If you ask me what’s beauty, or ugliness, or maybe even the distinction between right from wrong, I likely wouldn’t be able to tell you, except to say I know it when I see it. That’s why, as I’ve already blogged, the University of Lethbridge’s sexual violence policy is such a pig’s breakfast. That it’s a pig’s breakfast is the predicable product of a committee’s attempt to put into words what any reasonable person should already know. Human sexuality is messy. Mess doesn’t have definable borders. If it did it wouldn’t be messy.

So it’s not surprising that the Report of the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which was released to the University community on March 19, 2019, is worse than a pig’s breakfast. That committee had not one but three undefinable to try to define. But unlike pornography and inappropriate sexual conduct, homogeneity, inequity and exclusion are not self-evidently visible. They do have to be defined. And sad to say but, thinking carefully about how to do so proved not to be the committee’s forte.

According to the document, diversity is “the dimensions and/or the characteristics that differentiate individuals from one another, such as gender, disability, ethnicity/race, sexual orientation, thought/perspective, age, religion, and nationality.” 

At first I thought I understood each of the constituent terms of this definition, but apparently I don’t. I’d have thought that, as a professor of philosophy, my inability to comprehend a word of Jacques Derrida would count as a disability. I was mistaken. But if disability doesn’t mean inability, I no longer know what it means.

Nor, to my disappointment, does pedophilia count as a sexual orientation. If it did we’d have to try to attract a representative sampling of pedophiles to campus, and I’m told that that would not be on. So orientation is restricted to acceptable orientations, upon which, I presume, the University will pronounce and update in subsequent appendices.

But as with the ‘analogous grounds’ interpretation of section 15 of The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it’s the “such as” that creates the most telling difficulty. To make sense of this “such as” we’d have to know – or at least guess – what it is that “gender, disability, ethnicity/race, sexual orientation, thought/perspective, age, religion, and nationality” all have in common. That they’ve all been the grounds upon which people have been discriminated against? Perhaps. But if so the analogous grounds interpretation would entitle us to add being redheaded, albino, left-handed, stupid, ugly … But the University is not urging affirmative action admissions, hiring and promotion for any of these people.

A more plausible referent of this “such as” are the people the University thinks are likely to bring something different and valuable to the University community. I add “and valuable” because mere difference can’t be a desiderata. If it were we’d be looking for people with Down Syndrome, a shoe fetish, career criminals, pedophiles, and hate preachers. What we want are people who bring something desirable with them, and apparently the University has a view as to what properties – race being one of them, sexual orientation being another – are and are not the bearers of that something. So the way to combat stereotyping is to stereotype. 

Some people find this objectionable. I don’t. I’m just not convinced that the University has picked out the right properties. For example, by including being a member of a racial minority but not of the Westboro Baptist Church, the University has presupposed the very values it wants diversity to question. So, if we really want diversity so as to encourage heterodoxy in the academy, I say bring on the pedophile and the hate preacher. That it’s unprepared to do that would seem to suggest that what the University really wants is to perpetuate some particular set of orthodoxies. I see nothing wrong with that, provided we acknowledge that diversity is precisely what that’s not.

Equity, in turn, is “the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial and fair, and takes into account differences in opportunity and resources.” Apparently the drafters of the document know, and think the rest of us know, what’s “ideal”, “just” and “fair”, which, if true, leaves me to wonder why Philosophy departments offer courses on the 3500-year history of attempts to reach consensus on these concepts. If the University would like to pronounce on these efforts, I’m sure we’d be all ears. But alas its silence is deafening!

And, finally, inclusion is “the mutual feeling of respect and demonstrated enrichment that is achieved when a mix of diverse individuals work well together.”

If I’ve parsed this right, it’s less a definition than a tautology embedded in an empirical claim. If a diversity of individuals, as defined above, work well together, they will feel respected and demonstrably enriched. I’m sure that’s true, provided that by “work[ing] well” is meant “achiev[ing a] mutual feeling of respect and demonstrated enrichment”. So what we have is an “If p then p,” in which case it’s logically impossible for the University not to have already achieved this mandate for inclusion.

More worrisome, however, is that these individuals need only feel respected and demonstrably enriched, not that they actually be either. So provided I feign respect for my indigenous students’ ‘special ways of knowing’, and provided I feign having been enriched by these special ways of knowing, and provided she, in turn, therefore feels she’s been respected and having enriched me, it’s all good.

But if being enriched involves something more than just reporting a feeling of being enriched, we need to know what that is. If one’s learning math, she’ll be demonstrably enriched by being able to solve a binomial equation. But how will she demonstrate her having been enriched by a fellow student’s special way of knowing?

These are questions it’s considered churlish to ask, in the same way it would be churlish for a teacher to return a love letter from a student corrected for spelling. These definitions are not meant to define. They’re meant to send a signal. Of what? Of an admittedly amorphous but nonetheless genuine desire – a desire shared by all of us – to make the University a more accommodating place to work and study. Unlike pornography and sexual misconduct, I’m not sure we’ll know it when we see it. But we do ourselves and our students no favours by pretending to have some formula that cannot be had.

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots

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8 replies

  1. For a good example of the mess we’re in — broadly speaking, since the same sort of DEI initiatives seem to be cropping up at most universities and colleges — see,

    Queensborough Community College (QCC) Definition for Diversity.


    The following comments might not make a whole lot of sense unless you’ve read this QCC webpage (about 5 minutes of your time, if interested).

    1) From the webpage:

    (i) “Diversity” means more than just acknowledging and/or tolerating difference. Diversity is a set of conscious practices that involve: … Understanding that diversity includes not only ways of being but also ways of knowing;


    (ii) Diversity includes, therefore, knowing how to relate to those qualities and conditions that are different from our own and outside the groups to which we belong, yet are present in other individuals and groups.

    My question [Pam]: So. Which “way of knowing” are the committee members referring to when they say “diversity includes, therefore, knowing how to relate to those qualities and conditions ….” ?

    And given that “we acknowledge that categories of difference are not always fixed but also can be fluid”, then my fluid ‘ways of knowing’ and ‘your fluid ways of knowing’ and my fluid ‘ways of being’ and your ‘fluid ways of being’ will pick out exactly … what? What?! What indicators do I have that you’ve now changed your ways of knowing and/or being?

    Do committees use “committee ways of knowing” when they come up with such nonsense?

    2) Scroll down to check out the “Training Techniques Used”, side-by-side lists comparing “Old-school Past Generation Training” with “New Next-Generation Training”.

    Lots to say about these lists. Too much for this tired brain tonight. But here’s some thoughts to start:
    (I’m just taking a crack at what might be meant by this twaddle. I’d love to see what others have to say.)

    i) Old Techniques: Theory-based, academic

    New Techniques: Practical, “real world” (Pam’s note: by which is meant?)

    Wait a minute. Implicit bias training — which just is “theory-based, academic” — is part of the new “diversity training”. There is a link to an Implicit Bias Test on the webpage.

    And you’ll find an implicit bias video on the associated QCC Diversity and Inclusion blog. http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/diversity/blog/2020/post-ImplicitBiasVideo.html

    ii) Old Techniques: Focuses on “others”

    New Techniques: Introspective

    Wait a minute. So when we introspect, are we not focussing on others? Otherwise, diversity training makes no sense. Just point at what diversity refers to.

    iii) Old Techniques: “Check the box”

    New techniques: There is no box

    If there is no ‘box to check’, then what’s with the list of new techniques? Who needs a list?

    iv) In the definition of diversity, the committee says “we respect individual rights to self-identification”.


    Old Techniques: Talks about rights and victims

    New Techniques: Talks about shared responsibilities

    I guess the committee hasn’t gotten with the new training programme?

    3) Note that the objective of the Diversity committee members is to “Make a Difference”. Are they joking?


    • Having read this nonsense from CUNY, (which is an outlier school), I wonder if we might be closer to understanding why the U.S. Democratic Party does better than the Republicans among voters with a college degree. Perhaps the subset that votes at all, usually less than 50%, low by world norms, is not educated so much as indoctrinated and finds less cognitive dissonance in the platform of the Democrats’ left fringe. Noteworthy also is that President Trump did much better among men with degrees (my demographic) — his real “degree deficit” was among women. Female grads are younger and less wealthy than male grads and have less to lose under redistributive taxation. Being more recently graduated, they would benefit more from, and pay less for, such promises as to forgive college debt. Being woke costs them less. More so than men, they graduated during the recent large expansion of the post-secondary sausage machine and are over-represented in victim studies (and “family” medicine), and under-represented in bare-knuckle disciplines like business, STEM, orthopaedic surgery, and philosophy. (I don’t mean to imply that women who do these “hard” disciplines are less qualified than men, or even that they think or vote differently as a group. There are just fewer of them.)

      On the other hand, my wife is one of 9 post-war siblings. None of them, nor any of their spouses, went to university after high school. All have been productive, successful, tax-paying “makers” in a variety of demanding, mostly private-sector work and have raised happy, healthy families. Theirs is not at all Hillbilly Elegy, they were just good people, raised well from the start. This CUNY nonsense would make them laugh and make rude noises. None of my business how they would vote, were they Americans, but when I hear people equating Trump”s degree-less base as in-bred nose-pickers, I think, “You have no idea…”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Leslie,

        I like your analysis. You’ve added aspects (e.g. redistributive taxation) to thoughts I’ve entertained — i.e. unpopular beliefs for a woman to hold in some university environments.

        I went to university for the first time at age 44. My background is quite Hillbilly Elegy, although with a “first-generation-immigrants – blend- with-Hillbillies and indigenous folks-remote-mill-camp” flavour (super diverse!!). I think it fair to say I have one foot in each world, and that I love and lament* aspects of both.

        *I think ‘hate’ is too strong. Lament is closer to what I’m after, perhaps capturing the over-idealisation I had of higher education. And perhaps some disappointment that some of my beloved family … well, I’m a class traitor.

        Anyway. If your extended family is laughing and making rude noises at the CUNY nonsense, I’m in! And I’m in from the view of both worlds I inhabit.

        The short of the long. I am curious about what makes CUNY an outlier. Please explain.

        Thank you, Pam


  2. Thanks Pam. First, I meant no disrespect to your (or anyone else’s) background. I quite liked the narrator of the book, Hillbilly Elegy. (I don’t plan to see the movie. What I got from the book I don’t think would come out well in film.) I just wouldn’t have wanted my in-laws to think I was calling them hillbillies in public. The term is best used in the first person, not the 2d or 3d. Being a class traitor must be lonesome.

    Anyway, CUNY is a school system of 4-yr and community diploma colleges based entirely in metropolitan New York City that goes out of its way to take a chance on students whom other colleges wouldn’t look at. Some programs are open-admissions, others competitive. Generous financial support from city and state aims to reduce tuition barriers. Graduation rates are in the 50-60% range, so not all their bets pay off. They have a highly racially diverse student body, only 14% non-Hispanic white*, many with English not spoken at home, and they value this visible sort of diversity as an end in itself, as evidenced by the prominence they give to awards they have received for it. Protecting this “brand” might be why they produce policies like those you brought to our attention.

    Certainly they have made an enormous difference in the lives of some of their students but their mission and outlook do make them an outlier, an outlier we could use more of. But I think that policy document is an unfortunate administrative side-effect.

    *Note the U.S. census does not regard “Hispanic” or “Latino” as a race (and you don’t have to state your race, truthfully or otherwise, on the census form. Some people just say “American”). So if the census respondent ticks “Hispanic” and no other recognized non-white race as well, she will be recorded as white. Tabulated this way, the U.S. is 78% white. For diversity purposes, though, it is necessary to count Latinos; the census obliges by reporting a category of whites who don’t also tick Hispanic. This is the figure that’s trotted out as the proof that the U.S. is rapidly becoming a non-white country…and it is the definition of “white” used by CUNY, since they count Latinos as a category. Now of course none of this has any more biological validity than phrenology— it’s just tribal sorting.


    • Hello Leslie,

      I’m sorry for my belated reply. Thank you for your explanation.

      In no wise did I feel that you disrespected either my background or any others.

      I spent some time writing you a thoughtful reply and managed to lose it. Doh! With apologies, I submit a truncated version.

      I’m not entirely clear. Do you think that the CUNY EDI policy is or is not broadly representative of (*mainstream?) EDI policies? *I conjecture that you mean outlier-to something like a mainstream. If you mean otherwise, please correct me.

      You say “Certainly they have made an enormous difference in the lives…”, but what does “they” refer to? EDI policies, CUNY, both?

      When you use the term “outlier”, do you mean CUNY is outside the “mainstream” of post secondary institutions? If so, although CUNY might itself be an “outlier” institution, it does not follow that its EDI policy is an “outlier” in regard to those of “mainstream” institutions.

      Anyway, I’ll wait for your clarification before saying more.

      Kind Regards, Pam

      (p.s. I really enjoy reading your comments on this blog.)


  3. Thank you for your close analysis, Pam. My pronoun antecedent was not clear to a reader who was not privy to the connection I was making in my own mind, which leads to unclear communication. Here, by “they”, I meant the confederation of schools that make up CUNY, and not their diversity policies. Specifically I meant that the academic mission of CUNY has made an enormous difference in the lives of some students given a chance to excel, which chance they (the students) might not have had otherwise. Had I said, “it”, it would still have allowed confusion between CUNY itself — since confederation, system, conglomeration, and conspiracy are all collective nouns singular in form but plural by implication— and the diversity policy (singular, expressed in a policy document.). Indeed, careful writing is harder than it looks. I miss my undergraduate philosophy courses.

    In calling CUNY, especially its Queensborough College, an outlier, I was hypothesizing, not concluding, that protecting their brand might lead them to adopt non-academic policies that would be eschewed by mainstream schools or at least more traditionally branded schools, such as, say, U. of Chicago. This hypothesis has the beauty of being empirically testable and falsifiable.

    Now retired, and having spent the last ten years of my career in non-academic practice, I am only dimly aware of the evolution of the diversity policies of the two universities I have worked for. Most in medicine roll their eyes at this stuff in evaluating trainees. I can say that when I served on the committee selecting med. school graduands for our residency program in internal medicine, and on the Examining Board of the Royal College, we were not constrained in any way by “diversity” concerns of any kind, and certainly not of the type described by Queensborough College. No Gladhue rules for us. (Remediation of struggling students might have been different matter. I don’t know.). But that was after the Rae government’s defeat and the repeal of their agenda. Here I recognize that most of us have a hard time describing how we decide if someone might make a good medical or surgical specialist. I would say that the candidate doesn’t have to look like us (and “us” itself looks pretty diverse now anyway), but she does have to think like us…and, for a surgeon, to have “the right stuff.”

    And that is why the CUNY diversity policy really rankles. It seems to be trying to put people who can’t think and argue, only “feel”, or draw on what they already “know” they know, on the same plane as those are not so constrained. It calls to mind those who seek to put superstitious traditional knowledge on the same scale as philosophy and science, or even just plain old evidence. (see Widdowson, who exposes the rent-seeking behaviour behind this initiative in Canada. Is there a similar army of lawyers and consultants behind “diversity” in the larger society?)

    Over to you.


  4. Sorry, somehow that posted before finishing my name.


    • Hello Leslie,

      Thank you for your clarification.

      I am sorry for my delayed reply.

      In your comment of Dec 1, you said that you “think [the CUNY] policy document is an unfortunate administrative side-effect.”

      It would be uncharitable of me to find the worst possible example of an EDI policy document, such as CUNY’s, and hold it up as a broad representation of university EDI policies (and initiatives). I believe that the CUNY example is broadly representative of university EDI policies (and initiatives).

      In your comment of Dec 9, you said, “In calling CUNY, especially its Queensborough College, an outlier, I was hypothesizing, not concluding, that protecting their brand might lead them to adopt non-academic policies that would be eschewed by mainstream schools or at least more traditionally branded schools, such as, say, U. of Chicago. This hypothesis has the beauty of being empirically testable and falsifiable.”

      I quickly realized that my reply to you was the beginning of a large research project! This project includes the compilation of an annotated bibliography which I will give to Paul upon completion. Paul can then make the biblio available to interested others.

      In the meantime, you might want to peruse the following examples of university EDI initiatives,

      1)Pacific University Oregon,

      Equity, Diversion, & Inclusion Glossary of Terms. “The following is a list of carefully researched and thoughtfully discussed key social justice terms and definitions. It is by no means a comprehensive list as equity, diversity, and inclusion terms are ever-expanding and changing, but it is a good place to start.”


      *Pam’s note: The glossary defines,

      a)Imposter Syndrome as “individuals’ feelings of not being as capable or adequate as others. Common symptoms of the impostor phenomenon include feelings of phoniness, self-doubt, and inability to take credit for one’s accomplishments. The literature has shown that such impostor feelings influence a person’s self-esteem, professional goal directed-ness, locus of control, mood, and relationships with others.”

      And, b) Internalized Oppression as “The process whereby individuals in the target group make oppression internal and personal by coming to believe that the lies, prejudices, and stereotypes about them are true. Members of target groups exhibit internalized oppression when they alter their attitudes, behaviors, speech, and self-confidence to reflect the stereotypes and norms of the dominant group. Internalized oppression can create low self-esteem, self-doubt, and even self-loathing. It can also be projected outward as fear, criticism, and distrust of members of one’s target group.”

      I’m curious about how “Imposter Syndrome” and “Internalized Oppression” are differentiated, particularly in a university environment. Here are two worries.

      I worry that Imposter Syndrome experienced by a member of a marginalized group might be recast as Internalized Oppression. (Let alone the anxiety many people feel while adjusting to a new environment. Many feel especially asea during their first couple years at university.)

      I worry that internalized oppression is said to be exhibited when “members of target groups … alter their attitudes, behaviors, speech, and self-confidence to reflect the stereotypes and norms of the dominant group.” How is this conformity different than any other conformity to one’s peers in a social group, particularly among the many university students who are fresh out of high school? And what of one’s peers in the “dominant group”, are they not as likely to conform and pick up traits, attitudes, and behaviours from each other? Any of you remember all the white boys discovering rap? But this mimicry is liable to be recast as another phenomenon stipulated in the glossary, Cultural Appropriation,

      “The adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another. It is generally applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to appropriating culture. This “appropriation” often occurs without any real understanding of why the original culture took part in these activities, often converting culturally significant artifacts, practices, and beliefs into “meaningless” pop-culture or giving them a significance that is completely different/less nuanced than they would originally have had.”

      Here’s another example from the glossary,

      Ally, “A person of one social identity group who stands up in support of members of another group. Typically, member of dominant group standing beside member(s) of targeted group; e.g., a male arguing for equal pay for women.”

      Who’s “stereotypes and norms” have allies conformed to, particularly if allies are members of a dominant group? If allies haven’t conformed, they wouldn’t be called “allies” now would they?

      (I asked Paul how it would go over if I declared myself an ally to Incels.)

      And finally, another related word from the glossary, assimilation,

      “A process by which outsiders (persons who are others by virtue of cultural heritage, gender, age, religious background, and so forth) are brought into, or made to take on the existing identity of the group into which they are being assimilated. The term has had a negative connotation in recent educational literature, imposing coercion and a failure to recognize and value diversity. It is also understood as a survival technique for individuals or groups.”

      You can’t have that which is being defined in the definition, otherwise you have a circular definition.

      This attempted definition of assimilation has other problems. “Imposing coercion” makes no sense, it’s redundant. And, if assimilation is “a failure to recognize and value diversity”, and I recognize and value diversity, wouldn’t I be assimilated into the group that recognises and values diversity? Yes.

      My dad had a wonderful saying that captures this EDI phenomenon, “Everyone’s being different just the same.” (Dad was observing groups of teens thinking they were different and edgy, but all doing pretty much what the others were doing.)

      2)University of Calgary,

      EDI Workshops. https://www.ucalgary.ca/equity-diversity-inclusion/education-and-training/edi-workshops

      3) University of Alberta,

      “How to check your unconscious biases”. https://www.ualberta.ca/folio/2018/05/how-to-check-your-unconscious-biases.html

      *This article recommends the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAC). Ulrich Shimmack (University of Toronto) is one of a number of researchers who have worries about the IAT.

      Anyway, I’ll leave off for now. I have a 7-month old puppy the size of a pony that needs walking!

      Best Regards, Pam


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