narrow external attributes places an emphasis on race that fundamentally contradicts the spirit of Kennedy’s original argument.
This “selective diversity” may result in a minor victory later this year for those involved. However, it is paradoxical in its inherent establishment of a racial imbalance — one which prevents us from eliminating social bias and promoting true employment equality defined strictly by the caliber, ambition and diversity of the applicant’s ideas and merits.
Dan Eder is a College sophomore and a Daily Pennsylvanian staff member. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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