Features Australia

You say ‘diversity’. I hear quotas

21 December 2019

9:00 AM

21 December 2019

9:00 AM

Ever wonder where all this talk of ‘diversity’ started? Well, it actually dates back some four decades to a 1978 US Supreme Court case called California v. Bakke. Bakke was a former Marine who had sought acceptance to medical school at the University of California in Davis (a sort of second tier California state public university).  Bakke had been denied entry twice and so sued challenging the constitutionality of the state university’s medical school’s affirmative action program (as people with lower academic grades than he had been admitted). The case was a mess splitting the nine justices all over the place. Justice Powell delivered the key opinion – and for what it’s worth notice that in the US they talk of a judge’s ‘opinion’ whereas in the Westminster world we inflate this to a ‘judgment’. The Yanks have this one right; just look at the (sorry) state of Victoria. Powell tried to play Solomon deciding that affirmative action in general was okay but that UC Davis had gone too far and that Bakke could be admitted (and so was). But the key thing to note here is that for Powell ‘diversity in the classroom’ was a ‘compelling state interest’.

So Bakke gets in. Affirmative action programmes continued, but from then on they had to be dressed up in terms of ‘diversity’. That was the only practical effect of the Bakke case – to take state- sponsored quota systems for favoured groups and make them slightly more indirect, a good deal more opaque, less easy to spot and hence to complain about, and probably to be fair a tad less aggressive.  Oh, and it gave us the new religion of ‘diversity’, at the altar of which virtually every top university administrator across the Anglosphere now worships – Australia most certainly included. Actually, make that genuflects, such is the love of this new ‘diversity’ religion.

Take a second and think about the idea of affirmative action, which is just jargon for ‘quotas’. The idea is that you pick some group, probably one you happen to see as having been historically disadvantaged, and you make it easier for them than for all the non-favoured people to get into medical school. Or law school. Or maths and science degree courses. Or any course at university. Or jobs in the civil service. Or at big tech companies. You name it.

In other words, you sacrifice some degree of what you had earlier considered to be ‘merit-based criteria’ in favour of doing social justice. You become a social engineer. By definition you let in or reward some people who otherwise would not have been let in or rewarded. They hadn’t been thought up to it on the normal criteria but now you put your thumbs on the scale. That’s the very point of what you’re doing.


Of course in any cost-benefit analysis there are things to be said on both sides. I am moderately rare in Australian academia in thinking the negatives clearly outweigh the positives and that merit should prevail – and yes, we can argue about how to measure this and we know going in that as limited biological creatures our systems to try to find this will be flawed. Nevertheless, it is merit that should drive selection, not looking for some 1:1 ratio between the percentages of groups in the wider society (say, blacks, women, Muslims, Indigenous applicants, the list cannot be contained in any non-arbitrary way) and what their percentage will be in, say, STEM courses, the public service, company boards, etc., etc.

This, you will notice, is the mother of identity politics. You can trace the lineage from open use of affirmative action (or quotas) through genuflecting at the altar of ‘diversity’ on to identity politics. All of them in their related ways ask us to see people not as individuals but as members of groups. It’s groups that count when it comes to ‘diversity’. Nor does it matter that the people in the past who actually were discriminated against are long dead and that the people who get the benefit today are living in one of the world’s least discriminatory countries ever to have existed – and as someone who has worked all over the world I am happy to debate anyone, anywhere, on the claim that all Asian countries, African ones, Middle East Islamic ones, you name it are orders of magnitude more discriminatory today than is the democratic West. (Note, too, that more than a few well off white men at the top today win both ways when imposing ‘diversity’ – they purport to have benefitted when young from discrimination and they win again today as they wallow in virtue-signaling about advantaging this, that and the other non-white male group.)

Here are just a few of the many problems with this new offshoot of quota-based thinking we call ‘diversity’. First off, it’s totally arbitrary which groups get to be advantaged. Why blacks but not Asians? Why women as a monolithic group, even when some of them have had more breaks in life than 99.99 per cent of all humans ever to have lived – rich parents, private schools, all that money can buy but we’re supposed to see them as hard done by and discriminated against compared to most men? (And try this little thought experiment: ask yourself who will get more breaks in life moving forward. your equally smart and talented daughter or son? I have one of each and both know it’s the girl, as do I.)

Oh, and why is it always skin pigmentation and reproductive organs that trigger the quotas, never political views?  Look at any university today. I work at one. They are close to being ‘conservative-free zones’ across all levels of faculty and more so at the upper bureaucratic end. State schools too. It seems plain out arbitrary to want to ‘fix’ supposed medical school imbalances (based on the ratio of applicants’ reproductive organs or skin pigmentation) but not give a flying you-know-what about the fact that while half the wider population votes conservative whole departments are wholly free of them.

Meanwhile in no Australian law school that I know of today would you find even a fifth of the professors vote right, and in some we’re talking trace elements at most. Diversity, shmversity when it comes to political outlooks on today’s universities.

Conclusion: Diversity gives us identity politics and its effects are bad. Really awful in fact. Any conservative party worth its salt should be taking steps to eradicate all programs based on this sort of anti-individualistic ‘diversity’ mumbo-jumbo. But don’t hold your breath.

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