I’ve already blogged about this, but to repeat: Universities in the West are in the process of moving past their best before date. Why? Because 1) the economics of university education has changed, both in terms of a) what information is now being demanded, and b) how that information can now best be delivered. And because 2) the culture war that’s been raging for the past decade or so has flushed academic freedom down the toilet.
__________I’ve come to accept both of these developments. What could not accepting them amount to?! What I do not accept, however, is any need to pretend otherwise. I think we can call a spade a spade, and that we should call a spade a spade. Why the latter? Because gaslighting should be confined to where it’s needed. Where it’s not – and in this case it’s not – it’s a burden without compensatory payoff.
__________A case in point are the four talking points in the stump speech of one Martha Mathurin-Moe, the recently installed EDI Director at the University of Lethbridge. Martha is a lovely person, and I’m not suggesting she’s a stupid one. But it is stupid – and this stupidity is, so far as I can tell, utterly unnecessary – to 1) trigger-warn her talk with the claim that “This is going to be an uncomfortable conversation!”
__________No it’s not. Who does she think is made “uncomfortable” by the call for equity, diversity, and inclusion at a university? One might oppose it. But opposition is not discomfort. So the claim that “This is going to be an uncomfortable conversation!” comes off so patronising that it’s cringeworthy.
__________2) Martha opens her stump speech by “acknowledg[ing] that we’re guests of the peoples whose land this is.” No we’re not. A guest is someone who leaves when asked. Would we? Clearly not. So if it were their land, to suggest we’re their guests does nothing but add insult to injury.
__________As it happens it’s not their land, any more than it’s the land of the bison who once grazed on it. Nor is it the land of their ancestors, any more than it’s the land of ours, their having as much post-contact blood in their veins as pre-. But forget all that, if it’s too much to handle. Just don’t say “guest” when what you mean is settler or occupier.
__________3) Martha claims that no-white-males-need-apply hiring does not lower standards. This has to be false. Consider an applicant pool of 50 white males and 50 not, and a merit-only ranking thereof. For the sake of simplicity, let’s confine ourselves to gender. On the (arguable) assumption that gender is irrelevant to academic merit – and let’s make the top of the class a female – what we should get, in order of ranking in the discipline, is something like

1 the top female
2 the top male
3 the second best female
4 the second best male
5 the third best female
6 the third best male
7 the fourth best female
8 the fourth best male, and so on.

But if the fifty males are immediately eliminated, then what we get instead is

1 the top candidate
2 the third best candidate
3 the fifth best candidate
4 the seventh best candidate
5 the ninth best candidate
6 the eleventh best candidate
7 the thirteenth best candidate
8 the fifteen best candidate, and so on.

__________Admittedly the university at the top of the plumb line takes no loss at all. And the second in the plumb line is unlikely to be taking much of loss. But the angle of sub-optimality increases as we move down the plumb line, so that by the time we get to places like the University of Lethbridge, we’re pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel. In fact the 50th on the plumb line is having to take the 99th best candidate, by which is meant the penultimately worst. Replace male and female with white and BIPOC, settler and Indigenous, or whatever “equity-deserving” group you like, and we get the same result. So how does Martha think that no-white-males-need-apply hiring does not lower standards?
__________This is not to suggest the disabled Indigenous trans lesbian we’re left to hire is incompetent. It’s to suggest only that the counterfactual would almost certainly have been the better hire.
__________The standard fallback position – and perhaps Martha would like to avail herself of it – is that the disabled Indigenous trans lesbian brings something to the job her competitors do not, namely her disability, indigeneity, gender identity and orientation. And well, that can hardly be denied. But what do disability, indigeneity, gender identity and orientation have to do with the mathematics of transfinite sets?
__________One could argue that an indigenous historian knows more about the history of indigenous people than might a settler historian. But that’s a conjecture to be ratified or falsified a posteriori. And in fact most ethnic self-proclaimed scholars are just that, expert in their own eyes, and those too woke to call them out on it.
__________And, finally, 4) Martha claims that EDI hiring takes nothing away from anyone. To use her metaphor, it simply adds chairs to the table. Once again, bad mathematics. We have a seven member Philosophy Department. We’re not adding seats at the table. If anything chairs are being folded away. If certain people are not allowed at the table because of their race and/or gender, but would have been otherwise, then those people are taking a loss.
__________To be fair it’s true that in the not-too-distant past people who were not white and male were not allowed at the table because of their race and/or gender. And one could argue – in fact that just is the argument – that restorative justice requires this kind of reverse discrimination. Fair enough. But then why claim, as Martha does, that EDI hiring creates no losers? Putting the counterfactual candidate aside, there are other stakeholders involved here: colleagues, students, the taxpayer, the discipline itself … One can appeal to “In the long run …” But most of these stakeholders aren’t in it for the long run. They’re in it for the here and now.
__________Do I want to get rid of these EDI initiatives? I do not. Do I want Martha to reconsider her stump speech? I do. These kinds of clearly false claims undermine her credibility. And in the face of the growing widespread opposition to these initiatives, however wrongheaded Martha thinks that opposition might be, credibility may be all she’s got.

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

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3 replies

  1. “Born and raised in Saint Lucia, West Indies, Martha Mathurin-Moe . . .”
    All I needed to know.

    But I thank you for parsing it all so nicely.
    Do I</b want to get rid of these EDI initiatives?
    Absolutely I do.


  2. Paul, may I have your permission to link this post of yours as a comment appended to Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True blog? (He calls it a website.)  He did a post today that was critical (of course!) of DEI statements viz.,



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