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Fun With Google and Diversity

July 3, 2006

Google doesn't exactly lack for people doing searches, but it has been getting a boost from culture warriors in the last week.

The National Association of Scholars announced that a search it had conducted of college and university Web sites indicated that academe is not only obsessed with diversity, but more obsessed with diversity than with arguably more important values, like freedom. The study -- quickly praised by conservative commentators as a sign of the times, and particularly sad with July 4 approaching -- prompted a bunch of others to Web surf as well, with very different results.

For starters, here's how the NAS did its study: It took the top 100 colleges and universities, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, and compared how many references to diversity were on their Web sites, compared to references to other words, like freedom, liberty, equality and democracy. Diversity references beat out all the other words -- a five to one ratio for diversity vs. liberty, for example. The association also compared colleges' Web sites to those of other parts of society and found higher education far more concerned about diversity.

For the association, which is critical of affirmative action and supports a traditional curriculum, the implications of the study are clear. Stephen H. Balch, president of the association, says that the "endless reiterations in academe" of supporting diversity "indicate the great gulf that has opened between our universities and the rest of the country."

While not opposing the concept of diversity, Balch says it has a very specific set of meanings in academe: "In 'diversityspeak,' America is a collection of ethnicities and lifestyles rather than a common cultural identity, and group membership trumps individuality," Balch says. "Given the caste mentality associated with the term and its emphasis on grievance and victimhood, it is especially alarming that university references to diversity exceed those to freedom and liberty."

Not so fast with the college-bashing, says Hiram Hover, a historian who blogs under that pseudonym and who did some Googling of his own. First he checked the Web sites of the National Association of Scholars and Phi Beta Cons, the new higher ed blog sponsored by National Review. On both sites, Hover writes, diversity is far more popular (as a word) than freedom or democracy.

Then Hover compares the ratio of the word diversity to the words freedom and democracy at that ultimate symbol of liberal academe (the University of California at Berkeley) and the ultimate symbol of Bush-era corporate power (Halliburton). The ratios indicate that Halliburton is significantly more liberal (at least judged by references to diversity on its Web site) than is Berkeley.

Balch of the NAS faults Hover's analysis on several grounds, noting, for example, that the many references to diversity on conservative Web sites are natural, given their skepticism of academic diversity. He also says that Hover is "cherry picking," while the NAS study looked at entire sectors -- and noted that business has adopted some of the same emphasis on diversity as is prevalent in higher education.

But Hover's Googling got Balch back online -- and he says the Halliburton comparison is unfair because there are very few idea/political words on the company's site generally, so it's not surprising that words like freedom are few and far between. Diversity is used, Balch says, "on advice of counsel and flacks." Berkeley's Web site is full of idea/political words, Balch says, and when you factor that in, it's clear that Halliburton is not more diversity-obsessed than Berkeley.

Still others are Googling to take on and/or mock the National Association of Scholars study. Over at Free Exchange on Campus, Craig Smith of the American Federation of Teachers reports on Harvard University's site. Among other things, he finds that words war and corporate do better than diversity. He also discovers that many of the diversity references have nothing to do with race and ethnicity, but are parts of such phrases as "diversity of plants" and "diversity of neutron stars."

While Smith has fun doing his Google searches, he closes by urging people to step back from their terminals:

"Stop! Just stop! Stop putting out 'research' that wouldn’t pass muster in a high school class! Stop surveying the 'top' schools and suggesting that tells us anything about all 4,000 institutions in this country staffed by over 1 million faculty and instructors, teaching over 16 million students! Stop suggesting that higher education is some monolithic 'sector' that is marching lock step to some liberal ideology! Stop screaming that higher education is leading the fall of our country! Please stop, and let us get back to the issues that really matter for higher education."

 

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