Each of these proposals makes little sense if Williams’ goal remains providing students with the best possible liberal arts education taught by the best possible faculty.
Professor Hu-DeHart praises the college for undertaking new hires in interdisciplinary topics—because “scholars and teachers engaged in these studies are also predominately women and feminists, and men and women from racial/ethnic groups.” (Are non-feminist women somehow less desirable hires? Should interdisciplinary topics that are less likely to yield URM hires—such as environmental studies—be discouraged?) But Professor Hu-DeHart faults Williams for not doing enough to ensure that faculty hired through this mechanism receive tenure. Her suggestion? Create an “Interdisciplinary Department or department-like unit that would serve those faculty”—the precise approach that she successfully championed at Colorado, whose "ethnic studies" department dates from 1995. In other words, like Churchill at Colorado, faculty hired outside of traditional channels might lack sufficient academic credentials. Rather than questioning the merits of a process that leads to the hiring of under-qualified professors, Professor Hu-DeHart urges the college to establish a new unit that will push these untenured faculty through to lifetime employment.
Professor Hu-DeHart also contends that as “the opportunity to hire [under-represented minority] candidates is only as good as the pool,” Williams needs to change the pool. (Churchill, “her hire” at Colorado, exemplified this approach: he had an M.A. from little-known Sangamon State University and no Ph.D. As documents from the time noted, his qualifications included only two items: strong lobbying from Hu-DeHart and the now-disputed fact that “Ward is a Native American," meaning his hire would contribute "to increasing the cultural diversity on campus.") To implement this agenda, Professor Hu-DeHart recommends moving beyond the “elite” institutions from which too many Williams faculty receive Ph.D. degrees. Her report singles out the University of Texas at El Paso as the type of graduate program to which Williams should pay more attention in hiring new faculty.
This recommendation raises some thorny questions. Should Williams seek to hire only more URM faculty from undistinguished institutions—or more professors of all genders, races, and ethnicities from such schools? How could the former policy be justified, intellectually or legally? How could the latter not diminish the college's overall quality?
Williams should do everything possible to make notices about job openings available to all Ph.D. students in the field—as, I am sure, the institution is already doing. And departments should consider applicants based on their individual quality, not on the reputation of the graduate program from which they received their degree—as, I am also sure, is already occurring. But it is absurd to imply, as Professor Hu-DeHart does, that a personnel system that prizes hires from graduate programs with first-rate faculties, cohorts of graduate students, rigorous admissions standards, bountiful research grant opportunities, and strong library facilities can in any way be construed as a negative. Just imagine the Development Office creating a slogan based on Professor Hu-DeHart’s plan: “As Williams continues to slash the numbers of junior faculty trained at the nation's best graduate programs, this fundraising drive will help us hire even more new professors educated at regional Research II campuses of little distinction . . .”
Allow me to quote from Professor Hu-DeHart’s final faculty proposal in detail:
In addition to finding new strategies to increase the pool, the Bolin fellowships can be tweaked, even redesigned. It appears that the Bolin is a grossly under-utilized resource for recruiting under-represented women and minorities to the Williams faculty . . . Link the Bolin with the Compact for Faculty Diversity to maximize the potential of both resources. [emphasis in original] For example, a more concerted effort should be made to tie the Bolin more closely to anticipated vacancies. If a Williams chair discovers a promising minority graduate student through the Compact for Faculty Diversity and also anticipates a vacancy in the field of the graduate student, that department should be given every incentive to recruit the doctoral candidate as a Bolin; every effort should then be made by the senior faculty to mentor this young scholar into a competitive candidate for the vacancy.
A few days back in the seminar, Whitney Wilson did not debate this approach, but I am more dubious. In another era, Professor Hu-DeHart's proposal would have been called developing “inside” candidates. Colleges scheduled a sham “national” search inviting outside applicants; but on campus, a preferred selection, fortified with a temporary appointment, would be “mentored” through to the ultimate job offer. Williams and most other quality institutions long ago abandoned the practice, recognizing that giving inside candidates an advantage in faculty searches made less likely the hiring of the best person for the job.
Professor Hu-DeHart’s personnel proposals pose an unusually stark question: does Williams need to change its criteria for employment—relying on "inside" hires; increasing the priority to recruiting from weaker Ph.D. programs; and creating new units within the college that would have different scholarly criteria for tenure?
While Professor Hu-DeHart’s personnel proposals envision a faculty evaluated according to less rigorous standards, her suggestions on curricular matters demand the infusion of a certain viewpoint into Williams courses. Professor Hu-DeHart calls for populating the Peoples and Cultures requirement solely with courses whose messages conform to “Williams’s conceptual framework for diversity.” (A class, say, in African history no longer would fulfill the requirement; one about “stereotype and stigma” among U.S. whites would.) Science departments receive special treatment: Professor Hu-DeHart muses that they can create courses that “examine hidden and exposed biases in the values, assumptions and practices of their fields, including pedagogical issues and the low participation of African Americans, Native Americans and US Latinos/as in most of the sciences.” Discrimination in the professions is a topic worthy of exploration in a sociology, history, or political science course. But how would such an offering constitute a “science” class; and why do the Chemistry, Biology, or Physics departments need an outside consultant with no science training telling them what specific courses they should offer?
This proposal reflects what Professor Hu-DeHart terms the “social action approach,” in which courses identify “important social issues and take actions to help solve them.” This concept, she maintains, is “central to the values of a liberal arts education.” Professor Hu-DeHart does not specify precisely how the college—and individual faculty—should identify what constitutes an "important social issue," a definition that is more political than academic. Literally and theoretically, though never in practice, I could imagine Williams defining a number of causes as “important social issues,” and then developing courses that would “take actions to help solve them.” Perhaps Professor Hu-DeHart's diversity curriculum could champion Israel’s right to self-defense, so as to defend innocent civilians against suicide murderers; or develop strategies and theories to oppose affirmative action, so as to move the United States toward a socially just, color-blind, legal code; or celebrate globalization, so as to bring technological and economic development to the world's poorer areas. Professor Hu-DeHart, of course, does not have initiatives reflecting these kinds of viewpoints in mind. Nor should any first-rate liberal arts college orient its curriculum around such frankly political content—of either the right or the left.
Professor Hu-DeHart also urges “diversifying” existing course syllabi by the administration asking “faculty from various departments, including the sciences, who teach introductory or survey courses in their fields, to revise their syllabus towards more inclusion of diversity as content . . . Ethnic Studies colleagues can be invited to ignite the conversations and act as resources and consultants.” This proposal raises serious academic freedom concerns, since professors normally do not cede control of the content of their own courses to administrators. (The desired initiative is nominally voluntary, but any untenured professor, or any tenured professor who hopes for a promotion down the road, would come under enormous pressure to bow to the administration's wishes.) It is hard to see what an Ethnic Studies professor—of any race or ethnicity—could add, in terms of content, to a Chemistry class. But Professor Hu-DeHart seems to consider a professor’s skin color directly relevant to curricular matters: in fall 2005, for example, she wondered why more people didn’t question the objectivity of “all these dominant white professors [who] are studying European history or the [history of] white Europe.”
For outside guidance, Professor Hu-DeHart encourages Williams to implement the Curriculum Transformation Project, whose “curriculumt [sic] transformation” website describes “the classroom as democratic space in which students can dialogue about and practice new ways of relating across race, class, and gender.” The CTB’s first “resource” is a guide developed by the New York Collective of Radical Educators urging professors to focus on how Hurricane Katrina illustrates “the criminalization of poor people of color”; “the capitalist interests that govern public policy”; “militarism”; and “consumerism and related environmental degradation.” Such analysis, which was last fresh around 1969, is reflective of a site whose intellectual quality falls far below what I would expect from even an introductory Williams class. As with her personnel suggestions, imagine the quandary in which Professor Hu-DeHart's curricular agenda would place the Development Office: "Your generous contribution will hasten the transformation of the Williams curriculum away from its traditional emphasis on the disciplines of the liberal arts and toward classes that create 'democratic space in which students can dialogue about and practice new ways of relating across race, class, and gender' . . ."
Professor Hu-DeHart's personnel and curricular proposals complement each other. Williams doesn't need an academically distinguished faculty if its curriculum is oriented around creating "democratic space in which students can dialogue about and practice new ways of relating across race, class, and gender.” Indeed, well-trained counselors would be more appropriate than most professors—even those from regional Research II campuses of little distinction—to staff such courses.
Professor Hu-DeHart’s report illustrates how Williams ought not to proceed in implementing any important academic initiative, on diversity or any other subject. We’ve already seen how disastrously Professor Hu-DeHart’s ideas worked at the University of Colorado. It is disheartening to see that a college of Williams' quality might proceed down a similar path.