Friday, November 21, 2008

Goals or Means?

Some years ago, I attended the swearing in ceremony of the new president at a college where I was teaching. He spoke of his intentions for the school, including broadening its diversity and beefing up its study abroad program.

Some relatives attended with us, sitting in the audience. After the ceremony, I met them, and one of them said something to the effect of 'I didn't hear anything about education or about the students?' Being in software he continued, 'Can you imagine if Bill Gates stood up as president of Microsoft and failed to speak of software or users?'

As much as I hated to admit it, the kid had a point. So either it was assumed to be understood by the audience that this president's spoken activities would further the ultimate goals of the school – or these means had become goals in themselves.

Another school where I taught had a diversity committee that recommended – surprise – a full-time diversity position. The school implemented this recommendation, and posted the head of that diversity committee into that position (in essence she wrote her own position). Then they hired an admin for her, and someone to fill her old slot. In the pursuit of diversity, this college added two full time positions to their overhead. This was a tuition-driven school, so essentially, they committed themselves to four more students every year to cover these two new positions.

This forces the question – Are these new positions furthering the goals of the school?

As a professor, I appreciated helping first generation or working class students get through school. College opens such a broad arena of possibilities to them – how could I not enjoy it? But I also knew that many of these students were taking on unconscionable amounts of debt. In this environment, are those two extra diversity hires helping these students? Is more study abroad helping these students?

It's hard to say. The goals of education are assumed to be furthered with diversity as a means. But break down that big word diversity into its constituent elements on campus, and it is hard to see how it actually is helping those students taking on debt to fund those positions and programs.

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