A job interview, some years back, at No Name University (NNU). I was the candidate. The diversity question, pitched right on schedule. The surprise was who asked it. Of the seven search committee members (plus the search firm rep) only one was a person of color, and guess who they stuck with asking the diversity question? A clear signal I would not want to work at their institution, but I gave it my best game anyway.

“I’ve lived in six countries, worked in several more, on all continents, and visited 55 countries,” I replied. “I’ve learned to respect all kinds of people, though unlike Will Rogers, I can’t claim to like every individual I’ve met. I’ve learned that teams that are diverse in ethnicity, gender, income, physical condition and national origin make for better ideas, better discussions, better decisions, and better programs. In other words, my commitment to building and maintaining diversity is firm, and it’s based on experience that few others can match.”

My answer was sincere, and I’d say the same today, if asked.

It didn’t seem to fly with the committee. Perhaps they wanted to know to what groups I’d extend preferential hiring, or which groups I considered “oppressed” or “oppressor.” Or whether I believed in equality of opportunity or equality of outcomes. Or my view of Affirmative Action and what I’d do to achieve racial equality in the university community. But that that’s not what they asked. They only asked, what is my position on diversity.

Following higher education news later, I saw the questions NNU didn’t ask move more and more to the forefront – particularly concerning race. It was the first sign of a growing rift between traditional liberals, a faction to which I belong and which has made many well-intentioned mistakes about race, and the far left, which seems motivated more by authoritarianism than by compassion.

This split means questions of equity and inclusion are now more nuanced. I’m glad NNU didn’t ask me the unasked questions, because search committees want checked boxes, not nuance!

My family are a walking nuance, in that we are “multi-racial.” “Race” has no biological basis, but it sure has psychological manifestations. When questionnaires ask Race, I check “mixed” or “decline to say.” This must irk HR departments and US Census clerks, but screw ’em.

I deplore campus expansions that price low-income folks out of the neighborhood, even as the university mouths niceties about creating inclusive communities. Nuance. And hypocrisy.

I believe there’s structural racism in the United States, and there are, objectively, victims of it. Black writers have urged Black youth not to act like victims. That’s not for me to say, though I’m always saddened to see anyone act the victim. Nuance.

The U should reach out to nearby neighborhoods, offering enrichment programs where there are primary/secondary education deserts. Yet universities already offer more remedial courses than they can afford to offer, making up for how secondary schools left our admitted students deficient in algebra, rhetoric, civics…. It’s the right thing to do. But universities should not bear these costs alone. Nuance.

Emails arrive, asking which side of the Israel-Palestine question I am on. As if there are only two sides in the conflict! The American hard left wing loves rigid right-wrong and oppressor-oppressed categories. The hard right wing, personified by Rep. Elise Stefanik, demands, “Yes, or no? Yes, or no?” Every faction in the mid-East has committed terrible wrongs and occasional admirable rights. Nuance. I don’t answer the emails.

Nuanced doesn’t mean wishy-washy. I have opinions. PM me if you want to hear them or try to change my mind. And if you doubt there’s nuance to DEI, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/interactive/2024/race-identity-michele-norris-hidden-conversations-race-card-project/ will change your mind.

I’m just glad not to be in the academic job market any more.

See also https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-should-college-presidents-do-fred-phillips-3iagc%3FtrackingId=%252BgZFShMxNc0YhceuPoB2fg%253D%253D/?trackingId=%2BgZFShMxNc0YhceuPoB2fg%3D%3D