|What You Thought|
|What You Thought|
|By Norman Boucher|
Reader letters since the last issue:
Brown's Diversity Plan
While I admire the spirit of the students in the “Keeping Brown Accountable” article (Elms, January/February), I fear that they are working at the wrong end of the problem in their demand for more faculty of color. The problem is the shortage of minority PhDs in the hiring pool. The solution is, unfortunately, not an afternoon’s demonstration, but a commitment to a decades-long fight to improve inner city schools. In a system that funds schools by property taxes, wealthy municipalities (such as mine) can provide excellent schools, while urban schools cannot afford to hire faculty or pay for textbooks. This will require a commitment to improve elementary education throughout the country. This may mean working at the highest levels of government. However, it will also require people working one local school at a time to improve the education for minorities. Only when we do that will we have a sufficient number of PhD candidates of color to satisfy what the students really want—an equal opportunity society.
Michael Levy ’66
Under President Paxson’s faculty diversity and inclusion plan, Brown is formally adding a nonacademic dimension to hiring new faculty. University Hall wants to bring underrepresented groups into the faculty by making a commitment to “blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, along with women in the sciences and Asians in the social sciences.” While this is a worthy goal, the implications are disturbing. Ever since I was an undergraduate, I always understood that Brown’s faculty appointments were solidly based on merit and the result of a search for the best and the brightest. In looking for first-class scholars, Brown’s hiring focus was always on academic preeminence or, as President Simmons emphasized, on excellence. Things could be changing.
In my view, “diversity” is a misunderstood concept that has morphed into a cliché. Diversity, as a legal remedy, was developed by the federal courts to correct voting rights violations. In the civil rights era, diversity meant adjusting election districts to deal with discrimination in order to give needed representation to minorities. Diversity at law was considered a means to an end. Today, diversity at Brown represents an end in itself. However, there is a major critical difference: unlike the civil rights context, I am not aware of pervasive, embedded, or systemic discrimination based on race, gender, religion, or ethnicity in faculty hiring at Brown.
To achieve diversity implies acknowledging quotas and giving special entrée to the statistically underrepresented. If there are reduced numbers of available minority applicants, diversity could lead to economic favoritism, offering minority candidates several unfair advantages, such as (a) salary premiums, (b) tenure-track priority, and (c) special deals—for race, gender, or ethnicity—as compared with the rest of the faculty. The inescapable conclusion is that, in the name of diversity, Brown is casting the long shadow of discriminatory social policy over a standard of excellence.
I was very interested to see the March/April cover article about diversity and inclusion efforts on campus. I was also interested to see all of the letters from alumni on the topic, many expressing frustration with the University’s efforts, which they consider wasteful or unmeritocratic.
I would like to respond to these alumni and give them my perspective: My job at Brown is to support the veteran students on campus, a mission that I’m assuming many BAM readers favor. One of the biggest issues I face is that we don’t have enough military veterans at Brown—not by a long shot. Is this because veterans aren’t smart enough? Because they just wouldn’t be able to cut it here at Brown? Because they don’t deserve to be here?
No. Rather, veteran students, unlike many of the traditional undergraduates, did not have a Yellow Brick Road to lead them inexorably from preschool to the Ivy League: we have to go out and find them. Then we have to get them to apply, to believe it’s a possibility for them. When evaluating their applications, we have to consider, in addition to their grades and test scores, their life experience and the richness they’ll bring to our campus. And once they’re here we have to show them they belong here, that there are other people like them who are successful. We have to convince them that they too can be successful.
I’m sure many of the alums who wrote the BAM would empathize with those veteran students. So I’m hoping they can also empathize with the underrepresented minority students who face the same issues. And I hope they understand that the University needs to be proactive in the same way. This is not about guilt over the past, but recognition of the inequalities of the present—recognition that not everyone is coming from the same place, and not everyone has had the same opportunities. To pretend otherwise would be to perpetuate those same inequalities and injustice, and to do a great disservice to our students—all our students—by allowing them to exist in a bubble of unearned blessings, surrounded by others exactly like them. It would fail to prepare them for lives of “usefulness and reputation” in the twenty-first century.
Peter Gudmundsson ’85
Anna Templeton-Cotill ’47
The possibility of success for President Christina Paxson’s revised plan for increased diversity and inclusion will depend upon much more than her elevation from sincere idealist to meaningful pragmatic leader. From the Corporation on down, every facet of the University’s program will have to replicate President Paxson’s cultural growth, with a collective consciousness raised beyond a WASP mind-set rooted in money and power.
Leonard Ridley ’57
I was appalled by the cover of the March/April issue. I couldn't find one letter to the editor that supported what Brown is doing with respect to diversity. I share the views of those who wrote: "Brown should admit or hire candidates of any backround based on merit and character, not on skin color or ethnicity." Perhaps it would help to have some political conservatives on campus to champion individual liberties rather thatn group grievances.
Ralph Crosby ’52
How discouraging that Brown is still compelled to address such issues. Discouraing in the larger sense of societal dysfunction, and also in the microcosm of our beloved alma mater, where there is now a plethora of new terminology (e.g., "HUGS") and more refined slicing and dicing of ethnic and other groups and their representation in certain academic departments. It wouldn't have been shocking to hear that therearen't enough Lithuanians in the Egyptology deparment. The article states that "Brown has repeatedly promised to create amore diverse and pluralistic campus, but everyone agrees those promises have not been kept." However the Mail Room section in the very same issue is full of dissenting voices, including some who question the entire premise that now more must be done. I commend the University's motivation and effort, with resignation. This old 1970s liberal only wishes it weren't at all necessary, having grown very tired over the years of both bigoted attitudes and identity politics.
Mike Dyer ’77
It seems disingenuous to assert that "only 6.7 percent of current undergraduates are black, compared to 13.2 percent of the current U.S. population" to demonstrate the need for even greater efforts to increase racial "diversity" without also noting that only 43.6 percent of Brown undergraduates are non-Hispanic whites compared to 62.6 percent of the U.S. population. I doubt that any of the millions and millions of dollars going to be spent increasing racial diversity will be directed toward recruiting more non-Hispanic white students to bridge that gap.
It is interesting to note that the racial categories used to break down Brown undergraduates includes not only 6.7 percent black, but 11.6 percent "non-resident aliens," 5.2 percent "two or more races," and 8.9 percent "race not known," categories (I am admittedly guessing here) that may represent many more "people of color" than whites. Whom does the University think it is kidding? No doubt everyone knows at least one highly qualified white applicant who was rejected by Brown admissions while less academically qualified nonwhite applicants were admitted. (It is not even worth denying that race is a factor in admissions and has been for decades.)
No wonder that many older Brown alumni are not enthusiastically embracing the University's latest effort to make the student body even more racially diverse. Here is a suggestion. Instead of spending all the time, money, and effort to meet politically correct racial quotas, let's make the only racial category be "race not known" and go back to admitting the best qualified applicants.
Richard C. Bollow ’67
This article was so full of “low hanging fruit” one hardly knows where to begin. The letters you printed about diversity from a prior issue were a good start. Clearly, alums are a bit weary of it all. The administration and the BAM have the bully pulpit. The rest of us have to do what we can through limited letters.
Your timeline of protests begins in 1968, as if there was nothing before that. I graduated in 1968, and I can assure you, there was. For example, the Black Panthers were very active and one of them lived in a second story room near me, proudly displaying a Black Panther flag and a poster of Huey Newton. With the window open, he would lift weights and listen to loud recordings of incendiary speeches, invoking militant action against the “f---ing white man.” It was disturbing, to say the least. He was eventually arrested for killing a police dog at a rally.
Why is it that “diversity” is inevitably about African-Americans? You managed to slip in a few token examples of other ethnicities, but let’s call it what it is. Black activism is well-organized, well-funded, and every year Brown admits enough young activists to continue the campaign. “Race” and “ethnicity,” although technically different terms, represent a gray line, which I won’t argue here. “Disadvantaged” is another matter. What is Brown trying to achieve with its Black-centric diversity effort, which you point out is to be funded with something like $150 million? If it is to replicate the African American percentage in the United States, that is a silly goal, without merit. If it is to redress 200+ years of slavery, oppression, abuse, and discrimination, that is a never-ending quest, also without merit.
Historically, every other ethnic group that has come into this country (legally or illegally) has been terribly “disadvantaged”, but generally made its own way. My Italian grandparents came over in 1904, and refused to let their kids speak Italian. Two generations later, every one of their descendants had gone to college (three to Brown). There was plenty of “wop,” “dago,” “greaser” discrimination, but they never asked for special treatment. They just did it. Yet, I am classified as “White” in census questionnaires. Not even European or Caucasian, let alone “Italian-American.” Just “White.”
African-Americans endured a horrific history here and elsewhere. But are they that “disadvantaged” that they need special consideration today? Why does Brown need to be on a crusade to redress history and work around the normal admission procedures? If there is a “need blind” process, why shouldn’t there be a “race blind” process? Brown should be admitting the most qualified students, period. If African-Americans want to attend, then let them apply, need and race blind. The source of race equity should not be Brown. It needs to start earlier.
We were in the early years of studying what would eventually become the focus of the C.V. Starr Program in Business, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations, and not all members of the Brown community took us seriously or understood what we were trying to do. But that didn’t stop us. In the Dean’s class, we voted to start a business school, cheered on a student who sang his case analysis—“This Company’s Got No Reason to Save” sung to the music of Randy Newman’s “Short People”—and wore T-shirts created for the surprise Barrett Hazeltine Day. As teaching assistants, we learned how to present our ideas to our peers and how to creatively approach organizational decision-making. I had the thrill of accompanying Thomas Watson on a ride to his plane, of listening to such executives as Mary Wells Lawrence, and of experiencing Chinese dinners with the Hazeltines.
Through the years, I have thought of the Dean while avidly sitting through edtech pitches and using business articles to prompt students to think and write critically. While I haven’t yet launched my own start-up—there’s plenty of time for that—the Dean’s joy in advising and counseling students inspired me to set up my own college- and career-readiness business. When my son was touring colleges, the Dean made sure we had lunch together, and he escorted him to the urban studies department, all the while walking his bike and acknowledging countless students by name.
Since there is no way I can properly thank him, I send Dean Hazeltine articles, messages, and books and wish him well every beginning and end of the academic year. In the fall of 2013, I stopped in Providence on my way to a conference and attended two sections of the Dean’s famous Engin 9. Little did I know that the student who turned around to chat with me before class was none other than his grandson, Will, who avidly participated and later, as we walked across campus, referred to the Dean as Grandpa. Last spring, the Dean wrote that Commencement Weekend had been special because Will had graduated. Of course, he wouldn’t think of mentioning that he himself had just received the Rosenberger Medal, the faculty’s highest honor. That’s Barrett Hazeltine: adviser, mentor, and selfless educator.
Nina Berler ’79
After he finished, a hand went up from someone who hadn’t paid attention and realized they should have and he went over it again. This process repeated itself several times until finally Prof. Hazeltine (with his classic stammer and good kick to the floor) shouted, “Listen, people, it’s like the first time you have sex—when you get there you’ll figure it out!” Just awesome.
Joe Penza ’03
I am both amused and saddened that these narrow-minded student bigots are so blinded by their own sense of righteousness and cause célèbre that they fail to see the complexity of life’s conflicts and the need for real-world solutions that embrace all sides of complicated situations.
My clinical experience as a psychologist has long taught me that demonizing one side in a conflict never works. It merely perpetuates a cycle of blame and defensive reactivity, a cycle that the human race is very good at enacting. It doesn’t take a Brown education to know we all want peace. The Palestinians want recognition and, psychologically, an end to humiliation and suppression. The Israelis want recognition and an end to threats from all sides.
Maybe if the loudmouths channeled their energies into actually traveling to the Middle East and trying to engage the two sides in dialogue, the noise could be turned into constructive action. But that won’t happen; it’s just too much fun to chant the slogan of the day.
Les R. Greene ’67
Nathan Sharabsky and Michael Douglas are personal heroes. Thus I was disgusted to read how the vicious group Students for Justice in Palestine made a disruptive and odious appearance. This is a hate group that supports the destruction of the Jewish state. They are Nazi-like in their hatred of Jews. If you want to know why this Jewish woman will not donate to Brown, it is because of the presence of this hateful and disruptive group as well as their vicious campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state and intimidate Jewish students. Brown should be ashamed of itself for permitting their Goebbels-like canard. Let them demonstrate and disrupt in Syria, which is were they belong.
Alice Lemos ’81 PhD
We recently had a controlled burn on a portion of a local tallgrass prairie, and the burned portion is now black. This summer it should produce a riot of green leaves and colored flowers. Is it racist to look forward to the time the prairie is no longer black?
Denying a person’s right to use his or her own preferred vocabulary, whether a black mood, or Churchill’s phrase “the black dog” for his own depressed moods, can be seen as an attack on the person’s sense of self. Jane should probably avoid the phrase black mood with her son, since she understands that it upsets him and why. But she should not feel guilty if she still finds that the phrase is the best one that identifies her mood to herself.
But I must protest the implication that the team he brought to life was new to Brown. A. James McKnight ’52 is not only a founding member of the team, he was a founding member and president of the New England Intercollegiate Ski Conference. Other schools making up this ”rain belt” conference were New England College, Tufts, Boston University, Boston College, Babson College, and Northeastern.
While Jim was an undergraduate, Brown improved its performance from an also-ran to conference champions. Members of this trophy-winning bunch on the 1950-51 team were Bill Floyd, Jim, David Bell, Bill Polleys, John Livingston, Sumner Young, and Marshall Greene. Thanks to my mom, I have about twenty pages of articles and pictures, including the writings of Frank Matzec of the Providence Journal, to bear witness to our existence and success.
All that said, we should still doff our collective hats to “one of our own” engaged in the noble work of pursuing peace.