The University Record, January 11, 1999


Value of diversity not just ‘article of faith’

In The University Record of Dec. 21, Prof. Jan Kmenta questions whether Dr. Elizabeth Barry’s claims on behalf of “diversity” as part of the University’s commitment to educational excellence rest on “empirical evidence” or whether they are “just articles of faith.” It is, of course, amusing to find an economist pooh-poohing articles of faith with a deprecatory “just.” But to take his request for information perhaps more seriously than he intended, the answer is yes, there is overwhelming evidence, empirical and experiential both.

Prof. Kmenta might consider the alternative, whether any search for excellence, whether for potential or actual excellence in any field of human endeavor, that is limited by race, ethnicity, gender, religion or similar classification, could be considered anything but parochial. He might also consult the book recently published by Presidents Bok and Bowen (remembering that Bowen is an economist) on The Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, discussed in a very well publicized lecture by Dr. Bowen on this campus last November. He might read, if he has not yet done so, Ethnic America by Thomas Sowell, an economist not known for his support of affirmative action, and The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist not known for his adherence to articles of faith.

He might also look around our University today and consider whether it is not far richer, intellectually, far better, academically, and far more cosmopolitan in every way than it was in the 1950s, when the Department of Economics could not recruit a Black economist (Charles Wilson, later a distinguished administrator at SUNY and a trustee of TIAA-CREF) because, in response to Dr. Wilson’s question about housing opportunities in Ann Arbor, the then-chairman had to refer him to his maid.

R. B. Schmerl, associate professor emeritus of education


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