A Preoccupation with Diversity
Hayden Daniel (’19)-
In response to the harrowing events in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, President William Dudley sent a message to the W&L community announcing the creation of the Commission on Institutional History and Community. According to Dudley, the Commission’s purpose is to “lead us in an examination of how our history — and the ways that we teach, discuss and represent it — shapes our community.” He also commented that the Commission’s work will include “studying how our physical campus, a significant portion of which is a National Historic Landmark, can be presented in ways that take full advantage of its educational potential and are consistent with our core values.” Despite the purposefully vague meaning behind the Commission’s mission and work, it has been hard at work studying how W&L’s history continues to affect the W&L experience. The Commission itself is comprised of honorable individuals chosen from the students, faculty, staff, and alumni and is chaired by law professor Brian Murchison, but the Commission has deviated from its original mission and is now focused on increasing diversity at W&L for diversity’s sake.
First, Professor Brian Murchison, the Chair of the Commission on Institutional History and Community, periodically issues Community Updates, which detail the activities and progress of the Commission in the pursuit of its goals. The last Community Update was issued on January 26th, 2018. Before the January 26th update, Community Updates were a regular monthly occurrence, but there was no update for the month of December and there has been no update since January 26th as of the writing of this article (March 25th, 2018). On top of that, when updates are posted, they are not advertised. There was no specific advertisement for the January 26th Community Update. For a body that is examining the very identity of this institution, the Commission has failed to keep the W&L community fully informed of its activities.
Also, the way in which the members of the Commission were appointed did not allow for the voices of the constituent communities of W&L to be heard. This is not an attack or criticism of the members of the Commission, each of member is more than qualified to hold a position within the body. I have no quarrel with the members of the Commission, merely the way in which they were chosen. Instead of unilaterally appointing the members of the Commission, President Dudley and the Administration could have allowed nominations by members of each W&L community. For example, the students should have been able to nominate students or elect students to represent their voices on the Commission. The same goes for faculty, staff, and alumni. The issues being examined by the Commission are too important and potentially impactful to the future of W&L as an institution to be left to appointees who may or may not fully represent the viewpoints of the different W&L communities.
Though the previous two points represent pressing concerns with the Commission’s efficacy, the content of the January 26th Community Update should be cause for further trepidation. Within that update, Professor Murchison stated that the Commission had met with several organizations, run by both faculty and students, on campus. The College Democrats and the College Republicans were included in the roster of student groups questioned by the Commission. First of all, why is the Commission interviewing purely political groups that are affiliated with national organizations that operate as youth-wings of the two major political parties? The Spectator is a conservative organization, and Amnesty International is mostly a liberal organization, but conservative and liberal are our respective ideologies, not our official platform. By interviewing both the College Democrats and the College Republicans, the Commission has dragged national politics and national parties into a conversation that should be settled exclusively by the Washington and Lee community. Also, the only organization that could even attempt to claim a conservative ideology interviewed by the Commission was the College Republicans. It is one of the worst kept secrets at this university that the College Republicans is an almost nonexistent entity. The College Republicans have not held a single meeting this calendar year, and their only major policy effort this academic year has been to campaign for Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s recent gubernatorial election (Besides the fact that Ralph Northam won by a comfortable margin, it was a resounding success). The Commission could have at least spoken to the much more active and more genuinely conservative Federalist Society based in the Law School if it wanted to gain a conservative perspective on issues at W&L. The Update does provide the scapegoat that the Commission is waiting on input from other student groups, but it fails to acknowledge which other student groups have been contacted.
The Community Update also notes that the Commission held eight sessions with both undergraduate and law faculty to gather input from them. In the midst of these sessions with faculty, along with other sessions with students and alumni, the Commission also met with several other groups, including the University Collections of Art and History Advisory Committee and the University Committee on Inclusiveness and Campus Climate. One of the groups that the Commission met with was the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. The WGSS Program is not a department of the university (hence the title “Program” instead of department), and it is a patchwork of professors and classes cobbled together across several actual departments to create a degree in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. It is also notorious for its attempts at indoctrination at W&L (i.e. the Diversity FDR Petition that circulated around campus a few years ago). Why was the WGSS Program consulted outside of the regular sessions with faculty, where the concerns of the WGSS professors could have been addressed along with the concerns of their peers in other departments? If the Commission decided to consult particular departments, then why did the Commission not hold special sessions with the History Department or the Art History Department, whose professors certainly know more about the history of this university and possess greater authority on the issues being examined by the Commission than the professors of the WGSS Program? The professors of the WGSS Program should have had their concerns addressed in the general sessions for the entire faculty, not given special treatment by the Commission.
The most concerning development regarding the Commission on Institutional History and Community is its evolution from a committee appointed to examine our history and how it can be represented into an advocacy group for greater diversity on campus. In the January 26th Community Update, Professor Murchison reported that one of the questions being analyzed by the Commission with input from the W&L community was “Given that W&L has the least diverse student body among peer institutions, and a concern that this fact may influence highly qualified students to choose another school, how might we increase diversity within the student body?” This question is yet another attempt by the Administration to artificially increase the diversity of the W&L in order to fit into the standard mold set by similar liberal arts institutions and colleges all across the nation. Colleges across the nation, now including W&L, have become obsessed with increasing diversity merely for the sake of being diverse. Do not think that the Commission actually means ideological or political diversity when it talks about diversity. In an interview with the Ring-tum Phi for the March 12, 2018 issue, President Dudley answers the question, “Which important goals are still to come [in your administration]?” with, “One thing I’ve been saying that’s true about W&L is one of our strengths is political and ideological diversity and one of our weaknesses is racial diversity and socioeconomic diversity, and I think those are mission critical.” Obviously, President Dudley, and by extension the Commission, does not consider ideological and political diversity to be a problem at W&L (which could be an article all by itself), but he does consider racial diversity a critical problem.
The philosophy of diversity for diversity’s sake falls into the progressive tendency to judge one’s worth and value based on immutable attributes attained at birth instead of on individual values and achievements. For example, if we choose to accept an African American student because she is African American, a woman, of a lower socioeconomic status, and she is queer, then we are checking off all the requisite boxes of “intersectionality” (one of the new political buzzwords) and we get to congratulate ourselves for being sufficiently “diverse,” but we are judging her worth and her worthiness to attend this university because of those predefined and predetermined boxes and not on her individual achievements. By striving for diversity for diversity’s sake, we belittle and discount the actual achievements of students in favor of their incidental membership in a category, whether it be race, religion, or socioeconomic status, that is judged to be desirable. Instead, we should strive further for ideological and political diversity. We should seek out exceptional individuals in both ideas and achievements. Despite the Left’s fears that if we practice this ideology that potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be left out, students of disadvantaged backgrounds can achieve great things without a helping hand. If we focus on achieving ideological and political diversity on campus, then we have achieved the only fair and desirable diversity on campus.
For an institution that prides itself on its new tradition of celebrating the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. with an annual parade down Main Street, it seems to be ignoring Dr. King’s most sincere wish, that his children and all children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Diversity for diversity’s sake does just the opposite.
Let it be noted that the Spectator reached out several times to the Chair of the Commission on Institutional History and Community, Professor Brian Murchison, to allow the Commission an opportunity to address these concerns. Professor Murchison expressed his regret that he would be unavailable to conduct an in-person interview due to a busy term schedule. Instead, the Spectator emailed Professor Murchison a series of questions, which will be attached below. After I did not hear back from Professor Murchison for over a month, I emailed the questionnaire again. After not hearing anything for another three weeks, I dropped off a physical copy of the questionnaire at Professor Murchison’s office in the Law School on March 12, 2018. At the time of this writing (March 25, 2018), Professor Murchison has not responded to the fifteen simple questions included in our questionnaire.
The developments within the Commission since its inception have certainly been disturbing, but the Commission holds no real power. It only has the power to craft a report detailing specific recommendations to the President, William Dudley. However, based on President Dudley’s comment that diversity is one of his top priorities, it would not be surprising if President Dudley followed through on the recommendations of the Commission on diversity, whatever those may be. The Commission plans on issuing a comprehensive report of its findings at the end of the academic year. The Spectator will issue a more comprehensive analysis of the Commission’s recommendations and any concerns raised by those recommendations once that report is issued and if that report is made public.