Doctoring Diversity

Irrespective of practical considerations, our ideal faculty would reflect the racial composition of the student body, which in turn would reflect that of the country. That our faculty’s racial diversity matches that of U.S. Ph.D.s only means we’re not behind the curve, and recent hiring trends-of the 22 faculty tenured in the last five years, 19 have been white-threaten to slide us back if they continue.

But practical considerations are never far away. We are a college with high standards and a smaller endowment than many of our competitors, in a very white area of the country; finding minority faculty is not always easy. Increased minority representation among our faculty is a goal worthy of pursuit, but it will not come without costs, and a major increase in diversity may cost more than we’re willing to sacrifice.

Diversity of opinion is more complicated. It’s difficult to gauge where opinions stop being “diverse” and start being silly, and which opinions are relevant to which disciplines; any recruiting practice with the explicit goal of increasing diversity of opinion would have to be very different from our current practices. And a mere range of opinions is not enough: a faculty of dogmatic ideologues who won’t accept dissent is certainly not what we want. We cannot ignore fairness and intellectual honesty in our quest for variety.

Ethnic diversity will help us achieve diversity of opinion, but it is not the only way we should work to accomplish that goal. We should be careful to ensure that diversity of opinion does not take a back seat to ethnic diversity. In the end, the professor’s job is to teach. Students of any academic field need to know about both sides of the conflicts dividing it, and even the fairest of professors will cast an idea he or she opposes in a worse light than will a professor who’s passionate about that idea. Amherst should not put ethnic diversity aside as a desideratum for the composition of its faculty, but intellectual diversity should come first.