Universities today spend a lot of time focusing on issues and promoting projects that have little to do with enhancing students’ educational experiences. The “recreation-industrial complex,” where higher education institutions spend millions of dollars to build fancy exercise facilities and high-end dormitories, is one example of universities’ backwards priorities. Another such example is the push to increase racial and sexual diversity on campuses, whether by incorporating race and sexual orientation into the admissions process, offering “identity studies” degree programs, or by creating “multicultural awareness” offices or related university centers and institutes.

As Harry Painter points out in today’s Pope Center feature, UNC-Chapel Hill has fallen for the diversity mania that seems to be sweeping the nation. Among other diversity initiatives, the state’s flagship has an Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, the Carolina Women’s Center, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Center, and has recently started “Carolina Conversations,” which are intended to spark student and faculty discussions about hot-button racial issues. More recently, the university’s Provost Committee on Inclusive Excellence and Diversity (PCIED) invited “diversity expert” Daryl G. Smith, author of the 2009 book Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making it Work, to discuss UNC-CH’s “institutional diversity framework.”

Painter, who attended Smith’s lecture, says that Smith believes that diversity and multiculturalism should be linchpins of higher education. Among other radical ideas, Smith believes that faculty and staff should be hired based on their understanding of diversity. Painter says that Smith may have been “speaking to the choir.” After Smith’s lecture, PCIED representatives explained that they have a number of projects underway that are designed to increase diversity and inclusivity. For instance, they want to make sure that every university department has a diversity-related web page and that faculty discuss diversity-related issues in class.

“Such initiatives may look great on the resumes of UNC administrators and the members of PCIED and are public relations fodder. But even if there is a case to be made for a university concentrating on diversity – and that question is still open for debate – how much is too much? How much will the university improve by requiring that the math department host and maintain a diversity page on its website and by hiring a diversity liaison? Is discussing diversity in a class on the Romantic poets a good use of class time? Why should any of this be done on the taxpayer’s dime?” asks Painter.