Diversity at the University of Oregon

Posted: May 30, 2006 12:05 PM

Dear President Frohnmayer (pres@oregon.uoregon.edu):

Recently, I gave a speech on your campus (the University of Oregon). During the question and answer session following the speech, liberals and conservatives alike expressed concerns about the new 46-page diversity plan you recently released. They asked me to comment on the plan after reading it. That is the purpose of my letter to you today.

The University of Oregon’s (UO) mission statement, which is quoted in the report, boasts of your school’s “…conviction that freedom of thought and expression is the bedrock principle on which university activity is based…” However, a number of free speech controversies that have occurred on your campus in recent years cast doubt on your commitment to the First Amendment.

For example, in 2005, a conservative publication known as the Oregon Commentator was de-funded after merely satirizing a trans-gendered student. The student was a student senator and, thus, a public figure. Regardless, he/she/it/undecided has no right to be free from political satire or personal discomfort under the United States Constitution.

Although the Oregon Commentator was re-funded a few months later, UO’s confusion concerning the relationship between political speech and personal comfort seems to persist. This pervasive confusion is illustrated in the following passage from your 46-page diversity plan:

Students of color and other underrepresented students often do not feel included, respected, or safe. They regularly confront inappropriate comments made by University employees and fellow students and endure tense interactions in living, learning, and other public spaces. Such cumulative experiences take their toll.

In case you missed it, the two key words in that passage are “inappropriate” and “under-represented.”

Regarding the former, the university must disabuse itself of the notion that it is responsible for ruling on the “propriety” of speech in an effort to make people feel “included, respected, and safe.” Campus radicals fought hard in the 1960s for students to be treated like adults. College administrators are fighting just as hard today to make sure students are treated like children.

Regarding the latter diversity buzzword, it is telling that the right to comfort is not given to all students, but is instead limited to those in “under-represented” groups. If homosexuals are among those “under-represented” groups I humbly suggest that they take time to decide whether they are for or against the notion of Equal Protection of the Law. I am not among those willing to support their selective adoption and abandonment of equality predicated upon the political expediency of the moment.

But, of course, UO’s commitment to Equal Protection of the Law has become clear in light of the recent controversy concerning another student publication, The Insurgent. When the radical leftist paper published pornographic pictures of Jesus Christ (portrayed as a homosexual), the school maintained a steadfast commitment to free speech – one they did not hold when the Oregon Commentator scandal erupted the year before.

Of course, the fact that UO supports free speech when it agrees with the speech and opposes free speech when it disagrees with the speech can be roughly translated as follows: UO does not support free speech.

In the future, UO should ignore trans-sexual students who are offended by satires of transsexuals. But in the name of equality, UO should also ignore Christians who are offended by satires of Christ.

Ignoring everyone who is offended by a student publication would be much easier if UO would get out of the business of collecting mandatory student fees to fund offensive publications. I would propose abolishing those fees altogether. This solution would have three advantages:

1. It would increase socio-economic diversity at UO by making a college degree less expensive.

2. It would help the students become more responsible by raising their own publication funds rather than having the government do it for them.

3. It would get the UO administration out of the constitutional requirement of “viewpoint neutrality” with regard to the distribution of mandatory fees since there would no longer be any. This is a requirement that UO cannot seem to follow because of its own anti-Christian and pro-homosexual bias.

But, of course, all of this discussion of diversity is moot unless UO can decide just what diversity really means. The following footnote in your report suggests that no one can be certain what anyone is really talking about when the subject of diversity is broached:

We recognize the difficulty of using a term like diversity that is subject to multiple interpretations. We intend to be inclusive when we use this term. The risk of listing examples of diversity is that no list can be all inclusive. In defining diversity for use in this document, we do not intend to leave out any group. In this document when we discuss persons "of diverse backgrounds or experiences" we mean by that description to refer to the broad range of diversity intended by our definition here. Further, when we discuss "underrepresented groups" we intend to refer again to the broad definition of diversity.

UO ought to be embarrassed by that definition. And any taxpayer reading your report should demand that you de-fund all of your diversity initiatives until you decide exactly what “diversity” really is. I don’t have a good definition of “diversity fund” but I do have a synonym. It is called “slush fund.”

I was also troubled to read of your report’s emphasis on the concept of “cultural competence", which UO defines as follows:

Cultural competence is an active and ongoing process of self reflection, learning, skill development, and adaptation, practiced individually and collectively, that enables us to engage effectively a culturally diverse community and world. Cultural competence allows us to recognize that our statements, convictions, and reactions are conditioned by the culture in which we live. Cultural competence enables us to bring this knowledge to bear in our interactions so that we can to participate respectfully and effectively in our pluralistic University, state, country, and world.

Your report goes on to say that cultural competence “should not be viewed as advocating political correctness or as any sort of infringement on academic freedom.” But, of course, it does advocate political correctness by implicitly blaming the failures of individuals and groups on “society.” You might as well have said that the conservative emphasis on free will is “wrong” and the liberal emphasis on cultural determinism is “right.”

But, of course, “cultural competence” – much like “diversity” – is a term that differs from person to person. In fact, you once said that cultural competence “… means that we are able to effectively reach all of the students who have demonstrated their competence to be in the university but for whom, because of cultural background, traditional techniques of teaching may not be as effective as others.”

How might some people translate your definition of cultural competence? To whom does it apply? Could it mean that traditional techniques of teaching may not be as effective for black people? Could it mean that traditional techniques of teaching may not be as effective for Hispanics? Could it mean that traditional techniques of teaching may not be as effective for poor people? What exactly are you saying, President Frohnmayer?

As if patronizing and potentially racist definitions of “cultural competency” weren’t enough, you seem to be dedicated to imposing your condescension upon others. In fact, the following passage suggests that professors may have to learn to teach down to minorities in order to get tenure and promotion:

To improve each faculty member's ability to teach all students effectively, deans and department heads should stress the importance of participation in professional development opportunities to nurture good teaching. Faculty should consider regular participation in professional development  seminars, which improve teaching and service across cultural divides, to be an important part of ongoing professional development.

If you do “succeed” in getting people to teach differently depending on cultural considerations, you have engaged in an obvious form of bias. But, of course, that’s no problem since UO has established a “Bias Response Team” that the diversity plan mentions here:

The Bias Response Team and the Conflict Resolution Office are available to help members of the University community. The University should strengthen those offices so that they will have adequate resources to meet the needs of the University community.

But what, exactly, does that mean? What, exactly, are the duties of the Bias Response Team? Do they patrol the campus in uniforms looking for bias? Are they aware of the tremendous political bias at Oregon that produces a plethora of Democrats and a paucity of Republicans? Or are they ignoring that kind of bias? If so, does that mean they need to police themselves for bias in response to bias?

While I think that the Bias Response Team should be abolished next year, I have something for them to do over the summer. Specifically, I think they should abolish the MRRF, which is clearly promoting bias at UO. If you aren’t convinced, just read the following from the pages of your diversity plan:

The University should provide more resources for faculty recruitment and retention. Some tools currently in use, for example the Minority Recruitment and Retention Fund (MRRF), have proven effective.

And, of course, since you have expressed support for the racially biased MRRF, you, too, are promoting bias. Hence, before it is eliminated, the bias response team should eliminate you, President Frohnmayer.

And, finally, I think you should reconsider the following recommendation:

Programs such as Ethnic Studies and Women's and Gender Studies provide courses, opportunities for advanced study, and scholarly work of interest to students and faculty from underrepresented groups. Strengthening these and other programs that focus scholarship and teaching on issues of diversity will serve to strengthen diversity at the University.

As you know, Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies programs are the least academically rigorous programs on campuses today. They make Social Work and Elementary Education programs look like programs in Nuclear Engineering. By suggesting that students from “underrepresented groups” seek such programs, you reveal your lack of confidence in the intellectual potential of minorities. You also sentence them to a life of irrelevance or, even worse, government employment.

I hope, of course, that you will forgive the length of my analysis of your plan for diversity at the University of Oregon. I have much more to say but you’ll have to pay big bucks if you want to hear it. I hate to bring up money but that’s really what this is all about, isn’t it?


Mike S. Adams