A billionaire tech investor made headlines last week with his pledge to pay off the student loans held by Morehouse College’s graduating Class of 2019. Unfortunately, Robert Smith’s multimillion-dollar gift, however admirable philanthropically, is as irrelevant to the problem of student debt as the recent policy proposals from the Democratic presidential field. Whether it’s Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan to use taxpayer dollars to cancel most outstanding student loans for the majority of borrowers, or Senator Bernie Sanders’s promise of “free” (i.e., fully taxpayer-subsidized) tuition for public universities, all such proposals treat ballooning college costs as a naturally occurring phenomenon, outside the reach of human action. The discourse around student debt—which now stands at $1.5 trillion—holds colleges harmless in causing that debt. The sole focus of discussion is instead how best to underwrite rising tuitions with public or private money.
But college tuition is not an act of God, beyond human control. It is a result of decisions taken by colleges themselves—above all, decisions to bulk up their bureaucracies. Bureaucratic outlays rose at nearly twice the rate as teaching outlays from 1993 to 2007, according to the Goldwater Institute. From 1997 to 2012, colleges hired new administrators at twice the rate of any student-body increase, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found. Colleges inevitably claim that government mandates force this administrative bloat upon them. But the vast majority of administrative hires are voluntary: for every dollar in mandated bureaucratic spending from 1987 to 2011, public universities added an additional $2 in discretionary bureaucracy, and private universities added $3, according to economists Robert Martin and Carter Hill. Fiefdoms focused on diversity and student services grew at the fastest clip, in the name of fighting the campus oppression to which minority and female students are allegedly subjected.
Last month, Georgetown University provided a striking example of such unforced diversity accretion. President John DeGioia proudly announced a new diversity position: Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. No government mandate required this new vice presidency. Instead, it was an expressive choice that, in DeGioia’s words, would demonstrate Georgetown’s commitment to “racial justice” and “educational equity.”
Naturally, the inaugural VP of DEI will be backed up by a new Associate VP of DEI. Support staffs of equity-research specialists are likely on the way.
Such self-initiated diversity expansions are by now routine. Two days ago, the University of Rochester announced the creation of a new Vice President for Equity and Inclusion. Rochester’s incoming VP for EI, poached from her position as Associate Vice Provost for Strategic Affairs and Diversity at Virginia Tech, said that she had been inspired by the “quality of work already being done at the University of Rochester in the diversity and inclusion space.” In February 2019, Harvard announced that it was creating a new office and new Associate Deanship of Students for Inclusion and Belonging that would integrate the work of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations; the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; the Office of BGLTQ Student Life; the Office of Diversity Education and Support; Title IX; and the Harvard College Women’s Center. In April, Yale’s president Peter Salovey announced a new Deputy Secretary for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, along with a cadre of additional diversity “specialists.”
The Georgetown expansion contains an interesting twist, however: the person chosen for the new VP of DEI role has been doing race-based diversity activities at the university since 1980. Rosemary Kilkenny started as a Special Assistant to the President for Affirmative Action Programs and became Georgetown’s Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity in 2006. The school’s spokesman did not respond to a request seeking an explanation of how the new Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion differs from the old Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity—beyond, one may safely assume, receiving a jump in salary.
DeGioia credits Kilkenny with deepening Georgetown’s “commitment to educational equity for minority and underrepresented students,” with strengthening “the climate and resources for [Georgetown’s] LGBTQ community,” with confronting and addressing “issues of sexual assault and misconduct in [Georgetown’s] community,” and with recommitting Georgetown to “building a stronger, more equitable and just future for our University.” In her previous incarnation as VP for IDE, Kilkenny served on numerous diversity task forces and initiatives, such as the “Task Force on Gender Equity,” the “Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation,” and the “Working Group on Racial Justice.”
All of which raises two questions: If Kilkenny’s nearly 40 years of diversity efforts have failed to put Georgetown’s equity challenges to rest, why is she being promoted? And second: What possible equity challenges remain? After four decades of attention, if Georgetown has still not smoked out all its allegedly racist faculty who fail to treat minority students equally; if it continues to admit rapists; and if students of color, females, and gays still face constricted opportunities, perhaps the university should shut down.
After all, it’s not just Kilkenny who has been chasing racism and sexism at Georgetown. So have the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action; the Office of Affirmative Action and University Human Resources; the Diversity Advisory Board; the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access; the Working Group on Reporting Incidents of Intolerance (not to be confused with the Working Group on Racial Justice); the Initiative on Diversity and Inclusiveness; the School of Medicine Office of Diversity and Inclusion; the School of Medicine Subcommittee on Faculty Diversity and Inclusion; the Law Center Office of Equity and Inclusion; the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service; the Women’s Center; the LGBTQ Resource Center; and the Initiative on LGBTQ Student Resources.
Nor has Georgetown been reticent on the question of identity and alleged identity-based exclusion. To the contrary, it has developed a whole series of bureaucrat-overseen student “dialogues” around students’ race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Long gone are the days when students came up with their own topics for late-night bull sessions. Georgetown’s administrators run such structured student-diversity conversations as “Pluralism in Action,” “Leaders in Education About Diversity,” “Young Leaders in Education About Diversity,” and “A Different Dialogue.” In 2016, Georgetown decided that an outside consultant was needed to sharpen these dialogues about oppression, so it contracted with the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship to provide an additional layer of input, undoubtedly at greatly inflated cost. Such hires are a far cry from adding another professor of French literature or chemistry.
In furtherance of its “racial justice work,” Georgetown has also avoided anything that might suggest an assimilationist ethic. It encourages separatist identities, starting with the New Student Multicultural Night and ending with the multicultural graduation ceremonies for black, Asian, and “Latinx” students. Its identity-based student groups include the Students of Color Alliance; the African Society of Georgetown; the Asian American Students Association; the Black House (which celebrates “intersectionality” and honors the “resistance” of past Black House residents); the Black Student Alliance; the Caribbean Culture Circle; La Casa Latina; the Chinese Student Alliance; the Club Filipino; Georgetown University Riqueza Dominicana; the GU Hawaii Club; the GU Minority Association of Pre-Health Studies (GU MAPS); GU Women of Color (GUWoC); the Minority Pre-Law Association (MPLA); Mosaic; the Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (MEChA); the Native American Student Council; Queer People of Color; and the Taiwanese American Student Association.
Students get the message. In May 2018, recalling the infamous Day of [White] Absence of Evergreen State College, Georgetown’s black students announced that white students were not welcome to attend a meeting on school security measures; their presence might jeopardize the “safety of students of color.” Inclusion, it turns out, is a one-way street.
Why, then, is a new diversity sinecure needed? Because, the university’s officials would answer, racism and oppression are so endemic in the American character and on American campuses that even the most focused efforts to extirpate them are never done. Typical of all such diversity announcements, DeGioia’s email does not identify those individuals who continue to thwart “racial justice” at Georgetown, nor does he explain how Georgetown still fails to allow all its members to “succeed and thrive,” in his words.
And the reason for that lacuna is this: there are no such individuals and no such institutional barriers to student success at Georgetown. The university, like every other American college today, is committed to minority advancement; it offers boundless opportunities to all its members on a color- and sex-blind basis. The only barriers to student success are the result of Georgetown’s own diversity policies. By admitting certain “diverse” students with lower average academic qualifications than their non-diverse peers (which Georgetown, like every other selective college, inevitably does), it puts those students at a competitive disadvantage in the classroom. The diversity bureaucracy encourages those alleged beneficiaries of preferences to interpret their academic difficulties as a manifestation of institutional bigotry; the demand for more retention specialists and diversity hand-holders usually follows. Many of these students will take their cultivated resentments with them into the non-academic world, increasing social tensions.
Rather than telling the truth about his welcoming campus, DeGioia, like nearly every other college president today, prefers to accuse it of ongoing derelictions of justice. Only the latter course, in today’s world, signals his and his institution’s social virtue. The bureaucracy required to back up that virtue-signaling comes at considerable cost. Georgetown’s annual tuition, room, and board is approximately $72,000 a year, or nearly $300,000 for four years.
An identical story could be told about nearly every other private and public college today, all of which are in the grip of the diversity delusion. The spiraling tuitions are driving students out of the humanities and into majors perceived as surer bets on the job market. Some of those majors, such as engineering or computer science, are legitimate; others, such as marketing and communications, are dubious. College personnel may lament shrinking enrollments in the humanities, but it is rising tuitions (as well as politicized scholarship) that fuel that flight.
Last week, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos published the student debt of college graduates at individual institutions by program and major; this fall, the Department of Education will publish graduates’ average earnings by major and program. Though well-intentioned, this initiative merely contributes to the regrettable idea that college is primarily about boosting a student’s earning power, rather than about preserving our civilizational inheritance. There are far more useful transparency measures that the Department of Education should require: Every college and university receiving federal funds should disclose the size of its bureaucratic budget, the ratio of that bureaucracy to faculty and students, and the rate of bureaucratic growth compared with student-body and faculty growth. Colleges should itemize spending on diversity functions and functionaries, including faculty time spent on committees dedicated to race- and sex-based hiring and admissions. Every identity-based center and program should be listed, along with their budgets, so that parents and the public can know how much tuition and taxpayer money subsidizes separatism. Only then will colleges be held accountable for their ballooning tuition costs. More than college affordability is at stake. If the present academically generated narrative about endemic American racism and oppression keeps gaining momentum, any remaining common bonds that tie our nation together will be irremediably broken.