All the palaver aside, EDI is just the latest rebranding of quota hiring. Quota hiring is justified by one or both of two claims: 1) social justice requires it and/or 2) performance excellence does. Hiring a nigh-illiterate indigenous women as an air traffic controller satisfies the first but probably not the second. Putting a seven foot black man on an otherwise all-white basketball team serves the second but not the first.
The current EDI push in academia claims to suppose that hiring the nigh-illiterate indigenous woman as a professor serves both ends, because diversity of perspective – which is almost certainly guaranteed by such a hire – accrues to research excellence. In some cases research excellence is defined as that which is the product of diversity, rendering the claim circular. In others the measure of excellence is equally dubious. And in still others the connection, though made, is cherry-picked. Counter-examples are simply dismissed.
Cosmetic diversity often correlates with perspectival diversity, but perspectival diversity is counterproductive unless the perspective itself has promise. So-called “indigenous ways of knowing” do not. So adding an indigenous elder to an NSERC funding panel is a social justice sop. No harm no foul, argues Jonathan Haidt, provided that’s what we’re on board with.
But not if it’s a social injustice if science suffers as a result. And that, it seems to me, is what’s really at issue between proponents and detractors of these programs. Is giving the elder the dignity of her ‘inclusion’ in some process worth the potential sub-optimality of its results? In some cases yes, in some cases no. The fight always comes down to cases.
What puzzles me, however, is why EDI seems to have hitched its wagon to bias training. If I’m on the hiring committee, and the Dean won’t hire a white male, what difference does it make that if I had my druthers I’d only shortlist white males? Taking the trouble to correct my biases only makes sense if hiring the white male is a live option. Is the idea that once my biases have been overcome we can do away with quota hiring? No, because that we’re still below quota is taken as conclusive evidence that these biases have yet to be overcome.
Some people argue – and it’s hard to argue that they’re wrong – that what’s keeping us below quota in the academy is that septuagenarians like me refuse to retire, and that even when we do there’s no money to hire a replacement. So it’s budget cuts that are doing two-dimensional damage here. The institution is shrinking and it’s remaining white and male.
Others argue – and it’s hard to argue that they are wrong – that it’s the shrinking of the university that’s all that’s standing in the way of it ceasing to be a university and becoming something else. So I’ve decided that the only way to save the university, or at least the Philosophy Department, from ceasing to be, is to outlast the current iteration of woke-quota hiring. Accordingly I’ve submitted my letter of retirement to the Dean effective December 1, 2064. I figure that at 114, que sera sera.