Virginia Tech recently imposed guidelines on faculty members of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to actively support the advancement of diversity on our campus. Participating in such diversity initiatives would be a requirement for faculty wishing to keep their current positions or receive promotions.
This "diversity" litmus test has already surfaced in the Promotion and Tenure Guidelines for the CLAHS. In section VII of the guidelines expected contributions to diversity are outlined. Some of these areas include self-education, such as participation in diversity awareness workshops, leadership on departmental diversity committees, counseling or advising diverse student organizations and incorporating diversity-related scholarships in courses, readings and research, among others.
A column published by the National Association of Scholars, titled "Free to Agree," by Peter Wood argues that this decision flouts academic freedom, as "diversity is not a category of academic accomplishment equivalent to high-quality teaching or success in scholarly research and publishing. Diversity is an ideology."
This expressed sentiment leaves many questioning the role of a public university in requiring faculty members to prove their commitments to diversity in order to get promoted or even retain their current jobs.
First and foremost, faculty members should be evaluated on their basis of teaching. That's not to say that other characteristics and commitments don't matter, but when it comes to teaching, classroom performance should be the most telling indicator of ability.
In previous years, "University Service" has been understood to consist of attending university meetings and panels, taking on departmental or college service, and serving students in co-curricular activities. However, it seems these diversity guidelines are suddenly at the forefront of faculty evaluations, and if that is the way in which faculty advancement will be determined, that's wrong.
Diversity is a positive thing. Learning from people with different life experiences, customs and backgrounds is a fulfilling and eye-opening experience and that should be what college is about. Hopefully we're not all here just to learn from our professors, but also from one another. For students who want to take advantage of broadening their horizons, resources are available, maybe not in high quantity, but they are accessible, and hopefully these programs will continue to expand.
For people who say Virginia Tech lacks diversity, you might be right. However, all too often the idea of diversity is used synonymously with minority groups on campus and correlated with race. The fact of the matter is none of us are really the same. We're all different people with individual interests. Some of us are musicians while others are engineers. Our family lives are different, and our extracurricular activities vary. We can be a part of any organization we want. Blacksburg is not the place to look for a microcosm of the world but we do what we can. We're not George Washington University or New York University, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for variation.
Those of us who are involved in programs committed to diversity or who have friends from minority backgrounds likely don't live our lives constantly aware of this fact; and that's a good thing. In an ideal world, one day "diversity" won't be just a buzzword, but rather an inherent and essential part of life.
We undeniably have a long way to go in terms of fostering an environment that is more welcoming to people of specific orientations or ethnic backgrounds, but to be quite honest, it's also not something many of us probably think about on a daily basis.
Luckily we have the university to do that thinking for us. While some might argue that the only way we can ever become a more "diverse" school (there's that word again), is to insist that faculty members work tirelessly to promote it on the educational level, ultimately the push for diversity should not trump all other kinds of service that the faculty provide.
When it comes down to it, sure faculty "workshops" on diversity might help from a public relations standpoint, but the real way that Tech will ultimately become more diverse is by reaching out to a more diverse group of high school seniors. The key to creating a diverse campus climate is looking to the high school level. Once students have been admitted to Tech, it's entirely difficult, if not impossible to inspire thousands of students to care about, let alone think about, something they feel does not affect them. If the administration is unhappy with the current diversity of the student body, it should be working with admissions to pursue students with a variety of backgrounds and the have the academic achievement to match. Admitting a more diverse group of students to Tech - whether in the ethnic, geographic, religious, socioeconomic or other sense - would instantly alter the campus climate. Faculty members wouldn't have to seek out diverse organizations to support because almost every organization would be more diverse.
However, the current requirements on the promotion of diversity interfere with the academic freedoms granted to faculty members on this campus. Hopefully individual faculty members will choose to promote these ideals, but CLAHS should not so directly affect course readings and research on this subject.
Diversity should be held as important, but ultimately it is an ideology. Faculty members should feel free to provide service through projects and organizations they see fit. While classroom performance isn't the only factor in evaluating faculty performance, it should certainly be high up on the list. (Research doesn't hurt, either.) Commitment to diversity should be held as another important criterion, which faculty members should be encouraged to participate in.
There should not, however, be an instituted service requirement if faculty members wish to keep their jobs or receive promotions. An enforcement of this idea undermines not only the idea of faculty research, but also may lead to another, more disturbing outcome: a facade of interest in diversity while building resentment toward the entire enterprise.
The editorial board is composed of David Grant, David Harries, Laurel Colella, Jenna Marson and Alexandra Kaufmann.