The Patronizing Exclusiveness Of Inclusiveness

The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and the San Francisco Chronicle all report this morning on a new $16 million gift to the UC Berkeley from the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund (think Levi Strauss)  (quoting the CHE)

to support diversity initiatives, including five endowed chairs and a new scholarship fund for students who transfer from community colleges….

The five faculty chairs will include one of the nation’s first devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equity, the university said. The gift will also establish a $1.5-million endowed fund to support scholarships for transfer students from community colleges, who are a more racially and economically diverse group than those who enroll as freshmen.

In a sentence that is unfortunate in construction and incomplete in fact, the CHE article noted that

Berkeley has managed to enroll only a small numbers (sic) of black and Latino undergraduates since California voters banned affirmative action by state agencies, in a 1996 referendum….

Re those numbers, the SF Chronicle pointed out that

African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans in Berkeley’s freshman class dropped from 26.1 percent in 1995 to 11.2 percent in 1999 before rebounding during the last decade. They made up 15.4 percent of the incoming class last fall.

Those numbers may be “small,” but they also may not. That is, they may include all of the qualified applicants, i.e., those no longer given a large admission bonus because of their race, who applied and agreed to come. (Thus it would also be helpful to know how many were accepted, not simply how many enrolled.)

One could (and perhaps one should) quibble about endowing academic chairs devoted, apparently, more to promoting “equity” than discovering and propagating scholarly knowledge. “Equity,” after all, speaks more to a contested political agenda than disinterested academic analysis and study. But I will leave that point to others, or at least to another day.

What I want to address instead is the unctuous, preening, patronizing pomposity that so often accompanies these self-congratulatory efforts at “inclusiveness,” an attitude so often perfectly exemplified by Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. Most proportional representation preferentialists believe that selective institutions should “look like” American/California/whatever, i.e., reflect the demography of whatever jurisdiction that concerns them, but Birgeneau goes them one better: as I pointed out here in discussing his “futuristic preferentialism,” Birgeneau “thinks the University of California at Berkeley should not mirror California society as it is but as it will be.”

Regarding the current gift (quoting from the SF Chronicle):

“We’re turning the challenges of a multicultural society into a major academic endeavor,” said Chancellor Robert Birgenau. The message the university is sending to its students, he said, is that “We no longer can live in our own world surrounded by people who are just like us.”

Think about this “message.” First, I tried but failed to resist the snarky temptation to ask, “What do you mean We, you Canadian?” Leaving aside the fact that, by birth at least, Birgeneau is not one of “us” to begin with, note how he majestically divides the world (as nearly all “diversity”-mongering preferentialists must) into us and them. Who, after all, are “we”? What exactly is “just like us”?

The “message” here, whether Birgeneau et al. intend it or not, is that they — the black, the Hispanic, the gay, the community college graduate — are different from us, the people who naturally populate places like UC Berkeley. Special efforts must be made (often, as here, paid for by patronizing rich people) at “inclusiveness” to let them into our world, because it short changes us not to be exposed to them.

I much prefer what used to be the animating principle and ideal of equality — that people deserve equality because we all are fundamentally the same.

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  1. […] then Chancellor of the University of California, told the San Francisco Chronicle (quoted in The Patronizing Exclusiveness of Inclusiveness). “The message the university is sending to its students, he said, is that “We no longer can […]

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