Diversity Hiring

Several Reedies took exception to my arguments on “diversity hiring,” which I called a euphemism for racism. Their arguments amount to a plea to supplant one wrong with another.

Ethan Knudsen assumes that my complaint about creating a rigged game fails to appreciate that “the game is already rigged.” Does he think I’ve lived under a rock for nearly 60 years? My question for Mr. Knudsen is, when the game is rigged is it better to try to rig it in another direction, or to attempt (within the limits of human frailty) to un-rig it? “Diversity hiring” simply replaces the unfair game with a new system of cheating. That is as morally bankrupt as the initial racist condition—it is simply racism redux. There’s either something wrong with denial of opportunities to human beings because of the color of their skin, or there isn’t. We all seem to agree that there is, so why perpetuate this evil? That is exactly what “diversity hiring” does.

Moira Dwyer Zucker purports to know that Martin Luther King did not intend to include white folks in equality when he dreamed about a time when his children would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. I remind Ms. Zucker that this is the man who wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” [Letter from Birmingham Jail, August 1963]  In the same document, Dr. King wrote that “it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends . . .” I can’t agree that a man so sensitive to the interconnectedness of all humanity would condone institutionalized racism directed against his white brothers and sisters under the rubric of “diversity hiring.”

Ms. Zucker defends diversity hiring because she believes that a fair game is “not even imaginable in our lifetime.” Such profound pessimism undermines all efforts at racial equality. What Ms. Zucker is really saying is that because humanity is permanently, ineradicably racist, her chosen people should be placed on top. That’s an argument any white supremist could embrace with vigor. People who care about the improvement of race relations should never stop striving for equality for all.

Ms. Zucker asks, “[w]here is it spelled out that life is supposed to be fair for any person?” I suppose I would start with the Golden Rule, then go on to the Declaration of Independence and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. From there I would move on to the full panoply of equal employment and opportunity laws, including Title IX for women in education.

Besides, “fairness” isn’t the only value that college hiring committees need to consider. Colleges are charged with the important business of educating young people. The first consideration of every hiring committee should therefore be, which applicant shows the most promise in teaching and scholarship? This seems almost too obvious to require iteration—yet it is invariably forgotten in these debates. That is inexcusable, and it threatens to undermine everything Reed has stood for in over a century of quality education.

“I’m afraid this is one of those visceral, unresolvable divides like the debate over abortion,” writes Ms. Zucker. No it isn’t. I once gave voice to all the arguments made by Ms. Zucker and Mr. Knudson, and I honor their commitment to social justice. But since then, I’ve thought about it, watched the world go by for more than half a century, and changed my mind. I’m sure other Reedies—and Reed College administrators—can do the same.

—Michael Schein ’76

Seattle, Washington