Facilitating Name Inflation At Old Dominion

Ashley Thorne

With Virginia Tech’s new policy (mandatory diversity service for faculty promotion and tenure) having received so much attention lately, other institutions in the state may be taking their diversity cues from what has happened at VT. For instance, today we learned that Old Dominion University in Norfolk is restructuring its Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

Old Dominion, which echoes the commonwealth’s nickname, was established in 1930 as a division of the College of William and Mary. Its mission statement says that the university “is old enough to value tradition yet young enough to facilitate change.”  You can tell the latter part of that declaration is true. “Facilitate change” is the kind of rhetorical barbarism that an older institution would have the taste to avoid. 

ODU’s latest attempt to “facilitate change” is to swap out the name “Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action” for the much more forward-leaning “Office of Institutional Equity.” ODU is also facilitating changes in the titles of the office’s two directors; and incorporating into the new OIE the old office of disability services, which has until now been a separate division.

The restructuring will take place in the next few weeks, and as of now, none of the changes is reflected on the website, in a press release, or in a news article. Acting ODU president John R. Broderick, however, has sent a memo to the community informing them of the change. Here is his email:

Dear Colleagues,

            The Office of Institutional Equity (formerly the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action has been restructured to adequately prioritize Old Dominion University’s commitment to diversity. The restructuring accomplishes two goals, as supported by the American Council on Education: 1) it changes the name of the office to better reflect all functions and services offered by the unit, and provides a deliberately clear and fundamental connection between diversity and academic excellence to every area of the university; and 2) it provides the necessary infrastructure to implement a results-oriented plan to achieve significant outcomes related to campus and curriculum diversity. These changes will help the institution identify and reach meaningful and attainable goals that are essential to our success as an inclusive university “on the grow.”

            Further, these changes better reflect the office’s goal of serving as the nucleus for all aspects of equity university-wide, including but not limited to: equal opportunity, affirmative action, diversity, recruitment and retention, accessibility, diversification of curriculum, assessing the educational impact of diversity, and measuring the campus climate.

            Under the leadership of ReNeé Dunman, assistant vice president for institutional equity, (formerly assistant to the president and director of equal opportunity/affirmative action), the office has expanded to include the Office of Disability Services in an effort to better reflect all functions and services provided by the unit. The former assistant director of EO/AA, Traci Daniels, will now serve as the director of equity and EO/AA. With the inclusion of a diversity coordinator and senior equal opportunity investigator, this unit will continue pursuing the goals of equal opportunity and inclusion, while serving as a vital resource in demonstrating the institutions commitment to achieving and valuing diversity.


John R. Broderick

Acting President

In the last few weeks, we’ve put several bureaucratic documents like this before our readers. We know they are a little taxing to read, but if you slow down and pay careful attention, they have many rewards. Including but not limited to ReNeé’s mid-oceanic capital letter. 

President Broderick does not specify what exactly prompted ODU to make the changes he enunciates. He mentions that they are “supported” by the American Council on Education, although it is unclear in what capacity ACE is supporting. We haven’t been able to find an ACE edict to the effect ‘It’s time to re-name all equal opportunity and affirmative action offices as equity offices,’ but perhaps the memo is in limited circulation.

The name change is interesting, and we’ll come back to it. But Broderick’s major point is that the organizational change is part of expanding idea of “diversity.” It is expanding in the direction of claiming more curricular territory. The new thrust of the diversity movement is to insist that the whole university, down to the tiniest educational detail, must be saturated with and subordinated to the pursuit of diversity. Note Broderick’s references to the “fundamental connection between diversity and academic excellence to every area of the university,” and to “campus and curriculum diversity.” Curriculum diversity?  

Perhaps there is an ACE connection in this. ACE  has published a number of guides on “Diversity, Equity and Gender” in higher education, including Race-Conscious Financial Aid and Other Diversity-Enhancing Programs; Equality as a Fact, Equality as a Result: A Matter of Institutional Accountability; and The Chief Diversity Officer: A Primer for College and University Presidents. The latter publication was authored by Damon A. Williams and Katrina C. Wade-Golden, whose Chronicle of Higher Education article NAS fisked in “What Does a Chief Diversity Officer Actually Do?

Among the arguments in Williams and Wade-Golden’s article was that today,

diversity is more than a black-and-white binary; it now includes race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, religion, and a host of other dimensions. Indeed, if we apply that broad definition of diversity, an examination of many academic institutions shows dozens if not hundreds of offices, initiatives, programs, courses, and scholarships designed to reach ever-expanding institutional diversity goals. 

The more inclusive new program at Old Dominion reflects this concept—that diversity is an “ever-expanding” embrace of many different identity groups, no matter how unusual (for example, a new one is “pregnancy.” Imagine a new affirmative action push to hire more pregnant women). Indeed, it is curious that in recent years, disability has been added to the diversity list. The purpose of disability services, as governed by the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, is to provide services to aid disabled persons, not to herd them into affirmative action programs.

Back to the name change. Generally, name changes to such programs occur because the name includes out-of-date politically correct terms and has become embarrassing. For instance, in 1876, the Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feebleminded Persons was founded. In 1906, it changed its name to the “American Association for the Study of the Feebleminded.” Then in 1933, it changed to the “American Association on Mental Deficiency,” and again in 1987 to the “American Association on Mental Retardation.” Most recently, its members voted in 2006 to change the name to “American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disability.” Across a span of 130 years, the organization has had five names, each substituting euphemism for euphemism—and in a few years, it will probably come up with a new one.

Old Dominion’s Office will eliminate the term “Affirmative Action” and replace it with “Equity.”  The term “affirmative action” has been losing respect for a while, so it isn’t surprising to see administrators looking for a substitute that has less baggage. “Equity” in its old meaning of “fairness” seems like a good candidate. But, of course, to apply the word “equity” to a system that is fundamentally unfair won’t make the unfairness disappear. We don’t know exactly what Old Dominion’s The Office of Institutional Equity will do, but if it is following in the footsteps of Virginia Tech, it won’t promote equity. It will promote identity group favoritism, anti-intellectualism, violations of academic freedom, and a spoils system run by ideological bureaucrats. 

 “Inclusion” and “equity” were perfectly fine words but once the diversity hacks are done with them they will have completely new meanings. “Inclusion” will mean something like, “You aren’t welcome if you disagree,” and “equity” will mean, “We say who gets what.” 

Regardless of the program’s name, the Office of Institutional Equity still embodies the same self-contradiction spelled out in its old name and shared by most other diversity programs. Equal opportunity and affirmative action are directly at odds because while the first says that discrimination based on external qualities is unacceptable, the second actively seeks to further such discrimination. But ODU is content to camp on this contradiction and call it “institutional equity.”

It looks like the diversiphiles will have the real dominion there.

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