Did anyone see the smile on Nan's face last week? She tried to hide it but you could tell. Nine years of her hard work finally paid off when our University won the most prestigious ranking it could ever imagine. Nine years of running this school as if diversity were the answer to every problem, nine years of pumping money into any multicultural collection of students that could come up with a way to spend it, nine years of hiring according to a litmus test of "commitment to diversity" and word had finally gotten out that Duke is the diversist of the diverse among America's universities. Could there be a greater honor? I imagine there were a lot of high fives and champagne toasts in the Allen and Flowers Buildings when the news broke. What must have been hard, though, was hiding the enthusiasm outside of the office.
Our administrators, after all, are not ones to rest on their laurels, because they all know that we still remain but in the earliest stages of the march to their idea of the good society. Thus, we witnessed administrators almost tripping over themselves last Thursday to assure Chronicle interviewers that so much remains to be done. Provost Peter Lange pointed out that students choose to live in a residential pattern that is not maximally diverse. Sally Dickson at the Office of Institutional Equity assured us that everything is not okay. Karla Holloway, dean of the humanities and social sciences, testified that the quantity of black faculty was not enough for her tastes, and the "Black Faculty Strategic Initiative" is regrouping for a better game plan. Granted, there was a time when hiring someone because of the color of his or her skin was considered racist. Now, as long as it is the right color, it's "progressive."
In brief, though we know they were all patting themselves on the back for a ten year plan well done, our administrators took the occasion to point out how many areas have eluded complete domination by diversity and to express their disappointment. But surely these are all things that will only take time, manipulation, and Campus Council resolutions to fix.
No one has really stepped back and asked, "Has all this made us a better school?" or "Why have our national rankings declined in the last few years?", likely because it would reveal the unpleasant fact that diversity isn't the solution to all problems. Rather, our administration becomes more encouraged in believing that it can impose a campus vision from on high through the social engineering it has used in constructing an appearance of worthwhile diversity so far. The consequences of this position, however, become more and more pathetic each year. Such bizarre hubris has culminated this fall in the "Race, Sex and God" project, now prominently advertised on library computers, meant to move us students "beyond the comfort zone."
The basic premise behind the project is this: It is only because of our "comfort levels" that we students don't dialogue and resolve issues regarding "Race, Sex and God," not because there are deep-rooted and perhaps irreconcilable philosophical divides of first principles, and if we could only artistically express our differences, we could see past our prejudices, have a fun time and become more enlightened individuals. The "Race, Sex, and God" initiative was set up with a healthy grant of $20,000 from the Wiegand Foundation to incentivize students to produce creative, visual or dramatic projects to address these three issues. Students can get $200 to play around with, and if the entry is provocative and clever their quad might get a DVD player in a commons room. The program culminates in a "festival" to display these creations and to revel in their diversity. This is the University's answer to the oft-asked question of what it is doing to create an engaging intellectual climate among students. In practice, however, not only will this program likely contribute little to students' actual intellectual work, but it also demonstrates how trite these issues have become to our administrative officials and low they will stoop to get students to conform to the administration's peculiar visions.
What would the response be to the math department if it organized a carnival for students to wrestle with their solutions to differential equations? What vision of intellectual life guides a project that considers personal expression and a fiesta the elements of a rigorous exploration of a difficult topic? A low oneâ??but this is okay because the administration is interested in producing a spectacle, not in any real intellectual battles. Since when has the University been interested in provocative discussions about race? It certainly didn't volunteer any funds for David Horowitz last year. When the festival concludes, will Duke provide its own correct answers to questions of sex, like it does in freshman orientation? And why is it necessary to bribe students to participate in this event?
The administration knows what it wants and that is a pleasant pillow-padded undergraduate culture at Duke that has people producing works that are nice to hang on the wall with fashionably "controversial" titles. It knows what students want, namely ambiguously accounted for cash grants and entertainment of some sorts. "Race, Sex, and God" is an attempt to make both happy. A number of things may come from this. Perhaps frats can gain a foothold in campus politics by sensitivity extortion. Frat: We'll do a documentary on women's issues if you pay for our kegs this weekend. Administration: Throw in a diorama on racial inequality and we'll make them Heineken. More likely, however is that differences regarding race, sex, and God will continue to resist mastery by therapeutic politically correct posturing and our administrative diversifiers will, despite their endless progress, have jobs for many years to come. Who would have thought tenure could be so easy?
Bill English is a Trinity senior and president of the Philodemic Society. His column appears every other Monday.