In a series of e-mail announcements sent to the university at-large, President Alice P. Gast has unveiled a series of councils and special interest groups, whose intentions stand to further progress for a more diverse, more ecologically conscious campus, a motive that Gast presented among her inaugural goals.
The Council for Equity and Community (CEC), the Lehigh Environmental Advisory Group (LEAG), and the Global Lehigh Advisory Committee (GLAC) represent the bureaucracy that Gast has set out to create. Vague, guided by pure populism, and I suspect a push to pad her personal curriculum vitae, Gast’s committee fetish has long term repercussions for Lehigh University, mostly in the form of high legacy costs and nonsensical parliamentary actions.
Starting with CEC, which is to be composed of “faculty, staff, undergraduates, and graduate students who have demonstrated commitment to diversity through research, teaching, work, or service,” this group automatically alienates the average Lehigh student. Rationally, most students do not “commit themselves to diversity,” as they operate under the belief that interacting with their peers in such a way that does not differentiate behavior based on race, denomination, et cetera, is business as usual. In other words, most people do not try to create a homogeneous environment by outright discriminatory means, (barring the archaic pledging processes that define our Greek Life system).
The only people who might fit the definition of being “committed to diversity through research, teaching, work, or service,” would be professors whose field of study is the very-specific, not-so-diverse area of Asian, Africana, or other cultural studies – clearly, not the type of people who might think outside of the academic space in which they reside, or students who have made a lot of white noise, preaching their messages of separatist, gratuitous wanting by means of “movements” or the editorial columns of the Brown & White. Thereby, I postulate that the only benefit that could come from such a committee would be the encapsulation of such causes of civil unrest within a restrained committee, from which the occupants could be buried in their own red tape and self-congratulatory smug.
Realistically, there is a need for Lehigh University to attract a diverse palate of candidates for its newly matriculated classes. As stated in my previous article, Diversity Doublespeak, I noted that international and minority students enhance the university experience by providing new perspectives in studies and social interactions, and allow existing students to interface with peers of unique cultures, heritages, faiths, or whatever it may be within the scope of their academic career, as preparation for their life in the diverse working world. However, by what motive do we do so? Is it fair to initiate a slew of new racial scholarships in lieu of merit-based ones, which in essence bribe persons of one race or another to come to a university that they might not otherwise care to attend? Should they choose to attend on the basis of such monies, is it fair that they should then want to impose their personal worldview (which may not be so diverse) on the existing student body?
To further this argument, consider the difference between equity and blind placation. The council’s stated purpose is equity, which is defined as being fair or impartial. Yet, based on the application criteria, how very impartial would a committee of social sciences professors and angry radical students be? Moreover, are we simply acting to placate these students by giving them the feeling of power to offset the perceived imbalance, while in actuality sending the message that the majority’s whims and wishes are subject first to a council with direct access to the President of the university? Gast’s email lends to the idea that such a council will have access to funding – something already spoken for in the diversity arena by the Multicultural Affairs committee, headed by Alta Thornton, and the Joint Multicultural Program, headed by Yaba Blay, alongside whatever fragments are left of The Movement, the Provost’s office (which spent at least five figures on the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. day), and how many more? The Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers? The Black Student Union?
The question also arises as to whom we as a university would like to attract. Do we want the Deborah Dickerson-defined Black student who represents the stereotypical, “non-job-having, middle-of-the-day malt-liquor-drinking, crotch-clutching, loud-talking brother with many neglected children born of many forgotten women?” If we are, is it fair for that individual, whose personal lifestyle choice will inevitably be aesthetically opposed to the country-club stock that so petulantly defines this university? That individual will be ostracized, and the question shifts to the blame: is it the financial aid office, which bribed this student to come to a university whose social space is diametrically opposed to his? Is it the students who will cast judgments upon this individual, not understanding where he comes from? Is it this individual’s fault, for espousing a lifestyle that defines what some consider urban detritus? Is it Bethlehem, and the environment that we somehow must be affecting, and should form some woebegone committee to rectify said ecological climate?
It’s an absurd question, but it’s a real one, and the true answer is that no one party is responsible for the failure of one culture to smoothly interface with another. All parties are guilty – the student should realize that if he’s receiving so much financial aid, many of his new peers will be well off and unadjusted to his unique situation, and the existing students who push so fervently for this “diversity” should realize that they then must accept those who they claim they want to attract. Is the solution to this problem a committee, which is composed of only the protagonists of diversity and none of it’s detractors, or objective critics such as myself? Why is this even a question? If 13% of the United States is composed of “Black” individuals, by whatever definition might be chosen, are there enough minorities to placate our university’s stilted expectations? Our numbers are fine, and this issue should have been dropped ages ago.
Likewise, there persists the fact that many international students do not feel represented on campus, despite the existence of so many committees, clubs, unions, and societies. To once again reference Diversity Doublespeak, there is a rift between Black and Hispanic students (who are born as U.S. citizens), other domestic minority students (such as Asian, Native American, European, et cetera), and international students on visa.
To briefly paraphrase a previous argument: the first group of individuals (Black and Hispanic) remains the prominent focus of our school’s diversity efforts. This is undeniable. Look at the sheer size and money spent on the King Day celebration, look at the Rap Sessions event, look at Rock for Darfur, and a consistent pattern begins to develop. I don’t see existential discussions on issues pertaining to any other domestic minorities.
International students have become the latest demographic to be woefully mangled in the diversity debate. While their on-campus presence isn’t celebrated nearly as much as specific domestic minorities (outside of the International Bazaar and a few lecture series, through the UN Coalition), their recruitment efforts have redoubled nearly as much as domestic minority initiatives. Sound attractive? Hardly – the Global Lehigh Advisory Committee presented a laundry list of expensive, irrational, excessive goals that challenge the very mission of our institution. (What happened to “practical education?”)
GLAC’s first effort is the Required International Experience (RIE). The RIE exists under the logical convolution that, on account of the positive reactions garnered from students who choose (keyword choose) to study abroad, Lehigh might as well raise tuition and force everyone to pick a country and study there for a semester. I suspect this effort has more to do with Gast being credited as some sort of pioneer in higher education for her decision to make Lehigh less affordable to the very people it says it’s committed to recruiting, with the intentions of globalizing such assumedly close-minded students such as ourselves.
While GLAC has a few positive keynotes to it, such as efforts to outright recruit more international students and the establishment of overseas “hubs” to attract both students and speakers, GLAC seems to have missed a few recitations. It states that it wants to increase international graduate students – which means more international teaching assistants. To be fair, I have had some very good experiences with foreign TAs, yet I’ve had twice as many unfortunate ones with the very same demographic. As I’ve personally noticed a large percentage of international grad students covering labs and recitations, my observations have been corroborated by several of my peers, and we’ve come to a mutual conclusion that the language barrier is a significant detriment to an intellectually enriching recitation or lab experience. The Brown & White corroborated this in their article titled Prof’s Accents Cause Confusion for Some.
Finally, the Lehigh Environmental Advisory Group stands to raise tuition and cut institutional improvements further by forcing the university to go “cutting-edge” on experimental, marginally cost-efficient, minimally cleaner, outright expensive technology. Representing a further step in Gast’s mission to bring a bit of Berkeley to Bethlehem, LEAG has direct access to the President’s office, and will likely be padded with sizable seed funding.
LEAG’s initial stage, which involves evaluating existing campus practices, will, in all fairness, accomplish something that a different committee should be evaluating: wasteful practices. While I cannot support an organization that will force costly change on the basis of marginally earth-enhancing practices, I can certainly see how an oversight committee, which evaluates waste and the most effective ways to reduce it, would be beneficial to our institution.
To most effectively synopsize the principle grievances I have with this bevy of recently established committees, it comes down to two key ideas: purpose and practice. On the former, we must look to our school’s original outset mission statement: for practical education. While it is undeniable that we live in an age where technology is dictated more by an environmental conscious than it had been in previous years, and while there are positive consequences to a truly diverse campus (not one of displaced, disgruntled “free Mumia” supporters who want to assuage what is often called “white guilt” or “liberal guilt,” in order to further leverage campus policy), and while we would like to expand our international horizons to more effectively manage the global marketplace, the fact of the matter is that these, like all other trophy committees, will do no such thing.
We then come to practice. Consider that most of these committees aren’t predicted to make any real headway for at least five years – some, longer. This allows President Gast to sit back and watch the gears turn on her grand placation scheme, designed to distract the angry minorities and radical left from pestering her with posted demands, rallies, and walkouts. Thereby, she can take on the two principal presidential roles: raise money, and impose her political and social will on this institution.
My predictions? Alice Gast has no real long-term intentions for this school. Her children, now approximately 11 and 13, will likely not attend this school. There is no conceivable reason why the valedictorian of USC Berkeley, with such extensive academic credentials, would allow her children to go to anything but a top-tier research institute. As such, she will likely step down in about five years – maybe ten, if she is presented with a more attractive university presidential offer. I base this on Gast’s inauguration – her colleagues, mostly university presidents and trustees, almost mocked Gast for her choice of residence here. The ceremony smacked of a farce – this presidency is a stepping-stone for a west-coast liberal who wants to change the world, with no thought to the possible class conflicts and other wake she may leave in tow. She’ll get to return to one of her several alma maters, take a high-level position, and forget that Bethlehem is anything but a smudge on a map.