Columbia's $15 Million Diversity Initiative:

Professor KC Johnson comments on a new $15 million diversity initiative at Columbia. Here's the most amazing part to me:

In addition to recruiting minority and female professors, especially in the sciences, the university could use the money to hire white men "who, through their scholarship and teaching and mentoring, in some way promote the diversity goals of the university," she said.

The obvious question arises--what exactly does Columbia mean by including only those whose views "in some way promote the diversity goals of the university"? How will Columbia interpret this? It is hard to see how this is not an ideological litmus test; if it is not an ideological litmus test, it is hard to see what it could otherwise reasonably be read to mean.

Johnson asks:

Columbia’s initiative goes beyond Harvard’s. It will recruit women, minorities, and white men—but only white men who, in Howard’s words, “through their scholarship and teaching and mentoring, in some way promote the diversity goals of the university.” Let’s take, then, the example of a white male professor, of distinguished scholarship and teaching, in political science or sociology. Let’s say, further, that this professor has publicly argued that a color- and gender-blind legal code is the best way to sustain a diverse society. Columbia’s academic freedom policy “guarantees that [its faculty] will not be penalized for expressions of opinion or associations in their private or civic capacity.” But does anyone seriously believe a white male who has taken such a position would pass Howard’s “diversity” test? How, then, can the pro-diversity white men aspect of this initiative be reconciled with Columbia’s academic freedom policy?

The announcement of the initiative itself partially answers Johnson's query by suggesting the range of opinions that will qualify as views that "promote the diversity goals of the university":

Deepening and Extending the University Dialogue:

The investment also allows for continued expansion of University-sponsored events on diversity matters. Last year's guest speakers included Princeton President Shirley Tilghman, who spoke about the hurdles of recruiting and retaining women in science; MIT Biology Professor Nancy Hopkins, who described the institutional transformation around gender issues that occurred at MIT; and Georgetown University Law Professor Chuck Lawrence, who spoke about the continuing need for affirmative action.

One important effect of imposing this sort of ideological litmus test for hiring, is that it makes it increasing difficult to protect academic freedom from bad ideas such as David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights. The objection to the Academic Bill of Rights--an objection that I share--is that it improperly infringes on academic freedom. But if Columbia is going to override its academic freedom policy for these political purposes, then there seems to be no principled reason not to override academic freedom for the political purposes favored by David Horowitz and other advocates of the Academic Bill of Rights. What can Columbia say in response to Horowitz now?

Moreover, if Columbia is indeed imposing an ideological litmus test that excludes conservatives from consideration for these 15-20 positions, this is somewhat ironic to say the least. According to one study of departements of Economics, English, History, Philosophy, Political Science and Sociology, Democrats already outnumber Republicans 14-to-1 at Columbia, and the study finds only 6 Republicans on the entire faculty in the departments surveyed (see update below) and not a single Republican in the history, political science, and sociology departments. (For those who haven't been following this issue, political party identification turns out to be a strong and easily-measurable proxy for ideological viewpoint--compare this study with this.) I also did a brief review of some of the science departments at Columbia, and although there are substantially more men than women faculty members in those departments, it appears that the imbalance is substantially less than 14-to-1. Moreover, women seem to be represented in much greater numbers at the more junior professor levels, suggesting that the imbalance is narrowing over time, unlike the ideological imbalance in the academy, which appears to be widening over time. Thus, the ironic result of Columbia's ideologically-laden "diversity" initiative will almost certainly be to reduce the ideological diversity of the university and reinforce the prevailing orthodoxy. Nor is it responsive that there are an inadequate number of qualified candidates, as part of Columbia's charge is to "strengthen the pipeline bringing women and minority students into the University's undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral programs."

According to the press release, the $15 million expenditure was approved by the Columbia Board of Trustees.


A Commenter correctly noted that the underlying study that I link to found that there were only 6 Republicans in the departments of Economics, English, History, Philosophy, Political Science and Sociology, not on the entire faculty as I originally stated. My apologies and I have corrected the original text of the post.