Monday, September 23

Proposed diversity requirement meets some faculty opposition


Students and a group of faculty are lobbying professors to vote “yes” on a proposed diversity requirement this week, but several faculty are pushing back against the measure.

Faculty members have until Friday to vote on whether they think students should be required to take a course related to diversity during their UCLA career.

Backers of the diversity requirement proposal have been handing out pledge cards on Bruin Walk for students to write out their personal reasons for supporting the requirement. Though students cannot vote for the proposal, proponents said they think faculty may be more likely to vote to pass the requirement if they hear that students support it.

After students make the pledge, members of the Undergraduate Students Association Council Academic Affairs Commission and proponents of the Bruin Diversity Referendum distribute the cards to faculty members’ mailboxes. So far, they’ve collected about 455 pledge cards from students, said Allyson Bach, USAC Academic Affairs commissioner.

The signed pledge cards on Bruin Walk on Thursday stated reasons to pass the requirement such as, “Because we are global citizens and need to be aware of the world around us,” and “Because everyone deserves an equal chance at a quality education.”

While students lobby for faculty members to vote “yes,” six professors released a statement last week outlining reasons they think faculty should vote “no” on the proposal. They said they think the motivation for the proposal is a compilation of studies that they consider irrelevant.

“The typical cited study measures some self‐reported student attitude, such as … scores on a Modern Racism or Color-Blind Racial Ideology Scale,” the professors said in the statement. “Improvements in these scores are then correlated with, for example, enrollment in a diversity course. A principal problem with these studies is their confusion of correlation with causation.”

The six signatories were anthropology professor Joseph Manson, astronomy professor Matthew Malkan, French literature professor Eric Gans, professor emeritus of English Jascha Kessler and political science professors Thomas Schwartz and Marc Trachtenberg.

They said they think the goals of the diversity requirement to “signify a commitment to diversity” and “(be) a symbol for the larger campus climate” are not academic in nature and so the proposal is not a strong way to achieve them. The requirement would also burden students struggling to graduate on time, the professors said in the statement.

They added that some the courses offered under the current proposal overlap with those in the proposed “Community and Conflict in the Modern World” requirement, a measure which some of the same professors voted down two years ago.

At a student rally on Wednesday, advocates for the proposal said many of the courses under consideration for the diversity requirement would satisfy general education, elective or upper division requirements for students as well, so they would not need to take an additional class.

Schwartz, who also voted against a previous diversity requirement proposal, said he thinks the new requirement is “silly” and does not have academic merit.

“What you’re buying is a pig in a poke,” Schwartz said. “It’s sucking up resources to pay for this piece of ideological puffery.”

He added that he does not think it is the university’s place to promote any type of ideology in its requirements, and he predicts that the diversity requirement would push a liberal bias on students.

Schwartz also called students leading the effort to advocate for the proposal “bullies” trying to promote a liberal agenda.

Jazz Kiang, a third-year Asian-American studies student who served on the committee to create the proposal, said Schwartz and the other five professors who signed the statement disrespect members of underrepresented communities on campus by publicly knocking the proposal.

“(The signatories) have certain privileges. … They are all white males,” Kiang said. “I am still angry and quite upset that these professors can say things that have a subtext that is racist.”

Kiang said he and other students will continue to advocate for the requirement this week with an increased presence on social media and distribution of pledge cards.

In the last week, proposal advocates have also held a student rally to educate others about the requirement, visited club meetings to hand out pledge cards and drafted an email for students to send to professors. They also plan to host a faculty dinner at Bruin Plate Tuesday evening.

Mane Khachatryan, a fourth-year English student, said she signed the pledge card because she has noticed a negative change in campus climate since her first year at UCLA.

On her pledge card, she wrote why she supported the requirement: “Because this campus is full of diverse students and as a campus we need to gain solidarity and get rid of stigma. We can do that through education.”

Khachatryan is enrolled in an African American literature class this quarter, and she said it has both educated her and broadened her perspective on other cultures.

“I didn’t realize how ignorant I was on these issues before taking this class,” she said.

Faculty can vote on the proposal online until Friday.

Contributing reports by Amanda Schallert, Bruin senior staff.

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  • Matthew Phillip FitzGerald

    Dear Daily Bruin,

    While dicta is pretty, authority based arguments are far more sound in convincing Faculty (often experts in their specific field or discipline) of the merits of this proposition. Academic work doesn’t progress except mainly through peer-reviewed discourse and an enormous amount of bickering in journals and other fora. This is something that many people don’t see except for when they enter the academy or research it, or are forced to pull research from it. Academia is also, by its very nature, conservative. Not conservative in the sense of ideology, but conservative in the sense of the conservation of the instrumentality and proven methods of past teaching/research/professional progress. The argument exists that: Why change something that, for most intents and purposes, seems to work?

    I urge students to go to their professors office hours and convince them through discussion, preferably based around their classwork, on the merits of this proposal. Faculty are the best lobbyists for each other, so if you can convince one professor to see the light, the behind-the-scenes impact can be pretty dramatic. Have students presented to the Academic Senate? (or whatever the equivalent is?) Talked to the student-faculty committees? Reach out! Reach out and make your presence known.

    For instance, this list provides some examples of the benefits of a diverse workplace: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/news/2012/07/12/11900/the-top-10-economic-facts-of-diversity-in-the-workplace/

    Also, let us never forget that UCLA has had serious issues with discrimination and other concerns recently, to the effect that there is a discussion for the position of a Vice Provost for Diversity, Inclusion (and more) and also several new discrimination officers in an attempt to work through issues on campus as they arise as opposed to waiting for them to reach the courts (and endure the spectacular pain of remedies). This is a serious institutional issue, and requires institutional methods of repairing the internal concerns.

    Best,
    Matthew P. FitzGerald
    J.D. Candidate UCLA Law Class of 2017
    B.A. International Studies, Conc: Global Health
    & Italian Studies, University of Washington-Seattle June 2012