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To What End Will Diversity Lead the Nation? : Education: Both old ideas and new 'politically correct' positions seem doomed to failure. Universities can help solve the dilemma by presenting balanced views taken from both sides.

September 13, 1993|JAMES L. DOTI | This is a condensed version of opening convocation remarks made by James L. Doti, president of Chapman University

At the close of our academic year last May, an incident occurred at Chapman University that crystallized and brought into sharp focus the issue of diversity on our campus. I refer to an altercation between students of different races that took place near our residence halls.

I know it would be expedient to shrug off that incident as roughhousing and yet another example of the media making a mountain out of a molehill. But if we do that, we would also have to ignore the many other diversity-related incidents at Chapman and other schools, including our neighboring institutions of higher education.

While many factors led underrepresented students to fight for an Asian Studies program at UCI or a Chicano Center and Department at UCLA or greater diversity at Chapman U, it seems clear that a major source of this unrest is the disconnection between the traditional business of higher education and rising ethnic and racial identities and pride. And just as the battle lines have been drawn in Bosnia-Herzegovina and between rival gangs in South Central L.A. or central Orange County, the battle lines are clear in higher education.

On one end of the continuum are the Western civilization traditionalists who believe the best way to deal with diversity is basically to end it via a melting pot approach. If it worked so well for over 200 years in this country, so the argument goes, why not let it keep on working?

On the other end of the continuum are those who subscribe to what I will refer to as the politically correct view that the best way of dealing with diversity is to preserve it via some sort of separate but equal approach--separate but equal academic programs and core curriculum, presumably one for every ethnic and racial identity.

One can easily shoot holes in both of these extreme views. In the case of the Western civilization traditionalists, a narrow Euro-centered model or melting pot is likely to fail for a U.S. culture that is increasingly diverse. As for the politically correct view, what is to prevent a separate but equal approach leading to Balkanization? And what about the obvious benefits of a common culture and language in leading to a better understanding of our common humanity?

In a world that is shrinking by the day, it seems clear that the traditional Western civilization model is failing. But the alternative politically correct model also seems doomed to fail. Shared leadership will be necessary to develop a model that works in a new world order.

What we need is not the old melting pot--nor do we need smaller separate but equal melting pots. What we really need, I believe, is a larger melting pot.

Moving from the metaphor to the specific, I am suggesting that a narrow Euro-centered Western civilization model must give way to a broader world civilization approach. And a narrow politicized diversity core model must give way to an inclusive diversity approach that emphasizes connections rather than divisions between cultures.

Think, for example, how much richer and more illuminating a core course in civilization would be if the core of Eastern philosophy, Confucianism, is covered in such a course. Here is a philosophical tradition based largely on human relationships that has endured for over 2,000 years--a tradition that will undoubtedly enrich and illuminate the Platonic or Machiavellian view of the political animal. Simply stated, the road to the good society is through politics in the Western tradition, while the Eastern tradition emphasizes human relationships. Shouldn't we try to understand that Eastern tradition; find out why it has endured for so long, and use it to better understand the Western tradition?

Or think how the whimsical and mystical integration of the real and the supernatural in epics by Latin American authors Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabelle Allende give richness and texture to the real drama of human life. Drama that documents poverty/wealth; oppression/understanding; hate/love; male/female--the range of human emotions and struggles that reveal a rich pluralism in the way people live and suggests the new world order is one of universality rather than nationality.

At Chapman University, where liberal arts lie at the heart of what we do, liberating oneself to better understand "who I am" achieves meaning only in the context of the world around us, for understanding others is necessary in understanding oneself.

It has become commonplace in higher education to champion diversity. But where will diversity end? Where will it lead? Diversity should not simply be championed. It must be directed.

I believe it is incumbent upon leaders in higher education to direct diversity toward an end that brings to light the intricate, mysterious, and beautiful tapestry of our common humanity. And if we succeed in this objective at our colleges and universities, perhaps we will succeed in our global community as well.

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