Many institutions of higher learning use phrases such as “make inclusion better” or “incorporate excellence.” What do we mean by “excellence” or “inclusion”?
In a study of the usefulness of “excellence” rhetoric, Samuel Moore, Cameron Nylon, Martin Paul Eve, Daniel Paul O’Donnell, and Damien Pattinson found that “the effectiveness of excellence is in stark contrast to the qualities of good research.” They claim that such discourse is destructive and destroys worthy research and new knowledge. Here, I reflect on how a similar focus on “excellence”, as defined in many organizations, can reduce diversity and inclusion goals, as well as limit first-rate scholarship opportunities.
Most institutions determine candidates’ excellence for professorship using the status of the graduate program, publication, evaluation of teaching (if available) and letters of recommendation. If the recommender (s) are enlightened in the discipline, then they increase your sincerity. What is inclusion? It prioritizes building a campus community with different races, ethnicities, genders and research interests who are part of college and university life at all levels.
The phrase “inclusive excellence” implies that if an institution consciously welcomes students and faculty from different races, ethnicities, and socio-economic levels, it will not sacrifice “values.” It seems reasonable. We all want an excellent education given by excellent instructors. However, “excellence” is often a code word for maintaining stability and removing all (ideas and people) that hinder it.
On the surface, seeking “excellence” sounds like a fair and well-intentioned pursuit. However, it does not serve to diversify a set of values and ideas in academia. Instead, it often reinforces the dual values that we who invest in equity and fair play want to destroy. The term “excellent” in all its forms often supports a self-evident critique of racism: institutions often do not adopt policies that promote equity and fair play unless they benefit whites. Moreover, “enhancing inclusion” as a phrase or slogan is becoming increasingly so ubiquitous that it has become more or less meaningless.
Using traditional and mainstream industry standards, we can all agree on the status of undergraduate programs at different universities. Those who have Ivy League institutions and outstanding research records are “excellent”. Scholars with numerous publications and accolades are more than qualified to judge “excellent” and “excellent” candidates.
In contrast, “enrollment” is measured by the number of minority students and the recruitment and retention of faculty members. We count minorities using self-identification. The fact is that one can be classified as African American, but one cannot be at all familiar with the culture, history or folklore of the group with which one is legally identified. Meanwhile, the state of the university from which the candidates for the post of faculty graduate affects the results. Scholars who write recommendations from high-profile institutions influence results. Both can distract us from the quality of work done by the candidates. Our challenge is to consider the institutional and recommender status, including identity, with the same experiments that we have brought to the research evaluation. Each metric has a built-in bias. For example, there are many excellent organizations outside the Ivy League circle and many excellent candidates emerge from organizations outside the Ivy League.
We can apply “excellence” and its repetition to anything. However, when applied to diversity and inclusion efforts, its ambiguity is part of the problem. Established and widely known experts act as doormen and define excellence in any field. Such experts are generally crowded into the mainstream of the field of study, and they rarely challenge the recognized paradigm. In contrast, those who challenge the paradigm are often marginalized, work on the outskirts of their field, and face adverse work and research situations.
What’s more, diversity of ideas should not be confused with “diversity of perspectives.” The claim that universities are totally left-leaning is based on the notion that the lack of liberals or conservatives in professorships means that the views of this group of people are not represented. However, like many scholars, my practice is to incorporate all ideologies – conservative, liberal, liberal and fundamentalist – into my pedagogy. Ideological bias or bias is not a proxy for minority groups or “outsiders”. We cannot assign lower representation groups for a diverse campus while denying those group membership issues. And by focusing on ideology, we automatically eliminate members of minority groups who are more likely to be known as Democrats or feel liberal. But identifying personal bias does not automatically translate into student instincts.
When faculty candidates see, speak and act as “professors” and work in established areas of their discipline, they are more likely to be judged as qualified. There is also respectable politics and professionalism – both race and gender – that minority candidates are judged to be the real requirement for membership in this “excellence” club. This past week, Ilya Shapiro, tapped for the position of executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution, resigned after investigating a tweet in which he suggested that Joe Biden would prefer “less black” for the U.S. Supreme Court – an endorsement by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. The result is that choice.
The Association of Black Identity and Disqualification is a deeply inherent bias. Judges of what is “excellent” are usually part of the professor’s majority population: they create “new” knowledge between white men and the limitations of the field. In other words, they often examine established theories and validate the results. We strive to end inequality.
Under the banner of “Inclusive Excellence”, organizations are looking for minority faculties to reassure the material that they are not underestimating. Analyzing the lectures of 20 institutions of higher learning, Susan Vandeventar Iverson observed that the following phrases often appear when referring to recruitment efforts: “high-achievement”, “high-profile”, “talented” and “scholarly differences.” Excluding the semantic problems of the slogan – we cannot “include” or “excel” To do Something – these are just words. They reflect the intentions of the organization, but they also demonstrate how easy it is to reconsider established ideas that diversity implies that the organization is willing to “settle” for moderation.
Post-George Floyd and failed promises
Following the assassination of police officer Derek Chauvin George Floyd, colleges and universities across the country responded with various initiatives to demonstrate their commitment to racial justice. Institutions change the names of buildings bearing the names of slaves or recognized racists. Some Confederates have set up statue removal and diversification initiatives. (See, for example, “How George Floyd’s Death Changed College Campuses.”)
For many colleges and universities, however, such efforts have failed to bring much change to the campus climate. In many organizations, the biggest challenge is inclusion. How can institutions rediscover their efforts to address the disunity of minority groups, including international students?
When we focus only on recruitment and admission, we do not address the root of the problem, which is a combination of other and isolation. How much interaction is there between black students and the majority in most predominantly white institutions? Not too much, according to Amanda Eakins and Sheldon Eakins of Idaho State. Minority students are more likely to be involved with the university and become potential donors if they see themselves as part of its legacy. The identity of the university or its brand is strengthened by eliminating the external status of Black and other minority faculty and students.
We justify diversity and inclusion efforts by showing how beneficial it is for all students if they learn from other people who are different from themselves. How can we make our dream of an inclusive campus a reality? We can do better by keeping in mind the gap between hiring and retaining and acknowledging our shortcomings. As such, “making inclusion excellent” means that it is easier to exclude qualified minority applicants because it is conveniently obscure.
Those of us who do this work are committed to creating strategies that come from a clear vision of what we mean by inclusion because we build authentically diverse organizations. For example, it might be more accurate to use the following phrases as our watchwords:
- “A community in search of knowledge through diversity and inclusion”
- “Advancement of new knowledge through diversity and inclusion”
- “Exemplary Scholarships through Diversity and Inclusion”
There is no inherent difference between the words above and “making the inclusion excellent” or “incorporating the excellence” that we need to “make sure” that we are excellent, especially if we plan to diversify. There is no separation. Diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of excellence because we solve problems, solve current ethical questions and create a more productive society.