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COLUMN

Accurate or not, Wartell's lawsuit exposes truth about 'diversity'

When race, gender are used to help some, others are inevitably hurt

Tuesday, April 9, 2013 - 8:48 am

When IPFW began its annual “Diversity Week” back in 1996, one of the first events was a discussion on diversity in the workplace.

So it was perhaps fitting that Michael Wartell, chancellor between 1994 and 2012, now claims to have been victimized by those who consider diversity not the byproduct of equal opportunity for all but a statistical holy grail that justifies the same sort of discrimination it was supposedly intended to remedy.

The accuracy of the allegations contained in the federal civil rights lawsuit Wartell filed against Purdue University and former President France Cordova is for the court to determine. But regardless of whether Cordova did indeed once point to his portrait and say “I am going to replace this one with a woman” (to increase the number of female administrators), Wartell's case exposes an undeniable truth advocates of diversity-at-any-cost would rather avoid:

When race and gender are accepted as qualifications for employment, college admission or anything else, some people will benefit undeservedly while others – through no fault of their own – will be harmed.

And no amount of politically correct euphemisms can hide the fact that such policies have more in common with the Klan and Jim Crow than with Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of an America in which everyone would be judged by the content of their character.

But since character, faith, political philosophy and other more-meaningful forms of diversity are invisible, the superficial has been enshrined as sacred with hardly anybody noticing or at least daring to point out that goals to increase representation of one group often impact other groups unless opportunities are expanded for everyone.

And when a company has only so many jobs, or a university only so many administrators, something has to give.

I didn't need Wartell's lawsuit to understand the inevitable result. A few years ago a friend received a written job evaluation in which his boss praised his work but told him he would not be considered for promotion because of the desire for more diversity among management staff. I was amazed not by what was said but because somebody was actually stupid enough to put in writing a policy that was both immoral and, I suspect, illegal.

Shortsighted, too: My friend and his family left town not long after that, and the company itself folded a few years ago. That's what happens when managers are more concerned with the demographics of the people working for them than with the quality of product they offer the customers.

Even if the perceived lack of diversity in academia, the workplace and elsewhere were the result of blatant discrimination – and no one seriously argues that – race and gender quotas are based on a proven fallacy: that members of distinct groups are identical when it comes to interests, talent and desire, and that those and other factors cannot evolve over time.

Those differences and the choices people make because of them – not discrimination – usually account for what today's civil-rights activists like to call “disparate impact,” syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell has written.

The alleged pay gap between men and women – annually highlighted this time of year – represents a similar fallacy. Activists last year claimed women earn just 77 cents for every $1 earned by a man, the implication being that women are victims of discrimination in the workplace. But denying women equal pay for equal work is already a federal crime, and has been since 1963. A lot of people should be in jail if the activists are right.

But as the conservative Independent Women's Forum has pointed out, the "gap" is largely due to the fact that men work more hours than women, gravitating toward jobs that are less flexible and comfortable but offer higher pay. The pay gap disappears when adjusted for marriage and children, former Congressional Budget Office Director June O'Neill has concluded.

Wartell's case is relatively unimportant in the big picture, except that it provides a familiar face to something too often relegated to the shadows. Decisions that are based on race and gender by reflect either the belief that the favored groups are unable to compete on their own or that the people in charge are unable or unwilling to make impartial, objective decisions. Neither possibility is conducive to harmony, trust or mutual respect in the work place or on campus.

If “disadvantaged” groups deserve help – and they do – it should be based on real need, not condescending stereotypes based on race or other factors.

Otherwise, whatever happened to simply hiring, promoting, admitting – or even keeping – the best candidates?

Maybe IPFW will address that during its next diversity week. But I wouldn't count on it.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.