The Mind of a Pioneering Diversity Officer

John Rosenberg

Cross-posted from Discriminations:

As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported recently,

William B. Harvey was the first person ever appointed to the position of vice president for diversity and equity at the University of Virginia, a job he held from 2005 to 2009. A recognized expert on diversity issues in higher education, Mr. Harvey is also founding president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.

Harvey’s career at UVa was memorable. Well, at least I remember it, in part because he provided so many examples that were worth mentioning of how “diversity” is practiced on campuses these days. Among my favorites was his statement of how “disappointed” he is “when schools abandon or modify … minority-exclusive programs.” The argument that racially exclusive programs are patently illegal was, Harvey insisted, “an inaccurate application of the law.”

“The rulings don’t speak to these programs at all, they speak to admissions,” Harvey said. “They said diversity is an added aspect to an environment. It’s a contradiction to what they’re doing.”

“In short,” as I commented at the time, “Harvey is saying, all the Court told us is that we couldn’t discriminate here; it didn’t say we couldn’t discriminate there.”

Of course it doesn’t take “[a] recognized expert on diversity issues” to favor racially exclusive programs; even any (or all) assistant deans for minority affairs, etc., would no doubt say the same thing. But one for the “Nadohe” (“the diversity officer’s association,” the  Chronicle explained) hall of fame was Harvey’s unforgettable (I know because I tried) explanation of why Asian-Americans are underrepresented at the very top levels of American education.

Bill Harvey, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, said this discrepancy between higher and lower levels of the University faculty may be because of culture. He said Asian-Americans typically do not actively seek out leadership positions and instead may prefer to take a more supportive role. For example, Harvey said, they may appear more comfortable in roles as senior faculty members.

It must have been Harvey’s deep understanding of culture, on display above, that made him such a nationally “recognized expert on diversity issues” and led the University of Virginia to award him an annual salary of $315,000 (in 2007, mid-way through his career at UVa), making him “one of the highest paid members of the faculty or staff” of the University.”

Harvey has recently become dean of the school of education at North Carolina A & T University, where 84% of all students and over 92% of the freshmen are black. Perhaps he will devote his expertise to increasing “diversity” there. Since he complained to the Chronicle interviewer that progress diversifying the top ranks of higher education” has been very minuscule,” a good place for him to begin might be the A&T Board of Trustees, whose pictures suggest that 10 of the 12 members are black, 2 are white, with no Asian-Americans (which of course Harvey would not find surprising, given his understanding of how Asian-American culture inhibits seeking positions of high responsibility).

I am afraid, however, that rather than continuing his crusade for “diversity” Harvey might actually devote his remarkable talents to education, with yet unknown consequences for future students in North Carolina and beyond. He told the Chronicle interviewer that the problem with education was not only the senior faculty, where “the representation of people of color is abysmal,” but “also the curriculum itself.”

We’re still locked into a curriculum which, whether we care to acknowledge it or not, celebrates a Western European ethos. A Western European framework obviously completely ignores the contributions of people of color. In a society that is becoming increasingly one of people of color, how can we endorse courses that scrub free the contributions of people of color?

To the degree that future teachers produced by the coming unlocked curriculum at A&T reflect the “ethos” of their new dean, pity their poor students.

Photo: Chris Hildreth for the Chronicle

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