Friday, January 17

Keshav Tadimeti: Equity and diversity a necessary consideration for UC’s hiring policies

Diversity and inclusion aren't just empty talking points. Neglecting them perpetuates discriminatory practices, like the racist incidents that have plagued UCLA (Daily Bruin file photo)

No criminal has ever lived like the person who founded the idea of “diversity and inclusion.”

Oh, and same thing with the person who came up with the word “equity.”

That’s the message you walked away with if you made it through Heather Mac Donald’s op-ed published earlier this month in the Los Angeles Times.

The piece, likely a marketing ploy for Mac Donald’s book “The Diversity Delusion,” lamented UCLA’s new policy of faculty applicants needing to document their contributions to equity, diversity and inclusion. Mac Donald referenced everything from the haziness of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’s budget to the University of California’s prioritization of diversity in hiring and student admissions to paint a dreary picture: even Albert Einstein supposedly couldn’t get a professorship at UCLA if he applied right now.

Mac Donald, however, forgot to mention UCLA’s EDI statement requirement only makes official what many departments had already been doing and what the Academic Personnel Manual, a publication of policies and procedures issued by the UC Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, mandates.

While there’s little point in engaging with necromantic hypotheticals or the “Jerry Kang, vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion, is ruining our beloved UCLA” bogeyman, a favorite of internet trolls, Mac Donald’s op-ed touches on a set of far more serious questions: whether universities should prioritize diversity and inclusion – and whether staff and faculty should be held accountable for implementing those goals.

The answer to both is an obvious yes.

Granting everyone an equal shot at proving their worth is at the heart of any university’s promise: to better one’s academic and practical skills to improve their prospects. Metricizing diversity and inclusion, be that through demographic analyses or equity, diversity and inclusion commitments – such as through course work or job application forms – takes that mission beyond just an idyllic talking point or occasional tokenization of minority and underprivileged individuals, and challenges societal and workplace norms that encourage racial or gendered power structures.

And yes, I just used the “p” word.

Of course, it’s not as though a majority of the public disagrees with the idea of equity and diversity. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, eight in 10 Americans view racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace as somewhat, if not very, important.

But the so-called “war on straight, white men” begins when you start talking specifics.

Just look at Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, a 1978 case in which the Supreme Court ruled the practice of racial quotas unconstitutional. Lately, the battlefront has even come to include Asian men, with the U.S. Department of Justice backing a lawsuit against Harvard’s affirmative action-like admission practices that supposedly disadvantage Asian-Americans.

Add in that companies and universities are adding hiring pipelines to increase the number of minority and underprivileged applicants and emphasizing workplace inclusion and equity, and it’s clear the heart of the diversity debate in our nation isn’t about whether those with fewer opportunities to succeed should be given a fighting chance.

Instead, it’s whether we all have to add “equity,” “diversity” and “inclusion” to our daily agendas.

And that’s where you get arguments that self-reflection and self-correction are too arduous, so diversity and inclusion practices are therefore terrible and thank goodness Einstein died in the 20th century.

But the fact remains: Racial and gender discrimination lives and breathes in the workplace.

A 2017 Pew Research Center survey prior to the #MeToo movement’s virality found that 42 percent of women reported some form of gender discrimination – be that pay inequity or being passed over for important tasks . And that’s before the discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace became a national norm.

Additionally, a 2017 report conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard’s school of public health found 56 percent of African-American job applicants felt they were discriminated against. On top of that, 57 percent of Black Americans feel they are still discriminated in the workplace when it comes to being paid equally or being considered for promotions.

The exclusion continues down even to the college admission levels: Black Bruins only make up 5 percent of UCLA’s undergraduate class. And the ones that get in have faced all sorts of racism. We need only look at the commodification of Black Bruins’ identities, shown most prominently in the notorious 2016 “Kanye Western” blackface Greek Life party and through UCLA’s 2016-2017 student government president mockery of gang violence by posing for a photo with a gang sign.

These things can’t just be cast off as items on a “social justice” agenda. Preventing these happenings is and should be a priority for any institution. Moreover, metricizing efforts meant to address these concerns is a necessity – after all, it’s not enough to just create a program without assessing its worth and staff members’ willingness to go through with it.

Sure, it’s easy to write this all off as a zero-sum game – that otherwise capable candidates are passed over for those who come from an underrepresented community. But in an equitable, diverse and inclusive system, people from various backgrounds have an equal chance to score the win. The result is anyone’s guess – an assessment of merit and character, and nothing more.

The point isn’t whether Einstein would have been hired at UCLA if he applied right now; it’s whether he and his fellow applicants would have had a comparable chance to show their academic worth – and whether they fostered a similar environment in their previous jobs.

And if you didn’t think that happened, well, you could take it up with his likely long-gone hiring manager. It’s not like we should be conjuring up the dead to argue our points anyways.

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Senior staff columnist

Tadimeti was the Daily Bruin's Opinion editor from 2017-2019 and an assistant Opinion editor in the 2016-2017 school year. He tends to write about issues pertaining to the higher education, state politics and the administration, and blogs occasionally about computer science. Tadimeti was also the executive producer of the "No Offense, But" and "In the Know" Daily Bruin Opinion podcasts.

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  • Publius

    UCLA should not compromise its admissions standards. We need graduates who are prepared to enter the workforce of a changing world. While we focus on making the UCLA student body consist of one-legged transgender pansexual womxn (or whatever) of color, and sending them into the world with degrees in fields such as gender studies and sociology, the rest of the world is pumping out formidable graduates who will sooner command the global economy than will we.

    We should focus on preparing minorities for college, not lowering our standards to accommodate under-performing applicants. For lower standards, there are always the CSU and community college systems.

  • Garry Host

    If you believe that universities should prioritize “equity and diversity” in the sense of leftist ideology, even above the original goal of truth, then you have a seriously flawed idea of what a university is. You claim that admission should be based on “merit and character” only, but in the same breath clearly subscribe to the equality of outcome doctrine. For example you reason “5% black population in UCLA is less than 12% national representation, therefore racism.” Are you really so devoid of reason to think univariate analysis provides a solid argument? If only merit and character were the really basis of the purportedly just scheme of “equity, diversity, and inclusion,” why would Harvard be facing a lawsuit for actively discriminating against Asians (backed by the department of justice, by the way) or Google facing a lawsuit for actively discriminating against whites? Your narrative is transparent and predicable.