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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

Bio

March 4, 2010 - 12:00 am

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.

Not only does Penn ignore its stated non-discrimination principle in practice, but it proudly announces that it does so. Thus there were two separate Penn briefs supporting the University of Michigan’s use of race in admissions, and Penn itself, as Lee Stetson, the director of admissions, told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1998, practices race conscious admissions. “We continue to be committed to affirmative action in admissions,” he said, “what we prefer to call being conscious of the background the student comes from.”

It is impossible, of course, to practice race-conscious admissions while remaining faithful to the official policy that requires all university decisions to be made “without regard” to race. The same impossibility would apply with regard to sex and sexual orientation, would it not?

Apparently activist gays, like other aggrieved minority groups, want to be treated “without regard” to what makes them aggrieved … except when they don’t. Indeed, there is so much confusion over the concepts of equality and discrimination that it is not clear where confusion stops and hypocrisy begins. For example, regarding the  controversy over whether the Dept. of Defense should be barred from interviewing law school applicants on campuses because of its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, I asked:”Does Yale Favor Equal Opportunity Only For Gays?

The question was prompted by Yale Law School’s non-discrimination policy, which states:

Yale Law School is committed to a policy against discrimination based upon age, color, handicap or disability, ethnic or national origin, race, religion, religious creed, gender (including discrimination taking the form of sexual harassment), marital, parental or veteran status, sexual orientation, or the prejudice of clients. All employers using the school’s placement services are required to abide by this policy.

All employers? Hardly, for if Yale (and Harvard, which has a similar policy, as do other elite law schools that objected to Defense Dept. recruiting) excluded “all employers” who discriminate in hiring, it would have to exclude all law firms, corporations, universities, and other organizations who give preferential treatment to some applicants, and hence impose a burden on others, because of their race and ethnicity. Yale et al. manifestly do not do that.

The dean of the Yale Law School at the time of the recruiting controversy was Harold Hongju Koh, subsequently appointed by President Obama to be legal adviser to the Department of State. After the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the attempt of Yale and other leading law schools to bar military recruiters, Dean Koh issued a statement saying that he looked forward

to the day when the government gives all of our students — without regard to their sexual orientation — an equal opportunity to serve our country by working in our nation’s armed forces.

The question thus inescapably arises; do Yale, Harvard, Stanford, et al. favor “without regard” equal opportunity only for their gay students, and  preferential treatment for their black and selected Hispanic students?

And now the University of Pennsylvania must be asked that same question with regard to undergraduate admissions. As Inside Higher Ed reports:

Eric J. Furda, dean of admissions at Penn, characterizes the effort there not as something special for admitted gay applicants, but as doing for them what the university already does for many other groups of students.

Does Penn do for not-yet-admitted gay applicants what it does “for many other groups of students”? That is, does it now engage in what might be termed “sex preference-conscious” admissions that parallels its race conscious admissions?

If not, why not? Is “without regard” equal opportunity good enough for gays but not for blacks and Hispanics? As I asked in my December PJM article linked above, does Penn believe that different groups deserve different kinds of equality, reminiscent of the different levels of “scrutiny” with which the Supreme Court looks at different kinds of discrimination?

Commenting on Penn’s new gay outreach policy, Jacques Steinberg writes in the New York Times (Feb. 26) that it

is expanding the boundaries of its so-called affinity outreach — a Penn engineering student might reach out to a high school senior interested in engineering, a black alumnus might call on a potential applicant who is black — to include applicants who might be gay.

Might be? Wouldn’t it be important to know? In any event, given the deep “differences” by which “diversity” preferences are justified, how could Penn possibly select a white gay man to “reach out” to a black gay admitted applicant, or a black lesbian to an admitted gay Hispanic man? Or does it assume that all gays — men and women; black, white, Asian, and Hispanic — are all fungible, and all different enough from their straight peers to justify lumping them all together for special treatment?

The more fundamental question raised by Penn’s new policy is, or should be, not only where but when higher education’s fixation on difference-based “diversity” will end.

UPDATE: There’s outreach, and then there’s outreach…

Now the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, based on an article in the Billings Gazette, that some students and faculty at Northwest College, a public two-year residential college in Wyoming, have objected to a recruitment letter college president Paul Prestwich sent to about a thousand Mormon high school students mentioning the college’s “remarkable opportunities” for LDS church members and mentioning his own membership.

The letter was part of the college’s enrollment-management plan to forge ties with local churches and community groups to increase diversity and recruit students, Mr. Prestwich told the Chronicle.

Northwest College, according to the Gazette article, “does a wide range of targeted marketing, and had planned to send similar letters to students of other faiths.”

Laci Kennedy, a freshman member of the Student Senate, was quoted as objecting that “school recruitment efforts should not focus on students’ religious background. …”

Why not? Does religious faith provide less “diversity” than race or sex?

UPDATE II: Outreach overreach…

Northwest College has announced that it will no longer recruit students based on their religion. Presumably Penn is still recruiting students based on their sexual orientation.

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.
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