UCLA

Here’s proof UCLA’s new diversity requirement is based on bad science, emotion, rhetoric

Diversity. Diversity. Diversity.

It’s the catch-all term we’ve heard innumerable times since entering college. If you ask 10 different college students what the term “diversity” means to each one of them, you’ll get ten different answers. Though we cannot define diversity exactly, we know it’s good and apparently that it should be a codified academic requirement.

On Oct. 31, the UCLA College faculty senate voted to institutionalize diversity by approving a “diversity requirement,” which stipulates that every student in the College of Letters and Sciences take a course about “inequalities based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and religion, among other factors.”

Now the proposal will head to the Undergraduate Students Association Council and then the Committee of Rules and Jurisdictions, both of which are virtually certain to pass it.

The proposal, as described by the 2014 UCLA College Diversity Initiative Committee in the “Proposed Diversity Requirement” document, outlines the goals of the requirement and attempts to give empirical evidence supporting the need for the requirement.

The proposal outlines four goals:

to teach undergrads to “better understand the perspectives of others”;
to prepare undergrads to be leaders in “interconnected global societies”;
to reduce prejudice on campus with regard to “difference”;
and the most wonderfully written goal: “To provide undergraduates with the analytical skills needed to develop critical and reflective perspectives on difference within both domestic and global spheres—including the structural processes, along with representational and embodied practices, that promote inequities and those that support fairness and inclusiveness.”

And how would it manage to accomplish all that?

For one, the proposal cites a study which claims that students “enrolled in a diversity course developed greater levels of moral reasoning (measured by the Defining Issues Test 2) than those enrolled in a management course.”

Put aside for a moment the question of whether students in a management class are the proper control group for this study, considering there may be confounding variables at play (such as business students may be more likely to be politically conservative than ethnic studies students)—what about this “Defining Issues Test”?

It presents a series of dilemmas to interviewees and, depending on their answers to these dilemmas, they receive certain scores, with some being higher and some being lower. Three of the dilemmas are: whether it is ok for a man to steal a cancer drug for his terminally ill wife; whether a neighbor should report an escaped prisoner who has “led an exemplary life” since escaping from prison; and whether students should have protested the Vietnam War (or should protest American foreign policy in general).

Clearly whether the given answer to these questions is “right” or not is entirely dependent on the interviewer’s subjectivities (or those of the larger social science community, which are probably pretty monolithically leftist). What’s more, the dilemmas don’t appear to have much to do with “understanding the perspectives of others,” so I don’t see how whether you think your neighbor should be able to steal something can measure your knowledge of how blacks were oppressed during Jim Crow.

Another study the proposal cites assessed whether students who took a diversity course at a single, unspecified “Northeastern public university,” “made more favorable judgments of Blacks (using the Modern RacismScale [sic]) than those who had just begun the course.”

Again, another rigorous study which looked at students at one single university, without a proper control group. Instead of using the “Defining Issues Test,” this scholar used the Modern Racism Scale. Let’s look at the interview questions used by this scale:

1. Blacks have more influence upon school desegregation plans than they ought to have.
2. The streets are not safe these days without a policeman around.
3. It is easy to understand the anger of Black people in America (coded inreverse)
4. Blacks are getting too demanding in their push for equal rights.
5. Over the past few years Blacks have gotten more economically [sic] than theydeserve.
6. Over the past few years the government and news media have shown more respect to Blacks than they deserve.
7. Blacks should not push themselves where they’re not wanted.
8. Discrimination against Blacks is no longer a problem in the United States.

The subjects are asked to either: strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statements.

My personal favorite is: “Blacks have gotten more economically [sic] than theydeserve[sic].” Let’s just say if these questions were colt .45 pistol magazines, they’d be loaded to the hilt.

The UCLA Diversity Committee cited this study as “among the earliest clear demonstrations” that diversity curricula improve racial attitudes which contributes to individual development and improving campus climate.

Call me obtuse, but I fail to see the clarity.

The proposal cites another study which used “structural equation modeling” to show that “participation in a racial/cultural awareness workshop” had an “indirect impact on personal growth and engaged purpose later in life.”

Touting the benefits of an extracurricular workshop is quite a glaring non-sequitur, insofar as the proposal in question is arguing the merits of an academic requirement and not extracurricular activities. There is no shortage of diversity-related extracurricular activities and workshops at UCLA.

The proposal cites that same study again to note that “taking even one ethnic studies course” had a “marginally significant impact on personal growth and engaged purpose 13 years later.” Two things: first, I would like to learn about what “engaged purpose” is and second, “marginally significant” sounds like a completely scientific term to me.

The proposal also cites a study which measures “curricular diversity” experiences for students at 236 institutions. Curricular diversity is defined as “having taken an ethnic studies course, attended a racial-cultural awareness workshop, or participated in an ethnic-racial student organization in college.”

Only one out of these three variables is taking a diversity related course, the other two are extracurricular activities. Yet the proposal uses this composite measure to claim that “where the average level of curricular diversity engagement was higher… both general academic skills and racial cultural engagement were higher.” Of course this effect, assuming that we can view social scientists’ surveys with any objectivity, could be due entirely to the extracurricular activities and not the actual course.

Finally, a study mentioned in the proposal states that the university “climate is also improved when the school displays strong commitment to diversity issues” and the effect of this is to “legitimize knowledge surrounding inequality and social justice.”

$100 bucks to the first person to explain to me what it means to “legitimize knowledge surrounding inequality and social justice.”

Either the social sciences are extremely sophisticated and all the jargon went straight over my head, or the drafters of the proposal just wanted to sound fancy, but it seems as though half the phrases and statements they make simply don’t have any real meaning.

“Structural equation modeling,” “critical consciousness and integration of learning,” “social agency,” “pluralistic orientation with respect to race,” “increasing the complexity of student response to challenging social situations,” “engaged purpose,” “critical appraisal of stereotypes,” “university climate,” “legitimize knowledge surrounding inequality and social justice,” and “synergies to be derived from enacting a complex of activities, including intergroup initiatives that jointly will optimize the UCLA experience.”

The entire proposal reads like the Diversity Committee composition strategy consisted of grabbing a thesaurus and throwing together the coolest, trendiest, most social-justicey sounding words. The imprecision and vagueness with which the writers lay out their often astonishingly far-reaching claims and justifications is something to behold.

Trying to understand what they actually mean is like trying to read ancient Sanskrit. Nonetheless, even when the proposal is somewhat clear, the claims it makes are incredulous and the evidence it cites is either shoddy or unrelated to a course requirement.

The writers of the proposal present numerous studies claiming to show the benefits of a diversity-related course. Unfortunately, many of the studies use questionable surveys to assess subjects and the entire process of determining if these diversity courses have positive results is inherently subjective.

Allyson Bach, the Undergraduate Students Association Academic Affairs Commissioner and one of the leaders in the diversity proposal drafting process, bears this out further in comments to The College Fix.

When asked if a black student could fulfill the diversity requirement with an African studies course, or a homosexual student could meet it with a Queer studies one, she said:

I think that question doesn’t necessarily address what the diversity requirement is trying to achieve. Diversity isn’t in boxes, you can’t just say you can take a course on a specific culture. It’s about how our cultures and our identities and our genders and our citizenship intersect into a fluid understanding of diversity. That question doesn’t really go after what the diversity requirement is about and I don’t feel comfortable answering it in that sense because that’s not the purpose of it.

You can’t check a box off of how a student is going to be enhanced by any diversity class. It’s about what the whole criteria of the diversity requirement is about and it’s about making sure students expand their horizons. It doesn’t matter if it’s a student taking a course about a culture that they might already identify with, it’s also about understanding the histories of that culture and how it expands their understanding. So you can’t really conceptualize it in that way and I’m not sure I really feel comfortable viewing the diversity requirement in that sense.

Then when asked why UCLA does not have a U.S. History requirement – and should it – she responded by saying: “I’m not gonna insert my own opinion on an additional requirement, but I feel as if, if a student group on campus wants to implement a certain requirement then they should first figure out the logistics of how to get the academic senate behind their proposal.”

Often, with the intellectually bereft diversity debate, the discussion devolves into emotion the moment a diversity proponent feels pressed or challenged. That’s why when Bach was asked how the diversity requirement works, she responded that she didn’t “feel comfortable” discussing diversity in that way—an emotional response to an intellectual question.

Ultimately, the diversity proponents have to rely on emotion because their intellectual and moral cases for a diversity requirement are severely lacking. The proposal is so muddled and full of assertions and evidence that are not rigorous that it is impossible to take seriously.

But we have to take seriously the intentions of the diversity proponents, because there is no telling how far they will take their diversity fetish if they are allowed to proceed unabated.

The UCLA diversity proposal cited a study by Scott Page, who the proposal says “has made a compellingcase [sic] for the power of diversity to spur innovation; in some respects, even outweighing the contribution of ‘ability’ in problem solving.”

If the drafters of the diversity requirement are willing to include this idea as evidence in their proposal, that means that, at minimum, they don’t think it is a completely ludicrous idea. What a scary world it would it be if such an idea became commonplace.

College Fix contributor Josh Hedtke is a student at UCLA.

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IMAGE: Mickey Roach/Flickr

ANALYSIS

UCLA’s student government has passed a controversial resolution that calls on the university to divest from companies that allegedly contribute to and profit from so-called human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – but don’t take that as a legitimate decision, or representative of the UCLA student body.

The measure successfully passed by a 8-2-2 margin Tuesday night, and Students for Justice in Palestine is already touting it “as a chance to help other communities use this tool as an avenue to attain more political agency,” according to an email it sent supporters Wednesday morning.

“The organization sees this vote as laying a principled foundation from which students from myriad backgrounds can continue to educate and organize in support of not just Palestinian rights but all causes of social justice,” the email added.

This “social justice” coalition is precisely why the measure passed by such a wide margin, despite student body uproar. Certain members of the council, who were obviously connected to certain student groups, voted in favor of the resolution in support of social justice advocacy, claiming to relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of their identities as women, people of color, and people of lower socioeconomic status.

The irony lies in the fact that Israel is the only source of “social justice” in the Middle East. Only in Israel are women accorded equal rights as men. Only in Israel are political dissenters allowed to voice their opinion, even if that opinion questions Israel’s right to exist. In Palestine, homosexuality is punishable by death, and police have been repeatedly accused of using brutal force. It is clear that the side the council chose to stand with was not the side of progress or “social justice.”

Last year, when Students for Justice in Palestine and other student groups tried to pass a similar divestment resolution, it caused such an uproar that after a nearly 12 hour, all-night student council meeting, where hundreds came to give public comments, the resolution failed in a close 7 to 5 vote.

So the activists learned from that, and regrouped. For one, they shut out the public and most media at Tuesday’s vote. Secondly, they expanded the resolution to include more companies to divest from, including Boeing, GE, Caterpillar, and Cemex.

But for those who were allowed inside before Tuesday’s vote, there was a robust debate. During the hearing, which lasted well into the night, representatives from student organizations such as Bruin Feminists for Equality and the Afrikaan Student Union demanded the measure be passed.

Other students, including former Bruin Republican President William Chakar, questioned even the idea of the council taking a stand on such a divisive and international issue.

“It is inappropriate for a student council to decide on an issue that is clearly far out of the scope of any councilmember’s office and duties,” Chakar said.

Student government President Avinoam Baral, an Israeli citizen, who was prevented from voting due to the constitutional fact that presidents only can break ties, said in a tearful statement before the vote that: “Israel is what is right about the Middle-East. … Do not ever, ever frame this conflict as an indigenous versus a non-indigenous person, because when your frame the issue that way, you are saying that I do not actually matter, that I do not have a place in my homeland.”

So the resolution passed, but student opinion is still divided.

Many students, like Shantal Razban-Nia, the Outreach Director for Bruin Republicans, believe that Israel’s security must be taken into consideration when evaluating Israeli actions: “Palestinians have often been the aggressors in their wars with Israel and I think Israel has a right to defend itself. I saw a missile detonating in mid-air when I was on a Beach in Tel-Aviv,” she said in an email to The College Fix.

Even in the face of such a conflict of opinion, the council moved forward with this resolution, effectively taking a stand in support of Palestine in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The move is mainly symbolic, as truly divesting from the companies would require major changes in the state pension system, and such changes could only happen through the University of California Regents.

But some Bruins have had enough of the political agenda entrenched in their student government.

This year, Bruins for Israel called it like they see it, creating a campaign called “Students First” that calls on the student government to “refocuses itself to address relevant student issues rather than wasting time and money.”

“This foreign policy resolution reflects a gross disregard for the appropriate scope of student government, which is supported by student body fees and the California taxpayers’ money,” the group’s petition adds.

By taking a stance on a complex, geopolitical issue the council has done many things.

It has marginalized a portion of the student body. It has glazed over the killing of five Israelis in a temple yesterday. It has pompously stated, in the face of years of international negotiations, that it knows the answer to a foreign policy question that has confounded experts for decades. It has judged that Israel’s right to defend itself is illegitimate. It has shamed American companies for choosing to sell supplies to one of America’s closest allies. And finally, it has divested not only from Israel, but also from its own relevance.

College Fix reporter Jacob Kohlhepp is a student at UCLA and vice president of the Bruin Republicans.

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In a meeting closed to most media, the UCLA undergraduate student government voted to approve a resolution that “calls for the University of California to divest from several companies that some say contribute to and profit from human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” the Daily Bruin reported.

It’s a reversal from a failed – and chaotic – divestment vote in February, with eight officials voting in favor, two abstaining and two voting against, the latter being commissioners for financial supports and academic affairs.

The Daily Bruin estimated about 250 students came to the meeting and said more than 30 students spoke during 90 minutes of public comment. The most high-profile opponents – Bruins for Israel and Hillel at UCLA – “did not make any public comments during the allotted time.”

The undergrad student president resigned his post less than a week before the vote, saying the school was not “made for people like me,” a self-described “Afro-Cuban queer male.”

Read the Daily Bruin story.

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In one of the more melodramatic, accusatory and ideological resignation letters I’ve seen, the president of UCLA’s undergraduate student government stepped down on Friday, accusing the school of being hostile to people of color and insinuating it doesn’t help those with mental health problems – possibly himself.

The Daily Bruin broke the news that Devin Murphy, a self-identified “Afro-Cuban Queer male,” was stepping down just six months after taking the reins of the Undergraduate Students Association Council.

Murphy posted a long Facebook screed explaining why he’s stepping down, and then had the temerity to leave the podium before taking questions:

Firstly, this institution and all others like it around the country were not made for people like me. As an Afro-Cuban Queer male, the toll that the stresses of this campus has had on my mental, physical, and emotional health is nothing any student should ever have to go through – but this is unfortunately something with which many students of color deal. My advocacy for the betterment of our policies and conversations dealing with mental health has been rooted in a deeply personal experience with my own inner-self. UCLA needs to do more to address the climate for students of color on campus. Otherwise, it continues to applaud the tradition that this institution was not made for students of color, students like myself.

Then there’s the standard explanation that the job is consuming too much of his time and energies, depriving friends and studies of adequate attention. Murphy refers to his “ancestors” four times in the letter.

He then gives a shout-out to some organizations he’s worked with, such as the “progressive” candidate slate known as LET’S ACT! and the Afrikan Student Union:

We should never stop the work that our ancestors and communities have started as it is for us to continue and win the concrete victories. Divestment is inevitable. Justice and freedom has never been granted by appeasing the oppressor. As students, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that our tuition is not funding the oppression of Palestinians, let alone any historically underrepresented communities. … Continue the needed advocacy on campus that builds a movement around divestment, against fee increases, surrounding mental health, and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. Social justice issues are student issues, so do not let the privileges of others define the activism that is extremely needed on- and off-campus.

And finally, he tells the undergrad student body: “May you always remember that those that come from underrepresented and under-resourced communities are the ones that need you the most.”

Murphy’s divestment reference concerns a vote on a boycott, divestment and sanctions resolution against Israel that’s scheduled for Tuesday in the undergrad student government – and attendance has been restricted, Legal Insurrection said.

Read Murphy’s Facebook post.

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A controversial effort to force students to take a diversity course to graduate has passed an important hurdle, as UCLA faculty voted to approve the mandate in a hotly contested vote.

The College of Letters and Sciences voted 332-303 to approve the diversity requirement last week, paving the way for the measure to move through a few more smaller panels largely expected to rubberstamp the professors’ decision.

A diversity requirement has come before UCLA faculty at least twice before. Both times, in 2004 and 2012, the requirement failed. This is the first time the requirement has passed, and also the first time voter turnout has come close to 50 percent.

Proponents of the measure included Chancellor Gene Block, several ethnic student unions on campus, and many members of the UCLA student government.

Last week as the faculty voting took place, students lobbied for the measure to pass by distributing pledge cards and holding a rally. Its supporters argue the course will help students understand new perspectives and improve campus climate.

But opponents, including a coalition of six professors who openly opposed the requirement in a widely distributed statement, say the requirement’s goals are not academic, that studies purporting to show that such classes help curb racist tendencies are not valid, and that imposing new restrictions on graduation requirements will add burdens to students currently struggling to graduate.

Professor Thomas Schwartz, in a statement to the Daily Bruin, said the requirement will suck “up resources to pay for this piece of ideological puffery.” He also said that the requirement would be used to inculcate students with a liberal agenda.

In addition to the questions of bias, there are also concerns that the requirement will be expensive. Estimates of cost are in the hundreds of thousands, as the requirement will involve creating new classes, training TAs, and reformatting certain classes to fulfill the requirement. In the context of the tight financial situation at the university, this is a deep concern among many on campus.

Indeed, many students also oppose the measure, including Ryan Jones, President of Bruin Republicans and a fourth-year economics student.

“The diversity requirement perpetuates the liberal fantasy that we are still somehow a racist and insensitive society,” he told The College Fix. “It is just another example of liberal indoctrination growing on campus.”

Other students disagree.

“(The signatories) have certain privileges. … They are all white males,” student Jazz Kiang told the Daily Bruin in response to the scholars’ statement opposing the requirement. “I am still angry and quite upset that these professors can say things that have a subtext that is racist.”

According to the text of the proposal, “the course must substantially address conditions, experiences, perspectives, and/or representations of at least two groups using difference frames that include but are not  limited to race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age, language, nationality, citizenship status and/or place of origin.”

All entering freshman in 2015 and all entering transfers in 2017 would be subject to the new requirement.

Its supporters say they believe that the benefits outweigh the costs. As the issue moves on to the Academic Senate, the diversity requirement will continue to be a point of contention at UCLA.

College Fix reporter Jacob Kohlhepp is a student at UCLA and vice president of the Bruin Republicans.

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ANALYSIS

At UCLA, student fees and taxpayer money is used by the student government to push a progressive political agenda on the campus community during election time, an outright violation of university policy regarding political ethics.

So how do they get away with it? The undergraduate student government uses a technicality to all but endorse controversial liberal ballot measures. They also email students, encouraging them to vote on certain measures, stopping just short of saying: “Vote Yes!”

This situation is playing out now with Proposition 47, which proposes a major overhaul of the California criminal code that would reduce penalties for a wide variety of crimes. It’s supported by many left-leaning activists.

Under university policy, the Undergraduate Student Association Council cannot tell students how to vote on ballot measures such as this, as the student government is funded by taxpayer dollars and student fees.

To get around this restriction, some student council members wrote up a resolution stating the student government “supports Proposition 47 on the November ballot,” and the student government as a whole voted to pass the resolution Tuesday by a vote of 11 to 1. The one dissenter was Heather Rosen.

Because no one who opposes the measure would ever support the proposition on the November ballot, the resolution is mostly a euphemism designed to disguise endorsement as encouraging people to vote.

They essentially use semantics as a loophole to get around university policy regarding political ethics.

In addition to the resolution, student council President Devin Murphy sent out an email to the campus community with a small note at the end specifically encouraging students to vote on Proposition 47.

Although the email does not explicitly encourage students to support the measure, the resolution and the continual highlighting of Proposition 47 all but makes that message clear.

This is not the first time that the UCLA student government has used methods to circumvent the intended purpose of university policy.

In 2012, the council fully endorsed Proposition 30, a controversial tax increase used in part to fund the university. In that instance, the council again claimed that the endorsement was allowed, as long as they never outright told students to vote for the measure. That year, similar wording in resolutions and emails were employed by student politicians.

The email back then proclaimed, in bright red text, that “if Prop 30 fails, the Regents will likely consider a $2,400 tuition increase this year.”

The statement, which is similar to the method Governor Brown used to ransom higher education to pass a tax increase, is a false choice that paints the entire situation as having only two solutions. Again, the council used student fee resources to send an email that presented slanted facts and a subtle push in the liberal direction.

Proposition 47, like 30, promises money toward higher education in exchange for certain tradeoffs. There is a strong coalition in support and in opposition to the resolution.

Yet, in both cases, UCLA’s student government has downplayed the consequences of the proposition and used questionable methods to skirt university policy.

As a result, student fees are being used to push a progressive political agenda. UCLAprop

In response, the Bruin Republicans at UCLA launched a counter-campaign to educate students on the negative consequences Proposition 47, if passed, will have on California’s criminal justice system.

(At right, William Chakar, former Bruin Republican president, speaks out against the USAC resolution during Tuesday’s council meeting.)

The group aimed to educate peers on how the law will affect sentencing for stolen handgun possession, date rape drug possession and repeat offenders at a rally on Tuesday afternoon that also decried the misuse of their student fees.

They also sent representatives to voice opposition at the student government meeting Tuesday evening.

Political advocacy should be restrained within any public university’s student government, because of the use of student fees and taxpayer dollars.

UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Association Council has gone beyond its duties and chosen to misrepresent legitimate political arguments in efforts to encourage student voters to support controversial legislation. And the consequences for California’s intellectual diversity are terrible.

College Fix contributor Jacob Kohlhepp is a student at UCLA and vice president of the Bruin Republicans.

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