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June 10, 2010 5:05 PM Chief Diversity Officer

By Daniel Luzer

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Increasingly American colleges and universities promote diversity and manage affirmative action programs through the use of administrators specifically charged with those tasks. They’re the chief diversity officers, of CDOs. According to an article by Reginald Stuart in Diverse Issues in Higher Education:

From large private schools, like Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, to rural state schools like Arkansas State, to statewide systems like the State University of New York (SUNY) system, the slowly spreading trend in most parts of the country is toward expanding management and planning to include chief diversity officers or some variation thereof. These institutional leaders are outside human resources departments and more than affirmative action officers in different clothes.

Some question whether this is really a good idea, taking a position that’s supposed to address issues of discrimination, radical change, and the real racial character of a school, and transforming it into a day-to-day bureaucratic position roughly the equivalent something like a vice president of student life.

Diversity is supposed to deal with a problem, not a permanent fixture of university life. And with this new role, it’s less about race. When someone’s just tasked with “diversity,” what does that really mean? The CDO now deals with sexual orientation, veterans, and disabled students too.

Colgate University, a college in upstate New York whose 1923 president once complained that “The danger the ‘melting pot’ brings to the nation is the breeding out of the higher divisions of the white race…” is one example of an American school that has enthusiastically embraced the CDO craze. According to the article:

When Colgate University decided a few years ago to recast its diversity efforts, it joined a small, but growing, number of schools across the country in taking a new approach to a decades-old challenge of how best to make their schools more appealing to people from all walks of life and more compelling to employers as a good place to recruit.

Well, what did that accomplish? Colgate is still about 75 percent white and, according to the Huffington Post, the fourth preppiest college in the United States of America.

What’s the goal here? Surely it’s not just compliance with established laws about race and anti-discrimination. Isn’t it about giving historically disadvantaged minorities the opportunity to go to and thrive in college? It doesn’t seem like the proliferation of CDOs is really going to make that happen anytime soon. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer