Diversity at U of T: Celebrating Diversity?

January 2004

President Robert Birgeneau's article on celebrating diversity in the University of Toronto Bulletin involved more rhetoric than reason. (Celebrating Sexual Minorities, Oct. 20). There is no reason to celebrate diversity or to deplore it. It is of no value in itself. It is obviously useful in such matters as policing and politics. But would professional football and basketball teams be stronger if women and more whites were added? Would medical research be improved if fewer Jews and Chinese were in that field?

But these are merely specific instances. To understand the issue of diversity, we must see it in its broader context. Immigrant and new ethnic groups enter societies in different places and move along varying paths. For instance, most concentrate in certain residential areas and occupations. In time, they begin to disperse both residentially and occupationally and move to new educational levels. The groups travel in various directions and at different speeds. Women too left the home and moved into the lower ranks of white collar work and later to more varied and higher occupational levels.

The paths of all of these groups were often blocked by those defending homogeneity of sex, race, religion, ethnicity or the like. (The universities were no exception, especially in some of the most "prized" professional faculties.) These institutions injured not only those whom they kept out, but also themselves by placing homogeneity above ability. The struggle to remove those barriers has been long and difficult, but now instead of having a free flow of talent, new barriers have been erected.

The new barriers choose diversity above qualification. When special avenues are opened to those with lesser qualifications, doors are inevitably closed to some with superior ones since places are always limited. That's why diversity no more warrants celebration than homogeneity, awful as it was. Talent is what merits celebration.

Nevertheless, diversity can be welcome - when it occurs naturally. Examples such as the Chinese and the Jews show how feeble is the argument that affirmative action is needed "to correct historic injustices.” The recent profusion of these groups in the universities and the professions owes nothing whatever to "affirmative action;” it owes everything to the dismantling of the barriers which blocked their path. That's why it's welcome. The old liberals sought to remove those barriers; the new liberals have erected new ones.