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.