July 22 2014

Wisconsin Flagship University Rationing Majors, Grades to Promote Diversity and Equity

Vicki E. Alger

Just in time for the back-to-school season, University of Wisconsin, Madison, emeritus economics professor W. Lee Hansen exposes the latest taxpayer-subsidized scheme on his campus. As Lee writes for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education:

Many American colleges and universities are in the thrall of “diversity,” but none more so than my institution, the University of Wisconsin. This spring, the university adopted a new plan that, according to Board of Regents policy, “[p]laces the mission of diversity at the center of institutional life so that it becomes a core organizing principle.” That is, promoting diversity appears to be more important than teaching students. …

The plan’s definition of diversity focuses on a wide array of differences that can be found in every enrolled student. …And I believe that is correct. Every student is different in so many ways that it makes no sense to say that some students “increase diversity” while others don’t.

UW’s diversity agenda includes some chilling policy changes, as Lee details:

It calls for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”  We are not told exactly what adherence to this will entail. It appears to mean that directors of programs and departmental chairs will have to somehow ensure that they have a mix of students with just the right percentages of individuals who embody the various “differences” included in the definition of diversity. …Suppose there were a surge of interest in a high demand field such as computer science. Under the “equity” policy, it seems that some of those who want to study this field would be told that they’ll have to choose another major because computer science already has “enough” students from their “difference” group.  

Especially shocking is the language about “equity” in the distribution of grades. Professors, instead of just awarding the grade that each student earns, would apparently have to adjust them so that academically weaker, “historically underrepresented racial/ethnic” students perform at the same level and receive the same grades as academically stronger students. …It is also likely to trigger a new outbreak of grade inflation, as professors find out that they can avoid trouble over “inequitable” grade distributions by giving every student a high grade. 

Lee is right to worry. Rationing majors and grades is the last thing higher education needs—and the last thing taxpayers should willingly subsidize.

Thankfully, college students in Wisconsin and throughout the country have a variety of higher education options and don’t have to put up with such nonsense. What’s more, as college prices continue to soar serious students are certainly asking whether a college degree is worth taking on mountains of debt. Many are choosing to enter the workforce and get as-needed continuing education and training that’s affordable, efficient, and tailored to the knowledge and skills they need.

Increasing options—not rationing them—is the truly equitable policy approach that respects individual diversity.

 

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