The Diverse University: The Victory of the Adjective Over the Noun?

Tom Martin

*NAS often publishes guest articles of interest to our members. The opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the official position of the National Association of Scholars.

The University of Nebraska at Kearney is committed to the academic value of a diverse university community. A quality university experience must provide students with opportunities to have contact with the broadest possible range of people and cultures. Additionally, we believe that recruitment and retention of a diverse work force will enhance both the recruitment and retention of a diverse student body.

To this end, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, utilizing the Recruitment and Hiring guidelines, will make specific good faith efforts to recruit, hire, and retain a diverse work force.

I came upon this statement of purpose for the University of Nebraska at Kearney while surfing the web and this question immediately appeared before my mind: how do the adjectives diverse and university modify community

Our language, the twentieth century philosopher Wittgenstein noted, “can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods . . . “

The word ‘university,’ for example, houses an idea that comes from the Latin universum, which in turn grew from the neuter of universus, the base from which the word ‘universe’ evolved, meaning the whole body of things and phenomena observed or postulated. Similar in meaning is the word ‘cosmos,’ a systemic whole created and maintained by the direct intervention of divine power. 

The university was founded in the Middle Ages when it was still believed that God created and maintained the universe. All the students and faculty were members of the same body on their pilgrimage through the world. A common inscription over a scriptorium or monastic library succinctly summarizes this, Tota Bibliotheca unus liberest, in capite velatus, in fine manifestus (The whole Library is one book, in the beginning veiled, in the end manifest). 

Also excavated from the houses in the old city, the word ‘academic’ is from the Latin Academus, referring to the Greek Akademos, the groves of Academus where Plato taught and founded his academy. In this academy, wisdom was defined as good judgment in the pursuit of learning the truth about oneself and the world. Thus it is that an academic is a member of the academy

This being our beginning, let us examine the claim that "The University of Nebraska at Kearney is committed to the academic value of a diverse university community." 

The word ‘community’ is from the Latin communis, which means a unified body of individuals, from which we also get the word ‘communion,’ an act of sharing, which, when capitalized, is the Christian sacrament of man’s spiritual union in the body of Christ. Thus, we can shorten this statement of purpose by starting at the end and eliminating the word ‘community.’ Given that the heart and soul of a university is a unified body of scholars, teachers and students committed to the development of the intellect (known in the middle Ages as Studium; we call it “the pursuit of learning"), it is redundant that the word ‘university’ be used as an adjective to modify community. 

Thus, we the faculty of the University, are housed by respective colleges like books in a library. We are not spread about the world but are on one campus and are devoted to a particular branch of study. The trunk of the tree, the liberal arts, is fundamental in the development of an ordered intellect. The university is open to students who desire to study the academic subjects to which we subject ourselves as masters and doctors.

The word ‘doctor’ is from the Latin docere, meaning to teach, as in the teacher of a doctrine, a dogma, a definite authoritative tenet. The highest degree in a university is a Ph.D., a doctor of philosophy, a lover of knowledge who seeks universal truth in a specific doctrine, such as Chemistry, Biology, English, Psychology, Philosophy, Mathematics, Music, and the like. 

So, how does the adjective diverse modify university

The word ‘diverse’ comes from the Latin, diversus, as in different in character or quality; not of the same kind; not alike in nature or qualities. So, how ought the faculty be committed to teaching at a different university?

I continued tracking our diverse university through the web and found the “Diversity Guide:” 

Diversity may be defined as "otherness" or those human qualities that are different from our own and outside the groups to which we belong, yet are present in other individuals and groups. Dimensions of diversity may include, but are not limited to, age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, color, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic locations, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, and work experience.

"May be defined"? The word ‘diversity’ is the condition of being diverse which means different from one another, as in unlike. In origin, it was identical with divers, more immediately associated with Latin d versus as in adverse, inverse, obverse, perverse, reverse.  Since circa 1700, however, diverse is no longer used in the merely vague numerical sense of divers, but always distinctly associated with diversity

Thus, we are told to believe that our diverse university is committed to being a community of unlike people, in which students will have contact with the broadest possible range of people and cultures who are unlike themselves. This, in turn, exemplifies “otherness” which somehow is a sign of a quality university experience for our students.

Should this be valued? Each student and faculty member attending the Diversity of Nebraska at Kearney already knows that he is different from everyone else. This is the principle of self-identity: I am I. Each person is an individual who can and does discriminate when opening his eyes upon the world from the seat of self-awareness in which the faculty of reason is housed. From within that house, each person differentiates and sees everyone and everything as other than himself. Thus, in the jargon of the administrators who are committed to creating a diverse university and to hiring as many adverse, inverse, obverse, perverse, and reverse people as possible, anyone can recognize I am in a state of Iness, you are in a state of youness, and everyone else is a state of otherness.

What is further puzzling about the fuzzy-headed definition of “otherness” is that it starts by acknowledging human qualities that are different from our own and then promptly classifies each person as belonging to a group, which has [d]imensions of diversity [which] may include, but are not limited to, age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, color, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic locations, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, and work experience.

The dimensions of “otherness” are then like the Hydra, the many-headed monster in Greek mythology whose head, when cut off, instantly became two heads, dividing ad infinitum. 

The descent of the mind into “otherness” is the state of a soul that lacks the ability to make qualitative judgments. Here we are reminded of Plato’s allegory of the cave where Socrates is showing Glaucon, Adeimantus, Polemarchus, and any student who will pay attention, the effects on a mind encouraged to gaze at the diversity in front of it,

Next, I said, compare the effect of education and of the lack of it on our nature to an experience like this: Imagine human beings living in an underground, cave like dwelling, with an entrance a long way up, which is open to the light and as wide as the cave itself. They’ve been there, since childhood, fixed in the same place, with their necks and legs fettered, able to see only in front of them, because their bonds prevent them from turning their heads around. Light is provided by a fire burning far above and behind them. Also, behind them, but on higher ground, there is a path stretching between them and the fire. Imagine that along this path a low wall has been built, like the screens in front of puppeteers above which they show their puppets . . . Then also imagine that there are people along the wall, carrying all kinds of artifacts that project above it—statues of people and other animals, made out of stone, wood, and every material . . .Do you suppose, first of all, that these prisoners see anything of themselves and one another besides the shadows that the fire cast on the wall in front of them? [514a-515c]

Here is an education (or lack thereof) for a student who is not required to discriminate between the changing patterns passing before him. All he knows is the shadows flitting before his eyes; he lacks the ability to classify and therefore to judge. The diverse mind cannot discriminate between what is higher or lower, good or bad, just or unjust on that fluctuating wall of his mind. He treats everything as equally different. He has no ability for the classification necessary for science, a systematic study of minerals, plants, and animals, nor the ability to grasp a moral principle necessary for a virtuous life and relationships with neighbors who could never agree to see beyond their differences. His mind is a splatter which can move neither from nor towards a point.

Fortunately, one of the prisoners in the allegory of the cave is mysteriously released from the shadow-land of the senses, rising to the realm of an intellect which is capable of qualitative judgment.   The first subject he learns on his way out of ignorance is to calculate with numbers. Here Socrates notes,

You know what those who are clever in these matters are like: If, in the course of the argument, someone tries to divide the one itself, they laugh and won’t permit it. If you divide it, they multiply it, taking care that one thing never be found to be many parts rather than one [525e].

 In other words, the students began their elementary education by learning numbers, starting with one, as in uni, from which the word ‘universe’ is derived. If a person cannot grasp one point, everything remains in flux before his eyes, in a state of “otherness,” constantly dividing people into parts, by age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, color, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic locations, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, and work experience, ad infinitum. 

Now the prisoners, “who are like us,” have transcended the realm of sensory perception and have begun to develop a mind, and with it a love of learning in pursuit of the truths in a variety of different subjects which are universal.   (Imagine trying to study animals without biology or minerals without chemistry.)


In conclusion, it is troubling, as you have seen, when the administrators of the University of Nebraska at Kearney are committed to emphasizing the darkness, the unenlightened ordinary physical qualities as a diversity to be celebrated rather than the intellectual qualities in diverse academic subject matters which unite us. It is equally disturbing when diversity—otherness!—takes priority over ability as a criterion for employment in the academy: as though the accidental qualities of birth are superior to what a faculty member knows and is able to teach about the subject matter at hand.

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