Charley Pride, the first Black musician to be put in the Country Music Hall of Fame, died recently, and he dispensed some refreshing wisdom besides his clear musical talent. During the height of his career, he noted: This country is so race-conscious, so ate-up with colors and pigments...its a disease.
No where in American life is the obsession with race more prevalent than on college campuses. In the Midwest, for the first time, the Ohio State-Michigan annual football game did not happen last week end because of COVID-19, but the two schools seem to have another rivalry going: which can have the most administrators whose prime responsibility is related to analyzing the race and gender of people working on campus or interacting with the campus community with a presumed goal of reaching some optimum. This presumes, of course, that changes in the racial designation of students and faculty, Prides colors and pigments is something to which campuses should devote considerable resources.
Two individuals come to mind when I think of chronicling campus administrative bloat: Johns Hopkins political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg (author of The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University) and University of Michigan and American Enterprise Institute economist Mark Perry. Perry a few years ago noted that his university had nearly 100 affirmative action administrators, many of them making six digit annual salaries. He has followed that up recently by turning his attention to the Wolverines archrival in football: Ohio State (OSU).
A Harvard undergraduate student, Hunter Gallo, very nicely recently picked up on Perrys latest work on OSU for the College Fix. The over 100 OSU diversity bureaucrats are paid over $10 million annually in salary or fringe benefits, enough to cover the tuition fees for 882 in-state students. The Engineering College particularly seemed fanatical about the topic, because the Chief Diversity Officer in the College of Engineering is paid $279,276, vastly more than most professors, with a second diversicrat in that college scraping by on $190,000 annually; they are helped by a program director making a paltry $127,276. Within the broader university, there is both an Associate Vice-President for Talent Diversity and Leadership, and a Vice Provost in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion making about $250,000 annually.
To borrow a useful term from my profession (economics), there is a lot of successful rent-seeking in higher education. Economic rent occurs when someone is paid more than necessary to acquire his or her services. Any university professor at any decent sized school can point out a number of staff, including some faculty, who are paid far more than they are worth, more than they could earn working somewhere else. But the affirmative action area seems especially egregious in this regards.
Thus there are two starkly different interpretations of collegiate diversity efforts. The first is they are a noble and morally needed attempt by universities to correct for past and current wrongs by working to have college campuses approximate the racial, ethnic, and gender proportions existing in the broader society, seeking to overcome biological traits such as skin color or gender identity from being a deterrence to achieving academic goals and, ultimately, vocational success. They are a means of expanding access and opportunity for the disadvantaged.
The second is this is an attempt to implement a morally dubious and anti-meritorious system of making race, gender and other group characteristics the basis for determining such vital things as college admissions or appointment to well paid academic positions with high job security. In this interpretation, clever individuals use race or other attributes to obtain lots of economic rent engaging in a contemptuous denial of Martin Luther Kings magisterial injunction that my...children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
These issues have concerned the nation for centuries, and probably will for long times to come. If the voters in liberal California in rejecting Proposition 16 (which would have gotten rid of legislation outlawing aggressive campus affirmative action efforts) recently are any guide of American public opinion, however, a majority of the American public seem to be wary of the frenzied efforts of places like the University of Michigan and OSU to devote enormous resources to enforcing a vigorous (and expensive) affirmative action regime.