$600 for "Teaching to Diversity" at CSU Chico

Ashley Thorne

Faculty members at CSU Chico recently received an email inviting them to apply for a year-long program on “IMPLEMENTATION OF BEST PRACTICES FOR TEACHING TO DIVERSITY AND CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT OF INCLUSION.” This is the loudly capitalized title of a new incentive campaign financed by the CSU chancellor’s office.

The goal is to recruit one faculty member from each college who will commit to work in a committee to give “diversity” a boost in the classroom. Here the assumption is that an undefined “diversity in the classroom” improves academic performance, though this has yet to be proven:

Teaching in a manner that embraces diversity in the classroom is the essence of a holistic pedagogy that recognizes students become more engaged when course content connects with their own unique experiences and background.

The leaders of the program can’t seem to make up their minds. They want diversity, but they also want participants to learn “universal design for learning,” an approach to teaching that takes all possible student disabilities into account and adapts class requirements to fit their special needs. For example, if some students struggle with writing essays, the instructor can have them demonstrate their knowledge in other ways.

So which is it, diversity or universality?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter, so long as faculty members get on board. Those who sign up will be asked to: 

  • Explore current state of diversity issues on the Chico State campus;
  • Gain an understanding of opportunities and best practices for teaching to diversity and promoting an environment of inclusion;
  • Plan, implement, assess course revisions representing a variety of best practices; and
  • Disseminate the results of the effort with ITL [probably stands for the Institute for Teaching and Learning] and the university campus community. 

The reward for this is a $600 stipend, the chance to shape the forthcoming Strategic Diversity Plan, and the satisfaction of imposing added ideological requirements on Chico’s curriculum. NAS offered our feedback on the draft of this strategic diversity plan in April. We also suggested a new title for the plan in the interest of transparency: instead of To Form a More Inclusive Learning Community, we recommended Chico State’s Strategy for Evading Laws against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination, as we found the plan to be replete with tactics for circumventing California’s law against racial preferences.

Agro-ecologist Lee Altier sent the email and will serve as co-facilitator with Sandy Parsons, director of Disability Support Services. Parsons sits on the “Diversity Scorecard” committee, as well as the campus committee to investigate reports of bias and sexual harassment. Altier is director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT).

But will “teaching to diversity” reflect excellence in learning and teaching? “Inclusive excellence,” as Peter Wood pointed out in the case of Virginia Tech, really means affirmative action for ideas. Politically correct ideas are automatically included; differing ideas are shut out. Ideas should have to be proven worthy and be adopted on their merits, not squeezed into a classroom through coercion. Such imposition clashes with the straightforward teaching of course material and puts unnecessary burdens on professors to endorse questionable ideas and teach them. And emphasizing racial divisions, as the Chico project seems to do, tends to foster an attitude of resentment and separation, rather than one of friendliness and community.

For these reasons, I believe Chico’s effort to create a “teaching to diversity” club is misguided. The $600 per faculty member would be better spent on students’ education and in the pursuit of true excellence. 

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