Diversity at Reed

I will respectfully disagree with fellow aluma Molly O’Reilly ’64, regarding the need for increased “diversity” hiring at Reed [Letters, March 2012]. Although it worked for her back in the ’60s, allow me to tell you a 21st-century story of another bright young woman.

My daughter just lost her teaching job due to the color of her skin.

She studied hard in college, earning high marks. She lived in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn, commuting to one of the finest urban graduate schools. She volunteered. She went deep into debt to graduate at the top of her class with a master’s in education. She student taught at an inner-city school, where the kids loved “Mizz A.” Her supervisor praised her compassion. Streetwise kids of all colors cried when she left.

My daughter couldn’t find steady work her first year out of school. She substituted, tended bar, moved back in with us. I told her, “Stick with it. You’re good at what you do; you’re passionate. You’ll get your chance.”

After hundreds of rejections, my daughter landed an 80%-time job replacing a teacher on sabbatical. I told her, “Do the great job I know you can do, and they’ll find a place for you.” As a father, I had the same dream for my daughters that Martin Luther King had for his: “I have a dream that my children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I am proud to say that my daughter did the kind of job you see in exhilarating movies like Mr. Holland’s Opus. She inspired! Many of her students will remember her as the teacher who changed their lives. Her evaluations were stellar, and parents spontaneously wrote in to commend her work. As a bonus, my daughter is a trained musician. When the school suddenly needed someone to conduct the orchestra, she stepped in and did a great job.

A regular position opened. The administration put it out to competitive application. My daughter’s supervisor was appalled; letters of support for her poured in from colleagues. But you already know the dénouement. The one thing my daughter had no control over—the color of her skin—determined that she would not be rehired.

The school calls it diversity hiring. I call it racism. It is an excuse for judging applicants based on the color of their skin, contrary to the fundamental American principle that “all men are created equal,” deserving to be judged on their own merits. It is based on the assumption that students cannot learn as well from persons of other races. This is false. Young people are open and without prejudice—until we teach them otherwise.

Racism is no less poisonous when turned against a white person. Affirmative action was necessarily a temporary remedy, because it punishes new generations for the sins of those that came before. It institutionalizes racism, and “group guilt.” So long as we judge people on the color of their skin, nobody is safe. Today, racial minorities benefit. Tomorrow, the tables may turn. The only real protection against discrimination for all races is discrimination against none. As King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

In the 21st century, the adversity we all face is not principally determined by race. As for unconscious bias of hiring committees, it is no answer to substitute the conscious bias of diversity hiring. Most committee members are people of good faith. By setting a goal of equality, we inspire them to treat all applicants fairly. By setting a goal of “diversity,” we create a rigged game that countenances mendacity and mediocrity.

So if Reed is still committed to hiring faculty who are the best and most inspiring in their fields, I say, bravo! I don’t care what race the successful applicant is.

—Michael Schein ’76
Seattle, Washington

I read with interest Ms. O’Reilly’s “Diversity at Reed” (Letters, March 2012) and the response from Profs. Williams and McDougal. All three seem to share the conviction that ethnic diversity is a good in itself and ought to be pursued for its own sake. Allow me to dissent. Reed College—at least, the Reed of my memory—was and should be utterly indifferent to race, origin, and sex, selecting faculty and students on merit alone. A quota, as suggested by Ms. O’Reilly, is the farthest thing from the colorblind ideal. And while the College seems not to have gone as far as Ms. O’Reilly proposes (yet), it clearly has bought into the logic—why else create a dean for institutional diversity? This decision by Reed has caused me to rethink (read: reduce, and by quite a bit) my donations to the college. Perhaps quota advocates like Ms. O’Reilly will make up the shortfall.

—David S. Bloch ’93
Tiburon, California