The human dignity movement goes back centuries, but has been articulated most clearly and strongly in the last 200 years (Washrman, 2004, Dpre 2004, Hunt 2007). One of its best expressions is the "International Bill of Human Rights," consisting of several documents, including the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and its companion International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; through this instrument the world community seeks to clarify the existence and scope of rights promised to individuals (review in Weston 2008). The human dignity construct itself was clarified and articulated as a comprehensive, practical concept by McDougal et al. (1980), Lasswell and McDougal (1992), Mattson and Clark (in press), and others and has informed jurisprudence) education at the Yale Law School and at other universities for decades (Lasswell and McDougal 1943, 1992). It is consistent with the "politics of moral engagement" recommended by Sandel (2009, 268-269) as the basis of a just society. This construct captures the aspirations of people worldwide and offers an empirical way to clarify and implement its goals. Needless to say, it has huge implications for how individuals live their lives with freedom and how societies organize themselves for social justice (Kleman 1977, Day and Glick 2000). As a consequence, clarifying the human dignity concept for application in today's world is under very active discussion (e.g., Anderson 2008). Doing so is key to advancing human development (Kegan 1994, Kegan and Lahey 2009).
In contrast, diversity training is a technique widely used within the past few decades to promote increased skills of individuals to treat each other with respect and dignity (New York Times Magazine 2007, Clark and Mattson 2011). However, according to many assessments, it may not directly increase dignity per se and may be ill informed by the human dignity construct (see Kalev et al. 2006, Putnam 2007, Berreby 2005, Michaels 2006, Wood 2003, Clark and Mattson submitted).
This paper examines a case of mandated diversity training for students, staff, and faculty in a University professional school (referred to as the "school" in this paper) in spring 2007 with some follow up in 2008 and 2011. We examined whether the human dignity construct was used in the training and whether the training led to enhanced dignity and respect outcomes, employing diverse evaluative standards in our analysis and conclusions. We offer recommendations to enhance human dignity and respect in the future in this community and elsewhere consistent with the International Bill of Human Rights, the human dignity construct, and "moral engagement in the common good" as recommended by Sandel (2009), for example.
The 2007 case turned into an "incident." "Incident analysis" is a research method devised by W. Michael Reisman and Andrew R. Willard, scholars at the Yale Law School (Reisman and Willard 1988). The idea of investigating cases as incidents comes from jurisprudence, international law, and policy sciences. This analytic tool helps researchers understand people's normative or value expectations when a particular event or episode, seemingly small or insignificant at first, violates or reinforces those expectations, causes strong emotional responses, and has far-reaching implications. We have followed this case up to the present.
We analyzed interactions that led to the training, the training itself, and subsequent reactions, using "grounded theory," based on finding emergent data from the situation as determined by the case materials and our observations (Babbie 2001, Kagram et al. 2010). The data came from diverse sources and were crosschecked to ensure reliability and validity. We communicated with forty students, five staff, twenty faculty, two deans (or about twenty percent of the school's population), and three facilitators about the training. About half these people sought out SGC to convey their perspectives on the training; the rest were asked for their views. We also spoke with two people in the university's central administration. Our information came from private conversations and emails as well as official documents. We were particularly interested in why people felt excluded or alienated and why some felt that their norms or expectations about respect and dignity had been violated. Most of the written record came from people who questioned the training. We kept personal exchanges confidential because, as one student put it,
"Some things are better discussed in person. E-mail is not for complicated, sensitive, and deeply personal things, although it also happens to be about official school business." (Student #5)
The situation became politicized immediately, and most participants asked that we protect their identity. So we identify individuals here with numbers and minimum descriptors so that readers can see the number and origin of the comments. We cite twenty-four individuals as well as the Student Advisory Committee (SAC), a governing body and liaison to the administration, although we have data from others that further support the views included here. The quotes come from students who enjoyed the training and from those who did not, as well as from staff and faculty. We also surveyed literature on human dignity, freedom, diversity, and justice. Finally, all but one of us attended one of the seven-hour training sessions.
We appraised the social and decision process activities that made up the training, using widely recognized standards for quality processes in democratic communities (e.g., Lassswell and McDougal 1992). Key among these were procedural, substantive, and practical tests to determine how well the mandated training served common interests (Brunner et al. 2005). For example, it is known that voluntary approaches to community problem solving serve common interests better than coercive approaches (Kulik et al. 2007). We assessed whether the program entailed inclusive and responsible participation, took into consideration valid and appropriate concerns of the participants, and upheld the expectations of those who participated in good faith. As well, we examined whether the training was in the best tradition of liberal education and the modern university as described by Kronman (2007) and Levin (2003), especially whether it helped participants gain more realistic "interpretative critical judgments" about dignity and diversity matters and whether it enhanced the community's culture and interpersonal dynamics (see Sandel 2009). We also examined goals (both formal and operating goals), standards for civic discourse and critical judgment, the diversity construct (in comparison to the dignity construct), and other considerations such as Hannah Arendt's "thoughtfulness" (Young-Breul 2006), "ethics of authenticity" (Taylor (1991), and "moral engagement" (Sandel 2009). These methods gave us a basis for determining whether the training was widely supported, evidence-based, and effective in application.
Our approach offers a way to understand how beliefs and values shape our individual and collective behavior. It demonstrates how we identify ourselves to ourselves and to others, the symbols that we use and encounter on a daily basis, and the importance of the organizational and institutional cultures within which we live and work (see e.g., Linnehan et al, 2006, Roberson et al 2001). It further illustrates diverse roles that we all play in policy making in our community. Finally, it permits us to see these dynamics in a constructive way so that if any shortfalls exist in treating people with dignity they can be identified and rectified.
Complete data do not exist on all the process variables at play in this case, especially in detailed functional value terms. Data for this paper were acquired as the case unfolded in real time, not through a pre-planned, controlled, or designed study in advance of the training. Neither did administrators or training facilitators set up such a study. However, data are abundant about people's perspectives, especially their identities, expectations, and demands, as well as their beliefs, which are central to understanding how and why the case unfolded the way that it did and why the training was repeated year after year in the face of its limited efficacy. No doubt, people went public with their views as a result of a felt need to be heard (i.e., respected).
This paper benefited from guidance from the University's Office of Human Subjects and extensive review by people who are part of the community and outside the case. The participants voluntarily gave their permission to be quoted.
As for our own standpoints, we acted as data collectors and interviewers as well as participants and observers (see Clark 2002), becoming more analytic as the incident grew in significance. We are keenly interested in how social groups organize themselves around beliefs, practices, and institutions. We are committed to human dignity, mutual respect, and freedom and social justice for all people, and we are committed to finding practical ways to improve individual participation in policy processes by democratic means (see e.g., Day and Glick 2000). Our aim is to be fair, factual, and ameliorative in reporting and analyzing the incident and in our recommendations.
The Goal of Human Dignity
Before delving into this incident, we would like to review the idea of dignity, which, like all matters of morality and justification, is embedded in people's basic beliefs. Beliefs are made up of three parts: doctrine, formula, and symbols (Lasswell and McDougal 1992). The doctrine is the basic premise, typically expressed in abstract or philosophic terms. It is the principles and precepts that people assert to be true and worthy and functions to affirm the perspectives of the community. The formula is the prescriptive norms of conduct that must be followed in daily life and in political affairs in order to realize the doctrine. The formula details rules that a society or community will live up to. Finally, our beliefs and ways of doing things are symbolized in many popular manifestations, including signs, phrases, words, gestures, pictures, stories, lore, poems, heroes, and other symbols.
The doctrine regarding human dignity asserts that, as a social ideal, all individuals deserve respect, freedom, and social justice, yet it recognizes that at the same time people are divided by geography, race, sex, gender, philosophy, religion, ethnicity, and in other ways. According to this doctrine, liberty is one of the fundamental human endowments. It also notes that individuals are responsible for themselves and that the focus is on the individual within the society. Individuals are unique persons with ongoing personal and political associations; they are what they are now, not their ancestry. The formula for achieving human dignity calls for finding ways to give people an equal start and ensuring that they are treated fairly in all value processes, such as law, education, and the economy. Finally, doctrines and formulas are encapsulated in everyday words and actions. All beliefs are rich in symbolism (Charon 1998). For example, the words "freedom" and "security" are powerful symbols invoking and mobilizing deep emotional commitments and actions. The diversity construct has a different doctrine, formula, and symbols from those of the dignity construct, as noted below.
In the diversity training incident, the doctrine, formula, and symbols of the diverse participants clashed. Appraisals of the training at the time were as diverse as the participants. Some participants felt included and respected, others excluded and alienated.
The Unfolding of the Diversity Training Incident
The training program was selected by the school's administration, with the aid of a committee it appointed, in order to meet their reading of the broad "diversity" policy goals of the university, which were loosely incorporated into the school's strategic plan (Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies 2006, also see "Promoting Diversity and Equal Opportunity at Yale University: Policies, Resources, and Procedures," Yale University 2005).
The Training Program
On February 27, 2007, six weeks before the end of the spring term, administrators announced at a "town hall" meeting (a common community meeting format used in the school) that attendance at day-long "diversity training" workshops would be required by all students prior to graduation. Staff and faculty were told that they would also be required to attend in separate sessions. The training was facilitated by a consulting firm, Diversity Matters (diversity-matters.org), selected by administrators. Administrators set up a temporary committee early on, made up of five administrators/faculty, along with selected staff and other participants, including several from the student Multi-Ethnic Student Association (MESA), to endorse the selection of Diversity Matters as consultants. Student sessions were held on twelve days, staff had four occasions to attend, and faculty attended one of two sessions. All sessions were completed within the two-month period prior to graduation.
At the school-wide town hall meeting students raised valid and appropriate questions about the timing of the new requirement just before finals, the fairness of the exercise, the goal, the status of existing diversity in the school, and the problem that was purportedly being fixed by the training. Questions were dismissed, deflected, or ignored by administrators at the time. For example, students were told to "calm down" and "just go" along with the administration's decisions. Students asked what alternatives were available and were told that none existed and that the training was for their own good. The students we interviewed reported that many students left the meeting feeling disrespected and manipulated, with a sense that their own personal ethics and commitment to dignity were suspect or inadequate. This fed into rejection and resentment of the training for some students.
Despite these dynamics, many, including administrators, students, staff, and faculty, embraced the training, claiming that it was important, overdue, and valuable; indeed many enjoyed the training and found it beneficial. But there were also students, staff, and faculty who questioned or protested the training or expressed opposing views, including some who called for something more substantive or different than the training that was offered. One student hinted at the depth of feeling: "I must confess that I was surprised by it. The ideas discussed in it left me with mixed feelings" (Student #13). Informal associations organized around acceptance or rejection of the training. This politicization process and its outcomes made up what we call the extended incident.
Issues of Contention
We identified five main points of contention among claimants over issues of fairness, inclusiveness, goals, content and process, and money/qualifications/lack of consultation.
Fairness. The mandatory aspect of the training was backed by the full weight of the administration's power, with the implication that second-year students were at risk of not graduating if they did not attend. Some participants saw this official use of power as legitimate; others did not:
"Although initially I was not happy about the mandatory aspect, I now have mixed feelings. In general, I think [the school] places very few "mandatory" demands on me. If Dean … feels that diversity training is important, I don't mind sitting through a day that is exceptionally well run." (Student #1)
"I enjoyed the training myself, although I have a few criticisms. . . . The days offered for the training were incredibly inconvenient. . . . A MANDATORY function in order to graduate, incensed many of us. . . . Diversity shouldn't mean a lack of respect for privacy. . . . I have learned way more about ‘diversity' just interacting with this school's community members over the past two years than I could ever learn in a day-long training session." (Student #20)
Other participants argued that the mandatory requirement did not sound like a commitment to human dignity and respect, but rather to coercion:
"We will be the leaders of the future. But for now we need the leaders of the present to show us how to be leaders, not force us to lead because it is convenient to them." (Student #2)
"My only concern . . . is that the administrators in question [. . .] are too far-gone to be helped. They made a decision, and seem only more stubborn about it with every criticism." (Student #14)
Students raised the fairness issue publicly in the town hall meeting when the training was first announced and in writing and privately to administrators:
"I am not going to attend Diversity training for several reasons. First, I don't think the administrators should be able to change requirements for graduation, unless individual students agree to it. By attending Diversity training we show that we are willing to allow the administrators to do this, which sets a poor precedent. Second, Diversity training is being held under the pretext of community enlightenment when it is clear to me that the goal is really F&ES image-boosting. After you [SGC] left the Townhall Meeting …, [the Assistant Dean] opened her discussion of Diversity training by saying that students at Montana State had undergone diversity training and that she refused to let that school do something progressive that we were not ourselves doing." (Student #6)
We consulted with two high-level officials in human resources who advise university provosts. Both independently said that, based on their experience in diversity training, attendance should never be mandatory, especially late in the semester just before graduation (see also Kulik et al. 2007).
Inclusiveness. One difference among claimants was how inclusive they perceived the training to be. The training was billed as inclusive since everyone was required to attend. The facilitators featured the word "inclusivity" prominently on one of their charts, defining it as "a sense of belonging, feeling respected, valued, and being seen as who I am." They said that every individual should ask of the school's environment, "Is this a place where I can be myself and be supported to do my best work?" However, the sessions we attended did not address the issue, and other students and staff similarly noted that the topic was not discussed fully nor the question answered collectively.
Proponents claimed that they had felt valued and included:
"The training really opened my eyes to a new perspective on how my actions are perceived by others." (Student #11)
"Looking back on the experience I am glad that I was there. I felt the workshop was very well run, the facilitators were exceptional, and it really engaged and challenged me. The best aspect of the conversations was what the students brought to the topics. The conversation and debate was intense at times. I think the students in my working group enjoyed the day more than they expected to." (Student #1)
Other participants felt disrespected:
"I actually ended up going last weekend, figured I'd see what all the fuss was about. It was terrible, and I left early. It was pretty much exactly what you'd expect—a few very PC [politically correct] individuals with a very rigid agenda. The one interesting moment came when the students there started questioning the instructors about the contextuality of the power dynamics they delineated. They [facilitators] got very defensive and called a break. Pretty funny, really." (Student #12)
"I am sure what I don't want: Another bureaucratized, top-down, deluded, imposed, theory-empty, context-ignorant, episodic, methodologically inappropriate attempt at diversity training." (Student #2)
Goals. Administrators initially called the training "diversity training," but over the next few weeks it became "leadership development," and finally, building an "inclusive culture at [the school]." These labels seemed at first to specify goals, but were abandoned as participants criticized the vapidity of the training. For example:
"While the Seminar was proceeding, the point of the whole Seminar was becoming less clear. My impression was that the goal of the Seminar was to let us understand that different people have different views, that there are subordinate [sic] groups and dominate [sic] groups in different situations. . . . Maybe, I expected more specific goals about the role of the leadership once one realizes the differences between participants and groups. I also asked the instructor about clarifying the goal of leadership, and in my opinion, their responses were vague. I left the seminar without understanding how one develops leadership. Once again, I also consider that the contents of the seminar need to be revised." (Student #23)
"There were no defined goals presented by the diversity trainers. I was unclear what the objectives of the seminar were other than to stimulate a discussion about diversity issues." (Student #8)
"The issue is not about "diversity," but about how we as a community can secure human dignity and freedom. . . . If the goal is to check a box and satisfy a bureaucratic requirement to conduct a diversity training fine. BUT if the goal is to build a more respectful community that recognizes human dignity and freedom, then this training falls quite short of the mark." (Student #9)
Students also reported that, contrary to the evolving labeling of the training, no leadership skill training was involved. Also, one student (#2) wrote, "Four faculty members told me that they had students ‘who were angry about this [training].'" Another faculty member (#4) wrote, "Frankly, I lack the curiosity to educate myself more about this topic when there are so many things that I truly am interested in and have too little time to pursue."
And another faculty member wrote,
"It is interesting to note how all this new found interest in human dignity [by the school's leadership] and getting along is so empty. . . . The real issues have been avoided by this school by constantly changing the spin on what they are doing . . . perhaps to avoid the charge that 'coercion is the last refuge of failed leadership'? So maybe we are really preparing our graduates to be leaders in companies such as Enron and governments such as the present Bush government. Sustaining human dignity for ourselves and others who differ from us is harder than fiddling with names." (Faculty member #17)
Content and Process. Participants were divided in their reactions to the content of the training sessions—the concepts (e.g., diversity), categories (e.g., groups and power), and substance (e.g., cases and examples) of the training—as well as the process and procedures (e.g., exercises) used by the facilitators to impart the substance and engage participants. The two are, of course, interconnected.
The training facilitators, principals in the company Diversity Matters, set the content and process of the sessions in concert with [THE SCHOOL] administrators, the committee they set up to select the facilitators, and with MESA and a few select other students. The facilitators said they based the training on publications that they mentioned in the sessions and on their experience, although when we asked them in writing for citations, none of the three facilitators responded.
Content - The content of the training was similar among student, staff, and faculty sessions as participants described them. The training room contained charts defining diversity ("Do we have the diversity we need?"), inclusiveness ("Is this a place where I can be myself?"), leverage ("Are we including different voices and perspectives in our decision-policy and operations?"), and cultural competency ("Do we have the skills to make and leverage the diversity we have?"). These definitions were not open to discussion, nor were these questions explicitly addressed or answered relevant to the community in the training sessions. The facilitators had a fixed agenda based on their own views of "diversity categories," "groups," and "identity power relations," and this agenda was followed in spite of questions or demands from the attendees for discussion that was more open, wider, or more basic than their agenda.
An agenda was offered at the beginning, and following a welcome and introduction by the facilitators, they posed the question of why diversity is important at the school and gave their own answer (e.g., diversity inclusion, leveraging diversity, and cultural competence), followed by brief comments and questions from participants. Following this the facilitators led organized exercises (described later).
Concerning the content, one student wrote to administrators:
"I would like to send you my impressions about the content of the seminar. First, I have to admit that I was expecting a seminar about the role of "world environmental leadership." Maybe I misunderstood its goal because there were no world perspectives included in the content, so please excuse me if I am wrong in my assumption." (Student #23)
Two others characterized their experience with both the content and with the process as follows. First, one student said that he had to miss the last class in a required course for the "required diversity training," although he went in "with an open mind":
"Things started out with a rather uncomfortable exercise in which we were asked to segregate ourselves based on various demographics such as our economic class, physical, height, gender, sexual orientation etc. Unfortunately the class began to dissolve right after lunch and the overall quality declined with each person's exit. By the end, our starting group of 25+ had been whittled down to 9 weary folks . . . . I felt the training was not time well spent." (Student #7)
"Going in, I had anything but an open mind, based on the way the training was presented to us—mandatory. . . . The first real exercise was having everyone stand in the center of the room. The facilitators would have us stand in small groups based on various attributes, i.e. age, gender, sexual preference, religion, birth place, parents income level, race, disabilities. . . . The purpose was to make us all aware of the groups we associate with. It was an interesting icebreaker and method to allow us to start explicitly thinking about the groups we fall in, how we view ourselves, and how other view us.
Next, we broke into 4 groups and each group came up with "things that came to mind" when you think of diversity, why its important, how it affects our life. . . . Again a nice exercise to grease the wheels and getting us to think about things that are a part of our subconscious existence but that perhaps we don't think about explicitly all the time. . . .
I found this exercise [described above] to be unhelpful. It was the one time in the day that I felt like we were being treated like children. Yes we are all different, yet are all the same, blah blah blah…. By about 2 pm, most of us were brain dead and the conversation was less lively.
The final activity of the day was going around the room and discussing what we had all gotten out of the day. There were some interesting things said. For me, I guess I never fully realized how difficult it must be for some international students, especially those who are introverted, to find a comfortable place within the school.
Overall, it was a worthwhile session. It should have been at least 2 hrs shorter and ideally at a less hectic time of the semester. If only the administrators understood how to lead." (Student #10)
Another reaction on content:
"I left the seminar early. After 2.5 hours I did not feel I was gaining anything much, … 1) the information discussed seemed painfully obvious and boring (e.g., half an hour spent on establishing that property-owning, middle-aged, heterosexual, English-speaking Christian white men of European descent have most of the power in our society). 2) I actually prefer not to share personal information about myself—e.g., my family's class—in a large group of [the school's] people who are prone to the same kinds of judgments and stereotyping that the seminar purports to diminish. … [Finally] when we arrived at some matter of substance, in the form of a budding discussion of whether it was appropriate to open some of these subjects publicly within a professional or academic arena, the leaders very abruptly stifled the discussion and moved on. One of the two leaders was particularly bad, I thought she felt sort of aggressive and even a little simple-minded." (Student #14)
A senior staff person had a low opinion of the content:
"I just cannot understand why so many supposedly intelligent people would subject themselves to such thoroughly invasive reprehensible stereotyping activity. Otherwise, I thought it was stupid and an utter waste of time at best." (Staff Person #3)
Finally, a tenured faculty member said,
"I cannot think of anything I will do different in the future over and above what I now do from having sat in on the day-long training." (Faculty member #4)
Process - The process of the training was also similar across sessions. Exercises on group membership and identity were carried out as noted above along with discussions of participants' experiences being part of various groups. Concerning process, one student said that, because the organizers failed to acknowledge the fairness and power issue (coercion) involved in the training process,
"[Organizers] left a soft flank to be exploited by people who have a problem with the content of the diversity agenda. . . . I feel that our trainers did not do their homework, or in the interest of financial gain, ignored the fact that our institution has exceptional built-in competence, and that their curriculum is based on dated/simplified ideas about an issue that we have learned to manage in very complex ways." (Student #2)
One student told administrators:
"1. The workshop was far too basic, talking about concepts for hours that we grasped in minutes. 2. It offered one way of looking at things without allowing room for different interpretations (as such, we spent an hour talking about how their model doesn't work—probably the most interesting part of the day—only to be told repeatedly that we were wrong). 3. Not enough skills were related to us—it was too much touchy-feely nonsense without practical applications or time to delve into the tough questions and how to tackle them. 4. What I did yesterday was not a good use of my time, which—especially at this point in the semester—is precious." (Student #21)
Perhaps the major issue among participants was over the focus of attention in both the content and process of the training, or, in other words, the concepts the facilitators used to define diversity, how they categorized diversity as either an individual or as a group phenomenon, and the nature of the power dynamics and other values surrounding diversity. Supporters of the training had one view about these matters, while those who questioned it had multiple other views.
The facilitators were highly selective in their focus on conventional categories such as race, ethnicity, and sexuality while other differences among people were ignored or overlooked (e.g., respect, knowledge, rectitude, gender, individuality, common humanity, justice). Among participants who generally liked the training, the focus on membership and identity with groups (e.g., race) and power relationships (e.g., in the U.S. context) was as it should be. But a number of participants objected to this point of view and talked about the necessity of viewing individuals instead of groups as the basic unit of focus, emphasizing the idea that people live with shared identities at many levels of organization and that tolerance and respect are what really matter as basic values for all humankind.
This distinction between these varying foci of attention was significant and divisive. Neither the content nor the process of the training served to meld the two perspectives into a common outlook. In fact, the training sharpened and magnified differences in perspectives and value demands. This interpersonal dynamic played out at the time and in the aftermath as the incident grew. Those who tried to keep the focus on group diversity and power relations often denigrated those who diminished the importance of groups and power and who focused instead on individual diversity, respect, and dignity. Some in this latter group felt that they were unfairly mislabeled, singled out, and caricatured as racists or bigots or as ignorant or uncaring by those who supported the training. They felt that, because of their objections, they were being made or constructed by supporters into living proof, evidence that they were misguided and needed to be educated to the diversity construct. Many participants felt (some more consciously than others) that the process in the training sessions involved too much stereotyping and that this did not enhance communication or mutual respect and dignity in the community.
Consultation. Another point of contention was the consultation itself: the cost of the training (the actual cost of the 18 sessions has not been divulged to the faculty or wider community), the qualifications of the facilitators, the means by which Diversity Matters was chosen over other potential consultants, and the apparent duplication of efforts (school classes that cover the same topics offered by the training). To many participants, the training provided new material that justified its cost. Others objected, not specifically to the cost, but to the redundancy of paying for consultants to teach subjects that are already taught at the school. Some students indicated that they had had courses in the school (and other training elsewhere) that covered the subject matter much better and more thoroughly than the Diversity Matters facilitators did, implying that the money for the training was not well spent.
"[We] hear no discussion of the credentials of the trainers and how they were selected." (Student #6)
Some participants noted that the administrators and the training facilitators should have been aware of what was already being taught in the school's courses and supported and built on those efforts first.
"Considering the fact that there are courses at [the school] which cover the very same material, and do it in a more thorough and comprehensive manner, hiring an outsider organization to instruct a full day class was curious." (Student #7)
"A very important diversity component of the school is its faculty and administrative staff, and should have been included in the seminar." (Student #13)
"I tried to bring up this point with [the administrators] at the town hall—that many faculty here have devoted a significant part of their life, even their entire life, to the issues so superficially addressed in this exercise." (Student #14)
"I understood better in these courses [two courses taught by the school's faculty] than in the Leadership Seminar how personalities matter, how one can identify subordinate [sic] groups and dominate [sic] groups. I understood which values and interests are in play in any situation, and those interests and values are universal so that any culture can understand them. You may say that in 8 hours no Seminar is comparable to a regular course. You are right, but I can teach a Seminar in 8 hours about the policy process framework, which is taught by Professor . . . , and open a broader mind than in my opinion the Seminar gave us. . . . When I was sitting in the Leadership Development Seminar, I felt that there was a loss of resources with these initiatives." (Student #23)
Overall, the evidence above suggests that some participants felt that the diversity training violated their expectations whereas others' views were validated. A number of students, staff, and faculty were alienated, transforming the training into an important issue. The incident showed that the school lacked a way to appreciate the actual individual variation among people (identity) as well as key issues such as justice and attend to the respect norms for interpersonal interactions within the community (Sandel 2009).
After the initial announcement of the mandatory training at the town hall meeting, a flurry of communiqués, emails, and talk around the school ensued, and as criticism built, the administrators resolutely supported their original decisions and subsequent actions.
After hearing from students that their concerns were not being heard or answered respectfully, the SAC met with administrators and the diversity committee to voice student concerns in April. They followed this meeting with a 3.5-page, single-spaced letter on April 25, detailing problems in communication, transparency, expectations, evaluation, student feedback and the absence of a forum for student feedback, and the need for a permanent diversity committee.
"It is apparent from the feedback we have received that the specific goals of the seminar, the process by which it was implemented, and the impetus for making it mandatory are unclear to many." (Student Affairs Committee 2007, 1).
The dean responded in a single paragraph on May 1:
"Thank you for your letter on behalf of the students regarding the Leadership Development Seminars. I understand that you've had a long meeting with the committee that planned the sessions. We intend to do a thorough review of this initiative once all the sessions are complete so that we can incorporate student, faculty, and staff views. I certainly appreciate the feedback that you've raised and I know that the committee is eager to work even closer with students in this area in the future."
Based on comments we heard and read, students and observers perceived the lack of substance in the dean's letter as dismissive and disrespectful. They saw it as a delaying tactic showing that administrators were not interested in taking SAC and the students' views seriously. Many felt that the administrators did not care for their comments, and this silenced "unacceptable" views or drove them underground. But the people who questioned the diversity training did not go away; they just ceased to express their views to officials. Still others were unable to articulate what was happening to them, to their feelings, and to their community, but remained uneasy about the situation. Eventually, people allied themselves along lines of loyalty to their friends.
The school's published promotional materials include a belief in incorporating human values, thus showing a deep respect for humans and natural communities (see the school's bulletin and webpage). These claim too that the school is concerned with social equity, collegiality, diversity, independence, and commitment to excellence and collaborations and that the school sees itself as a global leader in all these issues. But, according to participants, the training called these claims into question:
"One thing I think important to emphasize is that this was not a community-oriented process—that is, the School did not decide how it wanted to approach this issue. It's not important who did decide, just that common interest can't be found if people don't get together and discuss them. The way it [the training] has actually been done is perhaps more akin to what one could expect at a corporation." (Student #22)
"On the diversity front, despite a number of students talking to the [administrators], SAC as well, the training goes on as though we had no valid points or mattered (an issue of respect). . . . The administrators evidently feel strongly about this and are not going to give in a bit to resistance from students." (Student #6)
In response to these kinds of comments, administrators said in a school-wide email dated April 26:
"We are now almost through the student Leadership Development Seminars [the final name given to diversity training in administrative parlance]. . . . We've heard many very good things about the sessions that have led us to believe that [the school] is the right place for these types of discussions and for leadership in this area. [W]e urge you to take a look at the F&ES Strategic Plan (on Sageboy and the [the school] website, go to "Introduction, it is the fourth item listed) to see all of the different ways that the school is focusing on student development. We are enthusiastic about this initiative and encourage you to be involved in the process in future years."
In establishing the training program, the school's administrators invoked the university's diversity policy, which is really a constitutive prescription (in other words, it provides rules for making rules), thus creating a new ordinary prescription. This prescription was intended, no doubt, to serve the community. What happened, however, was that many in the school objected to the plan and its implementation. It may be that administrators simply overlooked, ignored, or misconstrued the details of the context (including the actual diversity and values of the participants) and the need to attend to goal clarity.
The incident grew in significance over the two and a half months following the initial town hall meeting, but dissipated as individuals dispersed from the campus to summer field and research sites or graduated and went on to their lives and work around the world. During the fall 2007 semester, however, the incident remained a focus of much attention in the community, and its effects will likely persist. (A postscript to this paper brings the diversity training issue up to date.)
Analyzing the Diversity Training Incident
The training was at a world-class, modern, humanistic, liberal university over three centuries old where many expect the rules of respectful dialogue, evidence-based discussion, and a common ground-seeking ethic to be at the forefront of all deliberations and actions. The following analysis clarifies these standards and examines whether they were used in the training or not.
Participants, Perspectives, and Values
The community was made up of diverse participants, and understanding these is essential for analysis of this case. Every individual has goals that he or she strives for, some of which serve special interests only (e.g., "I want power"), whereas others are shared (e.g., having interpersonal respect norms in place), and some serve broad common interests (e.g., achieving human dignity and respect for all). In this case, all participants had some measure of responsibility for outcomes, but administrators in the school, those individuals who had authority and control as trustees of the "common good" and the community's aspirations to human dignity, have greater responsibility.
The school is made up of diverse people with individual perspectives (i.e., identities, expectations, and demands), including diverse belief systems. These people interact in diverse situations, using and seeking different values through diverse strategies to achieve favorable, yet diverse outcomes for themselves. Despite their heterogeneity community members do share interests. It is safe to say that they share a common interest in having a social system that actively promotes human dignity and respect. The diversity training incident shows that the community is struggling to clarify and secure what human dignity and respect mean in practice.
Participants. The participants included students and their standing Student Affairs Committee (SAC) as well as other student interest groups. It also includes faculty and their Board of Permanent Officers (tenured faculty), deans, subdeans (i.e., administrators), and staff. Other community members, such as alumni and organizations that employ graduates and those that otherwise support the school, were not centrally involved in the diversity training case.
The students are all graduate students. In 2007 there were 322 degree candidates who averaged about 29-30 years old with 175 women and 147 men. The Americans came from over 41 states and international students from over 36 countries. There are about 40 self-identified minority students from the U.S.
Student perspectives are equally diverse. The Dean of Student Affairs at Yale College described her undergraduate students, in a characterization that holds true for the school's students too, as coming "from so many different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions and so forth—people who come with their own understanding of themselves to a place like Yale, where, if they take advantage of everything that is offered to them, they are enriched immeasurably. They all bring their past" (Trachtenberg 2007, 7). She went on to say that Yale can "enrich them to become better human beings . . . [to] become more responsible citizens of the world" (p. 7). The school's students describe themselves professionally as interested in environmental policy, international development, integration of science and policy, social justice, sustainable forestry, land conservation, environmental education, sustainable development, water management, and other career paths.
The SAC, a representative body of elected student members, seeks to enhance beneficial school-wide activities. It meets one to three times per month to discuss issues of importance to the student body. It also meets occasionally with administrators and writes them about matters of importance to students. There are also about twenty student interest groups (with more forming each semester), some of which played a role in the diversity training issue, including MESA.
The fulltime faculty is made up of 39 individuals, with five additional part-time teaching-faculty (total 44). Only a few explicitly teach integrated or interdisciplinary approaches, most faculty members are disciplinary and a few are multidisciplinary (see Klein 1996, Nowotny et al. 2007). Although wedded to their disciplines, they tend to be problem oriented, contextual, and multi-method in their outlook. The school is subdivided into camps of different interests and disciplines (called "focal areas" or "tracks," such as economics, urban issues, industrial management, ecology, and forestry), and epistemologies. Tenured faculty serve on the Board of Permanent Officers (BPO), the only faculty unit that has any potential or real power in school governance.
Administrators at the top of the formal organizational chart for the school are the dean, deputy dean, deputy dean, and two assistant deans who report directly to the dean.
The school's staff is also diverse. Totaling 73 individuals, most of whom are women and some of whom are racial and ethnic minorities, they take care of diverse work in the school, including fundraising, communications and publications, website development, the master's and doctoral programs, registrar responsibilities, information management, library, facilities, supporting faculty, grants and contracts, human resources, financial aid, student services, career development, and alumni relations. As a result of employment arrangements, job descriptions, and bureaucratic structures, they are generally not actively questioning and participating in inquiry into matters of human dignity in the school, for example. Commonly, they are focused on their bosses, who control performance evaluation and pay raises, and on their peers, who control perceptions of loyalty and competence. As a group, they are not as actively independent-minded as students and faculty and do not speak out publicly on matters like diversity training.
Perspectives. Overall, the participants seemed to expect that everyone in the community would get along and treat one another with civility and respect (see Shils 1997). However, the ways people seemed to have in mind for accomplishing this were varied, and the training case brought these conflicting formulas into sharp relief (see Lasswell and McDougal 1992, Franzse 2007).
Although individuals differed in their perspectives, they tended to cluster into groups that supported or rejected the training partially or totally. One student captured this in his description of the school's social process around the diversity incident:
"There are, so far, based on my conversations: students that don't care for the whole issue; students that care and have a vested interest in the current approach; students that care and oppose the current approach; administrators staff that is listening in on the sidelines too afraid to make/add their voices to what is probably going to get them in trouble; staff that are relishing the power "diversity" will afford them; faculty feeling isolated from the process and from each other; faculty angry at the administrators but too wary of each other to make any concerted effort; faculty openly frustrated and angry at the process and isolated by virtue of the fact that nobody wants to be associated with them. . . .
"I heard the fourth member of our faculty say that students have to show the way of the future because the faculty is too divided to be of any help." (Student #2)
People's responses included both experiential and analytic components. Experiential responses are those aspects dealing with emotions and affect, feelings about whether something is good or bad (see Epstein 1994, Slovic et al. 2004). These people accept or reject events based on what seem to be self-evident truths, and their behavior is mediated by feelings from past experiences. Analytic or cognitive responses are those that pertain to normative rules, consciousness, and rationality. These people accept or reject events based on justification via evidence, rationality, and logic. Their behavior is mediated by conscious appraisal of events. Participants in the training related to and responded to the training based on affective and cognitive predispositions. For example, student #15 wrote, "I really enjoyed interacting with my fellow students. It was fun." This is an experiential response.
People's expectations about how the community should operate—that is, what the rules are, how they are enacted, and how they are ultimately mediated (or, in functional terms, prescriptions and their invocation and application)—come from the beliefs people hold and the experiences they have had. How individuals identify themselves in the context of their beliefs and experiences determines where they place their loyalties. One psychodynamic at play in the diversity training incident may be people's tendency to displace personal anxiety and motives onto public objects and then try to justify their views and actions in terms of the public interest. For example, a person may have suffered discrimination or felt that he or she has suffered, which in turn structures his or her identity as a victim and feelings that society owes him or her compensation. When the diversity training came along, it may thus have served as an outlet to discharge that individual's anxiety, resentment, and need to "set things right." This is the "displacement hypothesis" described by Ascher and Hirschfelder-Ascher (2005, 22-38; see also Lasswell 1930/1960).
Values. All people want access to "value processes" of importance to them. In other words, they want to be free to interact with others, both interpersonally and through society's institutions, to achieve the value goals they desire. All human interactions involve an "exchange" of values. The policy sciences, as described by Lasswell, recognizes eight fundamental value categories: respect, power, affection, enlightenment, skill, wealth, well-being, and rectitude (Lasswell 1971). Human dignity arises from the production and enjoyment of all the values through human interaction. Individuals experience dignity if they can participate in and be indulged by all value processes that are important to them, especially if they are affected directly by the outcomes. First and foremost, human dignity requires the respect value. The inverse of human dignity for all is despotism in which people are systematically deprived of values by powerful elites. Every interaction can be carried out in ways so that the people involved gain one or more values, thus increasing human dignity. Or interactions may be carried out in ways that diminish one or more values for the people involved, thus decreasing dignity.
This functional definition of human dignity in value terms also provides a way to describe and analyze the diversity training in terms of values and determine which participants were indulged or deprived. All these values, their interplay, and the institutional consequences were clearly evident in the diversity training incident. The clash of values was the basic cause of the incident: in short, people sought different values, and the training did not permit a discussion or other means to explore value differences or ways to reconcile them constructively.
The training should have increased respect, skill, and all the other values for all participants and for the whole community, which would have been a common interest outcome. But many, including the administrators who organized the training, claimed that they felt disrespected or worse. The training process reshuffled values of respect, affection, and, in particular, power, within the community, often to the detriment of participants. For example, one student wrote,
"I wrote to the dean before break, and there was a bit of a fallout with a couple of my friends because of it. I had to do quite a bit of bridge repair. I don't want to get involved any further. As annoying as this whole thing is, it's not worth it to me to damage relationships with friends. I quite frankly feel I have been duped." (Student #12).
Another student (#2) wrote,
"Even students that willingly participated in the process were very disappointed with it. I was able to talk to most of the 10 students who sat in our session and there was a general negative feeling about it. The concerns ran from it being superficial to not having any practical value." (Student #2)
Other participants expressed similar views. Rather than building community, dignity, and civility through open, fair, valid, appropriate, and evidence-based interaction, the training seemed to create just the opposite outcome—disrespect and other value losses for some participants. This is not the outcome anyone wanted nor did it benefit the community.
In the end, supporters of the training got their way and appeared to feel good about it. In other words they got their special interests and formula implemented, and they gained in both power and rectitude. Other participants, however, suffered value deprivations. Some who had sought respect felt disrespected, and those who looked for power (i.e., equal participation in decision making) felt powerless. Some who wanted affection felt rejected or torn between competing loyalties. Those seeking rectitude felt slighted. Those seeking enlightenment and skill felt thwarted and perceived their pursuits as futile. The overall outcome in value terms was mixed at best. Not only did administrators lose respect from a significant part of the community, but the net effect in value costs to the individuals involved and to the whole community was an erosion of dignity, respect, social capital, trust, freedom, civility, and future working relations.
Other Contextual Trends. The school has undergone changes in recent years that helped to shape the training incident. Among these was increased bureaucratization of operations (structural changes). Nearly all the important decision-making and financial matters have been centralized in a top-down hierarchy, an arrangement that departed from the more organic and open one that previously existed, in which the faculty had more say in running the school. The second was a shift in organizational culture (values and outlook) away from the relatively collegial community to a classic, hierarchical bureaucracy in terms of reporting relations, standard operating procedures, and power relations. Faculty, staff, and students have been forced to take sides on many issues like the training incident, which has led to an undercurrent of discontent in the community. These contextual changes contributed to a politicization of many of the value dynamics in the school, especially loyalty/affection and rectitude values, and around the diversity training program.
This is reflected in the heartfelt expression of feelings of how participants were affected by diversity training. These quotes from participants capture the politicized nature of the culture and the case. For example, the associate dean who organized the training (#16) said that she felt disrespected by the criticisms she heard and the questioning of her motives and judgment. One student on SAC (#18) said that she ...
"came to [the school] to learn how to change the world for the better. All I learned from the diversity incident is that I am not heard by administrators and I do not know how to change things for the better."
Another example of disaffected participants was a faculty member whose email to administrators speaks to feelings of value deprivation:
"I missed the deep discussion that must have circulated around this matter. Indeed, being inclusive and diverse has a certain ring of goodness. . . . However, the idea that a day of liberal talk, talk is going to do the job seems naïve and has a strong tinge of Stalinist/Maoist style reformation. . . . I have a greater faith in behavior that actually opens up opportunities. . . . So how does a day of talk serve to open inclusiveness and diversity? . . . In short, how will we monitor the consequence of a day off from work by a cohort of well paid faculty persons? More women and blacks in senior positions? More elderly and Asian persons in senior positions? Gay and Lesbians in senior positions? How many of what in what discipline will be tolerated? Or is the outcome like most of these liberal ‘actions' where talk substitutes for a real structural change? . . . For over 30 years I have been pressing to have minority and women faculty persons. If I spend this precious day on this elite meeting . . . when can I expect to see significant change in what? And how will that be done?" (Faculty member #17)
These contextual changes—bureaucratization, cultural change, and politicization—fueled fragmentation of identities and expectations, politicized loyalties, reduced the sense of community, and constrained congenial working relations in the school. The training intensified these underlying value dynamics and issues, especially around respect norms.
The Necessity of Clarifying Goals
We appraised the training by examining goals––formal and informal, and official and unofficial goals. We see three problems. First is a lack of goal clarity. The goals that administrators sought were never clear to many members of the community, although they were suggested by the symbolic labels they used for the training over time as the incident developed, from "diversity training" to "leadership development" and finally to building an "inclusive culture at F&ES." These goal-like phrases all suggest laudable ends, but the changing language masked the goals rather than clarified them. Because the goals were not clear, justification for the training was also lacking. The muddled goal situation significantly contributed to the incident.
A second problem was goal inversion. It is not uncommon for assumed, informal, or unofficial goals to take precedence over formal goals, such as those promoted in the school's official documents and on its webpage, which offer an image of the school focused on the global environment and embracing diversity in fully respectful ways. For example, the training may have been carried out to achieve promotional or symbolic advantage, to meet bureaucratic imperatives, or for other purposes rather than achieving substantive human dignity outcomes in the school. Goal displacement or inversion is exemplified in an email the dean sent to the school, saying that diversity training would strengthen "our position as a true global school of the environment" (February 27, 2007). The unofficial goal of achieving international standing by promoting the school and manipulating perceptions around diversity training required that officials control the symbolism and content of the training. In the end, managing perceptions and maintaining control of the incident became more important to administrators than actually enhancing human dignity in real terms. As well, administrators seemed more interested in perceptions than in providing participants with leadership knowledge and skills to enhance dignity in their own lives and those of others. A school publication called "Diversity and the Future of the U.S. Environmental Movement," supporting administrators' promotional activities, was published about the same time as the training. It focused on race, ignoring most all other categories of diversity (see Enderle 2007).
The third problem was symbol inflation. Goals are typically symbolized for ease of communication and mobilization, especially concerning complex and emotional issues. Symbols are shorthand for representing who people see themselves to be, what problems they face, and what should be done about them. The power of symbol identifications is such that they sometimes become more important than solving the problem at hand (see Charon 1998). This process, called symbol inflation, masks goals and problem solving and replaces them with images, identifications, and emotional commitments (similar to money inflation and its damages to the economy). For example, one student perceived the role and importance of symbol inflation and said:
"The term diversity training was co-opted by the dissenters of this process and used to promote their opinion of what these events were all about." (Student #11)
Conflict over the training was substantive to be sure, but it was also carried out symbolically. The shifting language used by officials over the spring semester to promote and justify the training clearly showed the symbolic significance of diversity training to them (see also Enderle 2007). In the training, conflict significantly centered on symbols and personal identifications (Franzese 2007, Howard 2000, Koltko-Riera, 2004).
There were many consequences of the lack of goal clarity, goal inversion, and symbol inflation. First, without a clear, official goal that was justifiable to the community, it became impossible to ground the training practically, given the actual context and the real people involved. Second, goal inversion advanced unofficial or informal goals that superseded human dignity goals. Third, symbol inflation prevented a community-wide, respectful, evidence-based look at the actual problems, if any existed. In the end, there was no basis for a shared understanding of the training or the incident.
Standards of Decision Process
We appraised the training by examining the decision process used by the school and compared it to widely held standards that support human dignity outcomes (McDougal et al. 1980). In establishing the training program, administrators invoked the university's diversity policy, which is really a constitutive prescription (in other words, it provides rules for making rules). This action thus created a new ordinary prescription and a new decision process. Ideally, a community's decision process works to meld people's differences into recognition of shared interests, a joint outlook, a plan of action, and ultimately into achievement of common ground that benefits the whole community. The decision process includes such activities as information gathering, debate, implementation, monitoring, learning, ending programs that are not working and moving to new programs. Good process best serves the community when it arranges for common interests to prevail over special interests and gives precedence to high-priority rather than low-priority common interests. Good process earns respect and a reputation of integrity and honesty for the process itself and for the people involved.
The decision process that resulted in the diversity training diverged from these processes and outcomes. First, the decision process reflected administrators' view of the situation and set up how the discourse, the focus of attention, and the "problem" were to be understood and solved in the training. It also set up whose values would be served, the structure of interaction, and fixed a decision-making process to be used. It was a strategy based on the superior power position of the administrators, including their symbols and identities. Second, the training was not a friendly venue to explore questions of personal values and meaning. Respectful, knowledgeable exchange was not permissible given the structure of the training and the role and agenda of the facilitators. The diversity training did not set up a productive, open environment in which to approach the complex and personal matters of values and skills as well as the social and political life and organization of the school. Third, the diversity training lacked appropriate appraisal. The administration and the facilitators, Diversity Matters, did their own appraisals, but these have not been made available to the community.
Standards of Civil Discourse and Critical Judgment
We examined whether the training was in the best tradition of liberal education and the modern university as described by Kronman (2007) and Levin (2003), especially whether it helped participants gain more realistic "interpretative critical judgments" about dignity and diversity matters, and whether it enhanced the culture and interpersonal dynamics in the community.
The university and, within it, the school, ideally seek to operate under rules for intellectual and practical discourse or engagement with ideas and people that are primarily respectful (see Shils 1997). Universities are special places and spaces that were created and are maintained by society to carry out civil discourse, inquiry, and dialogue on subjects ranging from basic issues like the meaning of life to specific research topics in the disciplines, where ideally the weight of a superior argument wins the day. Universities exist to enhance "knowledgeability" in society by producing a more highly educated, rational, and sophisticated populace and a higher, more thoughtful culture that conducts itself according to accepted standards of moral behavior. The modern, humanistic, research university seeks to promote a spirit of free inquiry, shared humanity, and civility. And at the individual level, these ideals and rules were set up so that education can foster in each of us, as citizens, an "interpretative critical judgment" about life (Kronman 2007, 161-162). This search is about becoming a free and responsible person, one with "democratic character" (Lasswell 1951).
We contend that the school's diversity training exercise made grounded interpretative critical judgment harder to attain. It discouraged participants' ambition to gain this kind of judgment on matters of human dignity. It did not significantly help individuals systematically gain increased contextual distance on themselves, nor did it enlarge the inquiries, discussions, and perspectives of participants—all of which fuel freedom. The training did little to advance the potential for freedom and change because of the narrow "diversity" agenda of the facilitators and the tightly controlled exercises and discussions. It made it harder for participants to aspire to, much less attain, the goal of human dignity and its beneficent and widely shared value outcomes or the rules and ideals of a modern university community. The training did not live up to the promise of liberal education and discursive citizenship. Open discussion was stifled by facilitators when students and others wanted to explore critical inquiry. The facilitators dampened and deflected valid and appropriate questions and demands to explore knowledge beyond their scope of operations, thus safeguarding their specific diversity concepts and constructs. They policed anyone who held the exercise up to scrutiny. Less than satisfactory outcomes resulted in part because the whole exercise was organized, planned, and promoted by a select, narrow group in the school, because no independent, inclusive, realistic appraisal was conducted, and because of the facilitators' and administrators' exclusionary and disrespectful treatment of the actual individual diversity—intellectual, identity, and other forms—within the school.
The facilitators spoke in support of one view of life, politics, and society as though it were the only acceptable view. Clearly, the facilitators did not share academia's goal of open inquiry focused on life's eternal questions of meaning, isolation, death, and freedom/responsibility (e.g., Yalom 1980). Participants, for example, should not have been pegged as members of a particular group or power block, such as "white males" or "privileged Yale students," as the facilitators designated them. The facilitators accepted or rejected participants' responses based on whether those responses supported or rejected their formula and activities.
As a structured discourse, the diversity training dramatically intruded into the traditional openness and friendliness of the community and the teaching and learning dynamic in the school. It violated the rules of liberal education, mutual respect, and evidence-based dialogue and amounted to a renunciation of these ideals. The discourse was one sided, arranged to advance the facilitators' views of victims and victimizers and power and group domination (see McAdams 1996). The standards of the university's humanistic community, unspoken and unconscious perhaps to some, were discarded to advance one particular version of diversity.
Tests of the Common Interest
We appraised the training using procedural, substantive, and practical tests to determine how well the training served common interests (see Brunner et al. 2005). First, the procedural test tells us whether inclusive and responsible participation was in evidence. In this case, not much has been made public about the school's deliberations in planning the training and selecting Diversity Matters. However, the evidence shows that some interests in the community were more rigorously represented than others. These special interests, organized around the "diversity construct," made demands on the community that were incompatible with valid needs of other participants. The special interests, organizational arrangements, and the distribution of power in the school insulated officials from being held accountable. These circumstances did not encourage responsible, accountable voluntary participation, and thus the diversity training did not meet procedural standards for achieving common interests.
Second, the substantive test of the common interest tells us whether valid and appropriate concerns were considered, that is, concerns consistent with the broader goals of the community, such as human dignity. To fulfill the standards of this test, people must demonstrate that their concerns are valid and appropriate in the context of the school, the university, and beyond. Some participants raised concerns about fairness, timing, content and process, selection of the consultants, and others detailed earlier that were largely ignored by both administrators and facilitators. Thus the diversity training did not meet substantive standards.
Third, the practical test of the common interest is whether decisions work in real life, in practice. It means that people who participated in good faith should have their expectations supported by actual practices, given the context. That diversity training became an "incident" that politicized the school and alienated many and that human dignity for all was not enhanced are evidence that it did not work. Thus the training fails the practical test of the common interest as well.
As a group the participants could not sort through the issues and dynamics of the training to use these procedural, substantive, and practical considerations to guide the process toward enhanced human dignity. The training eroded social capital and respect throughout the community, led to a constriction of the range of inquiry, and neither clarified nor secured the community's comprehensive goal of human dignity.
The Diversity Concept
The diversity construct—using racial, gender (conflated to mean sex although they are different), ethnicity, and other group categories and power relations—was used as the basis for the school's diversity training. This made it harder to inquire into questions of human dignity in terms of the community's and its individual members' practices. Some participants viewed what they saw as the politically correct formula used in the training as antithetical to the inquiry, open discussion, and mutual respect they wanted and also to the goals that the school and the university espouse. The sheer number, range, intensity, and duration of the conversations and email traffic about the training all made it clear that the training did not enhance human dignity, respect, and freedom, however construed, for at least part of the community.
A cluster of concepts about diversity, multiculturalism, and constructivism, according to Kronman (2007, 138), is the source of political correctness. These three concepts are based on solid intellectualism and grounded truths, but they are half-truths and too often play themselves out in real life in destructive ways, says Kronman, as the diversity training case shows. In combination, they set up a view that all human values are artificial and lack any natural basis or standards by which to judge competing value claims (cf. the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, which seeks to set global standards for human dignity). The 2007 diversity training was tacitly predicated on this set of ideas. Some participants recognized this:
"We are so concerned in this community with being PC [politically correct] that many things don't get talked about seriously. People are easily offended. Some candid expression occurred today [in the training], but one participant in my group said at the end of the day that he felt he had to censor everything that he said. Perhaps this was because the moderators played up their "subordinate" statuses. . . .We touched on some big topics today, but ultimately did not explore any in depth." (Student #8)
The diversity training did promote learning up to a point in that it promoted some discussion among participants. But at the same time it shut down learning as it intruded into the ideas, rules, culture, and interpersonal dynamics of the community in ways described above. Diversity training and its inherent ideology became the criteria for setting and policing discussions, silencing questioners, and precluding open inquiry. The school subjected itself to politically correct pabulum instead of the rigorous, respectful engagement and common-interest-focused discourse otherwise characteristic of the university. In a prestigious university community that prides itself on its leading edge critical thinking and a long human rights legacy, this diversity training ran counter to this history.
The Problem of Problem Definitions
How problems are defined largely determines how they will be solved. Whether diversity training was couched as "diversity," "leadership," or "inclusivity," instituting the training implied that there was a problem that needed to be fixed by the training (see Weiss 1989). But the problem remained undefined. Was it that the present community did not exhibit the proper quotas of federally listed minority groups? Or did it mean that students, staff, and faculty were deficient in knowledge and skills for treating others with respect? Or did it mean that recruiting patterns for students, faculty, or staff should be changed to select for some unspecified diversity characteristics? How is diversity actually determined? Who should decide? How much of what kinds of diversity is the right amount? How does the individual human being figure into group diversity categories? In the end, it is unclear what problems were being solved by the version of diversity training that was used.
Recognition of an implicit problem definition—a shortfall in the appropriate diversity (or dignity) considerations—appeared in one faculty member's comments to administrators:
"The presumption that our faculty somehow needs to understand diversity is an unproven hypothesis. So we are being treated for a problem, an "illness" that we do not actually have. . . . I know that you have the best of good intentions in trying to meet a planning goal and the wishes of an elite committee on relations regarding sensitivity toward those of other cultures, races, religions and gender identity." (Faculty #17)
Regardless of the diversity categories that people use, they are all in fact artificial and fluid. To understand why the diversity construct so heavily dominated the training, especially if the community wants to move beyond it, it is important to understand its origins. Diversity is a relatively new concept compared to the alternative, the human dignity concept (see Hunt 2007). "Diversity" is a particular belief that self-identity and its historic dynamics (e.g., a person's ancestry) are more important than one's present identity as a contemporary person, according to Wood (2003), Kronman (2007), and others. Some groups have been historically advantaged and privileged, whereas other groups have been disadvantaged and underprivileged (see Michaels 2006). From this point of view, adherents of the diversity construct argue that some categories of diversity deserve compensatory privileges because of prejudicial ways in which their members were treated in the past and because of the disadvantages they may continue to face (see Kronman 2007).
This view and approach were embedded in the diversity training, according to some participants:
"The dominant vs. subordinate frame is interesting but ultimately is one lens for looking at the world. I am uncomfortable using this lens because I think it leads us to a culture of "victimization." Interestingly all of my [the school] friends who are US minorities felt this was an accurate description of how they felt living in the US." (Student #8)
Having more contact among more different groups, it is argued, will breed tolerance and respect and will create good will and social betterment for everyone involved. Among the rules that are being used to redistribute values, for instance, are federal contracts for minority-owned businesses and admission rules for the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (e.g., Kalev et al. 2006). The underlying assumption of the "contact hypothesis" is that prejudices can be reduced if people from diverse backgrounds meet. It further assumes that the meeting will take place where people meet as equals, have a shared goal to work for, and have support or at least no opposition (see Berreby 2005). It assumes that "goodwill" contact will overcome prejudice. In Berreby's (2005, 190) view, however, these assumptions and this hypothesis are "in a muddle." Although some research does indeed suggest that prejudice decreases after contact, other studies reveal that contact makes people more prejudiced. This politically correct notion has become so entrenched in our society that it is not surprising that the administrators and facilitators of the training adopted it without consulting the mixed research.
Thoughtfulness and the Ethics of Authenticity
The school's diversity training can be usefully held up to additional fundamental standards. First are Arendt's (2006) philosophic and political ideas about the need for "thoughtfulness" in interpersonal relations and human affairs. A thoughtless person shows too little, if any, reflection on moral experience. By thoughtless, she meant not "careless but without common sense or the ability to think" (Young-Bruehl 2007, 3). Such people tend to go along with convention, social pressure, and prevailing institutions and systems of public order. Thoughtlessness is encouraged when most people just go along unquestioningly. She defined "thoughtlessness" more formally as "the headless recklessness or hopeless confusion or complacent repetition of ‘truths' that become trivial" (Arendt 1958, 6). Times are dark in human affairs "when the open, light spaces between people, the public spaces where people can reveal themselves, are shunned or avoided; the darkness is a hateful attitude toward the public realm, toward politics" (Young-Bruehl 2007, 6). Arendt concluded that "thoughtlessness" was among the outstanding characteristics of her time (i.e., 1950's). We did not delve into using Arendt to examine diversity training, but wanted to note that her ideas on the lack of reflection on moral experiences are relevant to this case.
A second relevant idea is Taylor's (1991) ethics of authenticity. "We live in a world where people have a right to choose for themselves their own pattern of life, to decide in conscience what convictions to espouse, to determine the shape of their lives in a whole host of ways that their ancestors couldn't control" (Taylor 1991, 2). In spite of the growth of authenticity in many people's lives, many people experience a loss or a decline of personal worth, quality of life, even in the midst of our culture's and the world's "development." Many people today see the modern era as a time of decline and loss of authenticity. Taylor noted that one source of worry is individualism: our legal system is supposed to defend our individual rights, but in many cases it does not. As one consequence, many people think that the ethics of authenticity is still incomplete in society. Many forces still restrict our freedom to be ourselves (e.g., economic arrangements, patterns of family life, notions of hierarchy). Some people are ambivalent about being authentic themselves or letting others be authentic in society. Taylor and others have also noted the dark side of individualism, which is a kind of thoughtlessness (in Arendt's sense), a kind of self-centeredness or self-absorption. He says that that kind of individualism both "flattens and narrows our lives" (Taylor 1991, 4). Grappling with the ethics of authenticity also raises ideas of purpose, freedom, responsibility, and meaning (Yalom 1980). The idea of authenticity is part of a centuries-old debate about the concept of human dignity, what it means, and its consequences. Again, these are ideas that are pertinent to a consideration of the rights and obligations of individuals and groups.
There are other authors and ideas helpful to understand the diversity training incident (e.g., Sandel 2009), but space precludes introducing and examining their relevance. In short, overall, we concluded that the training was done at the expense of achieving larger human dignity goals.
The practical questions are how any community can move forward to find dignity and respect for its members in practical, ongoing ways, how goals or respect norms that serve common interests can be established and lived, and how the community can develop the knowledge and skills needed to support them. Three strategic recommendations suggest themselves to help prevent problems and to set up future options to secure human dignity—focus on clarifying goals, build participatory, interdisciplinary arenas and processes, and improve and open up leadership.
Every community as a whole should spend considerable thought and deliberation on specifying the goals of human dignity exercises, that is, it should clarify the values it wants to achieve though such an activity. A careful decision-making process, specifically better intelligence (information gathering, processing, and dissemination) and genuinely open discussion and debate, is needed as a basis for clarifying the community's goals in the future. The overriding goal ought to be human dignity and mutual respect, wherein individuals truly matter and we all recognize our individual and collective struggles to liberate ourselves from fears and despotism. The search for dignity takes place not only at the individual level, but also at the level of communities and societies, and we must engage others in this endeavor, respectfully and ethically, without coercion.
Create an Open Arena
A genuinely inclusive, integrative process should be established and maintained jointly by community members. They should conduct the needed intelligence and promotion work and suggest a prescription that might work in their community's context. They should seek out and give voice to alternative understandings—the source of real diversity among people. They should also oversee the implementation of any programs to improve the community's interactions and especially the appraisal function. In short, they should organize a complete decision process that functions under the highest standards in an arena that strives for common interest outcomes (see Epstein 1994).
Any community exercise in enhancing human dignity should also draw on experienced members to teach thinking skills and complex, real-world, problem-solving models (Herrnstein et al. 1986). Such an approach should present to members an opportunity for "deep learning" (Cross 1999, Sheppard and Gilbert 1991, Entwistle 2000), whereby learning and synthesis can be maximized (Norris 1985). A lot has been written on all these subjects and successful examples exist (see Johnson and Johnson 1988, Terenzini et al. 1995). The community can take responsibility for bringing such an arena into existence and ensuring that it is maintained to carry out problem solving in the common interest.
Upgrade Leadership as Needed
The leadership for any such exercise should come from community members. Leaders are needed to help participants use their cognitive capacities, pursue their rectitude values and other motivations, and avoid harmful emotional and propaganda dynamics. Leaders should link their practices (and philosophical underpinnings) directly and immediately to human dignity and to practices of establishing and maintaining a democratic society and fair dealing.
The first step in leadership and in problem solving is standpoint clarification (see Brown 2000). Leaders and other participants need to understand their own identities and political agendas and find ways to avoid displacing their personal emotions, beliefs, and value demands onto public processes (see Ascher and Hirschfelder-Ascher 2005, McAdams 1996, Clark & Wallace 2010). All participants, including leaders, could strive to escape the syndrome of victimhood with its focus on attributing blame and demanding compensation or privilege, if such perspectives are at play. If future exercises turn into crises for some participants or if self-restraint is eroded and destructive behavior comes out in its place, (e.g., aggressive uses of administrative power), then leaders must face such tendencies and outcomes and counter them constructively. To do so requires clarity, skill, and knowledge (Senge 1990). Leaders must move such exercises beyond symbolic gestures to practical, respectful engagements.
The school's diversity training fell short of its own formal goals and the expectations of many community members. It did not advance human dignity, and we contend that it would have been more successful had it directly and substantively considered the human dignity principle. The human dignity goal could have provided the foundation and platform for organized discussions and activities in the school and would have clarified processes and outcomes. Unfortunately, the administrators and facilitators did not harness the training to human dignity goals nor to existing methods to facilitate mutual respect.
A growing number of people are realizing that we need to move away from the diversity construct for this reason. For example, Bai (2009, 44) noted that in the context of today's America it is time to abandon "the cataloging of individuals according to their areas of oppression, the endless process of tallying cultural differences rather than aggregating common objectives." He went on to say that the philosophy behind diversity training "is a political philosophy that probably made sense 30 years ago but seems sort of baffling at the dawn of the Obama era, when such interest groups are among the most powerful in the Washington establishment."
The justification for our recommendations to clarify goals, use open arenas, and upgrade leadership is that dignity and respect depend on a fundamental freedom of choice and mutual deference to people's choices to participate in all value processes in the community. Yet, many challenges attend the process of freeing ourselves from enslaving forces—we must focus on the fundamental questions of human existence, clarify "self," and engage in a process of discovering how our values are tied into those of others. For a host of reasons, people are often unable to escape the bonds that limit their freedom, those that are self-imposed as well as those externally enforced by other people's value outlooks. Not surprisingly, people seek to produce and enjoy all the values of life to the maximum extent possible—respect, well-being, affection, enlightenment, skill, rectitude, wealth, and power. For instance, people want to participate—voluntarily, fairly, and with full access—in social interactions that produce respect for themselves and then they want to enjoy respect's benefits. The same is true for all the value categories. Doing so in life amounts to human dignity in practice. The discussion of human dignity and diversity training will continue. We hope that it will engender processes where every individual person really matters.
In the fall of 2007 a Committee on Diversity and Inclusion was selected from a pool of the school's interested participants by one assistant dean. Some debate ensued, as several people who expressed interest and wished to be involved in were not chosen. The committee met sporadically through the year, generally for an hour each month. It produced a timeline of diversity initiatives about what would be done, when, and involving whom, at the school in the spring of 2008 at the urging of one student, partly in an attempt to develop common agreement on the events that led up to the 2007 diversity training. The committee also decided unanimously to begin working with the Chief Diversity Officer at the University, to draft a mission statement and goals, and to create metrics for evaluating the diversity and inclusiveness of the school's community. As of November 2009, there is little evidence that this work has been carried out or competed.
More decisively, steps were taken to ensure that all students in the incoming classes would undergo diversity training similar to the 2007 training sometime during the school year. This decision was not made by a plurality of students or even by the committee, but rather by administrators. The rationale was that this training was so vital to student intellectual and moral growth and development that to wait and poll the incoming students about their interest in undergoing diversity training would jeopardize implementation of the program. Diversity Matters, the private diversity consulting agency that conducted the first round of trainings, once again led the sessions in 2008 and 2009. We have been told that in general the incoming students' responses remain mixed to the now institutionalized mandatory training.
In 2010 a different format was used -- that of guest speakers in special session over several weeks. Attendance was strongly encouraged by administrators. In late 2010 and 2011, a budget crises precluded spending money on formal diversity training. In last few years, as new administrators enter the community, the subject of this paper is not addressed, and is in short, consigned to an forgotten history. Little to nothing seems to have been learned by administrators. The erosion of dignity in the community has not been acknowledged or addressed by administrators and remains a corrosive force in the community.
We thank all members of our community. We appreciate the critical review including, but not limited to William Ascher, William Burch, Richard Caitlin O'Brady, Campbell, Denise Casey, Adrian Cerezo, David Cherney, Christina Cromley-Bruner, Kevin Currey, Michael Dove, Toddi Steelman, Colleen Sullivan, Anna Weaver, Timothy Gregoire, Andrew Willard, and about two dozen students and staff who wished to remain anonymous.
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