Are Jews Really an 'Under-Represented Group' at New York Colleges?

In an attempt to support minority groups, CUNY has proposed a new diversity plan that relies on the very stereotyping it hopes to discourage.

CUNYbnr.jpgbondidwhat/Flickr

"Jewish" is a "new minority label" at New York City's university system, the New York Post reported on June 3, almost accurately. CUNY recently completed a "faculty diversity action plan" that included among the usual identity-based focus groups along with a Caucasian/White/Jewish group, created in response to complaints that Caucasian/White/Jews were "not as monolithic as some believe and this lack of understanding is reflected in subtle stereotyping."

Stop and think about this: Stereotyping attributes to individuals the presumed characteristics of their demographic groups. Stereotypes treat people as members of groups instead of individuals. So do diversity initiatives that organize people into identity groups. Logic suggests that CUNY faculty who feel victimized by stereotypes imposed on Caucasian/White/Jews should probably avoid Caucasian/White/Jewish groups (although by creating this group to fight stereotypes, they may have inadvertently undermined the stereotypical assumption that all Jews are smart).

I don't mean to join CUNY in singling out some of its Jewish faculty, who are hardly alone in seeking group identities and affiliations in order to defend against stereotyping or "unwelcoming behaviors." CUNY's diversity study promotes the perverse belief that identity groups undermine bias and stereotyping. It also implicitly endorses stereotyping, attributing particular "cognitive styles" or "intellectual outlooks" to particular groups. This is the essential incoherence at the heart of bureaucratic diversity initiatives: They combat stereotypes by relying on them.

I'm not denying that members of particular demographic groups sometimes share common problems and obstacles to advancement that require collective, not individual. action. Civil rights laws have long responded to this need for categorical solutions to categorical discrimination against racial minorities, women, and other historically disadvantaged groups. Affirmative action reflects the belief that these formal bans on discrimination don't ensure equal opportunity (much less equal results) because so much discrimination is inchoate and informal.

Affirmative action requires a controversial balancing of inequities, since hiring and admissions decisions are zero sum games. (Questions about its constitutionality are once again before the Supreme Court.) But affirmative action was initially justified as an essential means of remedying generations of discrimination. It was arguably less unfair than a system without affirmative action, and it was supposed to be temporary.

Instead, at CUNY and other schools, affirmative action is being transformed, expanded, and institutionalized by a bureaucratic cult of diversity. It's not aimed at righting historic wrongs but at creating "inclusive" and "nurturing" environments for individuals, while giving universities like CUNY the benefits of "a multitude of skills, perspectives, and experiences in order to better advance its mission of research, teaching, and service."

What's wrong with this vision? It means "affirmative action for everyone," as Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition observes, given the open-ended list of affinity groups that diversity initiatives often promote, regardless of discrimination. "Diversity denotes an understanding of difference that includes many dimensions," the CUNY report explains, "including race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, age, national origin, socioeconomic status and other characteristic of social identity." CUNY apparently has this in common with kindergarten: It's a place where everyone is special in his or her own special way.

Striving to make grown-ups feel special, welcome, included, and appreciated, CUNY also has much in common with the larger therapeutic culture. Diversity bureaucrats envision higher education, in part, as a form of therapy. They want to put everyone on the couch, to address their "unconscious biases."

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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional.

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