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The Logical Outcome of Illogical Non-Discrimination Policies at Universities

Schools like the University of Pennsylvania twist themselves into pretzels trying to pretend they admit students "without regard" to race or sexual preference.

by
John Rosenberg

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March 4, 2010 - 12:00 am
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In my last appearance in PJ Media a couple of months ago (“Does Sexual Equality Require Preferential Treatment?“) I asked, “Will the movement for gay rights follow the same trajectory as racial equality — from non-discrimination to preferential treatment based on sexual persuasion?”

That question must now be applied to college, or at least to college applicants.

Inside Higher Ed has just reported (Feb. 26) that the University of Pennsylvania may be the first institution to launch what is described as an “outreach” program for gay students. That program, I think, suggests a number of interesting questions, but before we get to the assumptions underlying and implications flowing from gay outreach, let’s pause a moment at everyday, garden variety outreach. “At many colleges,” IHE’s article begins, “outreach” is

a standard part of the recruiting process once applicants are admitted. Current students who share individual traits or academic interests help reach out to prospective students with similar backgrounds or interests. So the young woman who expresses an interest in engineering will hear from a female junior in engineering. A black admit might hear from a black student, and so forth. The idea is that these students may be uniquely well positioned to answer questions and to make the case that the college is a good place to be a female engineer, a black undergrad, or whatever.

Reading that, I couldn’t help wondering, what if that “black student” were a female engineering major? Would she be tasked with reaching out only to black female prospective engineering majors? To all black females? To all blacks, whether prospective engineering majors or not? Given that heavy workload, shouldn’t Penn take “affirmative action” to make sure it has more than one black female engineering major? Moreover, since everyone knows (doesn’t everyone?) that Asians tend to be geeks who segregate themselves in math and science, shouldn’t Penn have an Asian literature major to reach out to prospective Asian English or philosophy majors (or two: one male and one female)? Doesn’t “diversity” require such an effort?

But even in the nether world of “diversity,” where “difference” is the coin of the realm, gays are regarded as, well, more different. As the IHE article states:

Outreach to gay applicants is different in some key ways from outreach based on academic interests or race and ethnicity. Typically, applications ask about academic interests and race and ethnicity (although that question is optional), and no colleges are known to ask applicants about their sexual orientation.

And while Penn has found ways to reach out to admitted applicants who are gay without asking the question, some advocates for gay and lesbian students are starting to talk about pushing colleges to add such a question (as an option). One group is preparing to petition the Common Application to do so. …

Shane L. Windmeyer, the founder of Campus Pride, a national group that works on behalf of gay students, also applauded Penn’s move and said that his organization is preparing to ask the Common Application to add a voluntary question about sexual orientation.

But why are those questions optional, or voluntary? If “diversity” is as crucial to the academic mission as diversiphiles maintain, why should applicants be allowed to keep the elixir of their “difference” a secret?

Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application, said he wasn’t sure how the board would respond. He noted, however, that the nearly 400 colleges that are members all must abide by the group’s nondiscrimination statement, which covers sexual orientation.

What Mr. Killion didn’t note was something else the Common Application requires of all colleges that use it: those institutions must require information from applicants enabling them “to select a diverse student body.” Given this absolute requirement, how can colleges using the Common Application treat questions about race, ethnicity, and now sexual preference and orientation as optional and voluntary?

And speaking, as Mr. Killion did, of a nondiscrimination statement, what (if anything) should we make of Penn’s various declarations of fealty to the principle of nondiscrimination? The last time I looked, here are some of those statements:

Policy of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination

Penn adheres to a policy that prohibits discrimination against individuals on the following protected-class bases: race, color, sex (except where sex is a bona fide occupational qualification), sexual orientation, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, age (except where age is a bona fide occupational qualification), disability (and those associated with persons with disabilities), or status as a special disabled, Vietnam era veteran or other eligible veteran.

….

Penn is committed to ensuring that all academic programs (except where age or sex are bona fide occupational qualifications), including social and recreational programs, and services are administered without regard to an individual’s protected-class status.

Penn is also committed to ensuring that its personnel and other employment decisions are made without regard to an individual’s protected-class status. [Emphasis added]

Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs

The University of Pennsylvania does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, or status as a Vietnam Era Veteran or disabled veteran in the administration of educational policies, programs or activities; admissions policies; scholarship and loan awards; athletic, or other University administered programs or employment.

It would be hard to find better statements of fealty to the fundamental principle that individuals should be treated “without regard” to their race, sex, ethnicity, or religion, but inasmuch as Penn is permeated with preference policies it would be equally hard to find evidence that Penn actually practices the non-discrimination that it preaches.

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