Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Last May, the University of Wisconsin-Madison issued a document drafted by the Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee, “A Framework for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence.” Like all committee productions in the higher-ed diversity arena, it bears the customary affirmations, including:

  • The need to “strengthen our efforts . . . fostering a diverse and inclusive community” (past efforts, it seems, are never enough);
  • The citation of empirical studies demonstrating the value of a diverse student body to learning outcomes, especially critical thinking (although the science of such studies is dicey);
  • And the social justice imperative that demands more representation of historically-disadvantaged minorities (although outright quotas are illegal).

But the document contains an unpredicted component, too. Under the heading “Diversity Defined,” the authors acknowledge that standard definitions of diversity as racial and sexual difference are inadequate. We need to admit other differences, too, they maintain. 

Here is the entire paragraph:

Previous diversity plans have focused on race, ethnicity and gender, which remain critical problems for UW-Madison. We recognize, however, that to achieve Inclusive Excellence a strategic framework should be expanded to include additional dimensions of diversity. This framework de?nes diversity as: race and ethnicity; sex; gender, and gender identity or expression; marital status; age; sexual orientation; country of origin; language; disability; socio-economic status; and af?liations that are based on cultural, political, religious, or other identities.

Note “cultural, political, religious, or other identities.” If the university takes them seriously, these “additional dimensions of diversity” put extraordinary pressure on all the recommendations that follow. 

The document calls for “Oversight of Diversity” and asserts, “In order to effectively assess and evaluate the university’s progress toward achieving the goals outlined within this framework, a robust and multi-layered accountability is necessary.” It includes regular reports on “campus activities related to diversity,” plus reports from administrators that “serve as indicators of success” and “discuss new initiatives, provide progress updates on ongoing initiatives, and discuss reasons for lack of progress in planned initiatives.”

If those reports are to be true to the new diversity definition, they must add political orientation and religious affiliation to the usual checkboxes of race, ethnicity, and sex. Madison is a public institution, and the document calls for “greater accountability and transparency.” Hence, the results should be open to the public.

 Let us find out, then, about the political and religious make-up of administrators and professors, and if those numbers prove wildly disproportionate to the general population of Wisconsin, then let’s follow the document’s recommendation that discussions of causes and remedies be convened. 

Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles