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Diversity Survey Challenges Conventional Wisdom
April 01, 2003
Trevor Butterworth
A new academic study by a distinguished group of researchers upends the conventional wisdom on the educational benefits of racial diversity on college campuses.

A new academic study by a distinguished group of researchers upends the conventional wisdom on the educational benefits of racial diversity on college campuses. Contrary to the claims endlessly reiterated in the media that diversity enhances a student's education, the study found that students were more dissatisfied with their educational experience the more diverse their campus.

The research, which appears in the Spring issue of Public Interest, was conducted by Stanley Rothman of Smith College, Seymour Martin Lipset of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Neil Nevitte of the University of Toronto.

The topic is a hot-button issue with the Supreme Court set to hear arguments on Tuesday over whether the University of Michigan's undergraduate college and its law school may use race as a factor in selecting students.

Many of the 78 briefs filed on behalf of the University of Michigan cite diversity as no less valuable a component of a student's education than the study of Shakespeare (as the former President of Michigan put it). If true, one would expect student evaluations of their educational experiences to reflect the benefits of greater diversity.

This is the question that the researchers set out to answer in 1999, when they randomly surveyed over 1,600 students and 2,400 faculty and administrators at 140 American colleges and universities. They asked all groups to evaluate the quality of education their school offered, the academic preparation and work habits of the student body, the state of race relations on campus, and their own experiences of discrimination. Then they correlated their responses with the proportion of black students attending each school.

Yet even after controlling for demographic factors, the study found that students, faculty members and administrators all reacted to increasing black enrollment with increased dissatisfaction over the quality of education and the campus work ethic. Even more dismaying, students were also more likely to complain about discrimination.

Students were also explicitly critical of diversity programming as it is currently practiced on many campuses. As Rothman wrote in the New York Times,
 "Three out of four oppose 'relaxing academic standards' to increase minority representation, as do a majority of faculty members. And an overwhelming 85 percent of students specifically reject the use of racial or ethnic "preferences" - along with a majority of faculty members. More telling, 62 percent of minority students oppose relaxing standards, and 71 percent oppose preferences.

Among the most striking findings is the silent opposition of so many who administer these programs - yet must publicly support them. Although a small majority of administrators support admissions preferences, 47.7 percent oppose them. In addition, when asked to estimate the impact of preferential admissions on university academic standards, about two-thirds say there is none.

Most dismaying, of those who think that preferences have some impact on academic standards, those believing it negative exceed those believing it positive by 15 to 1."
 Though some proponents of diversity have criticized the low response rate, it was over twice that of comparable studies that have claimed diversity benefits a student's education.

The results were worrying enough for Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier to append her public criticism of the study with the caveat that "They may be onto something.".

At the very least they appear to have found profound disagreement between those who claim diversity is educationally beneficial and those whom diversity is supposed to benefit.



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