RECENTLY, Harvard law Prof. Derrick Bell and the Rev. Jesse Jackson demanded that the Harvard Law School add a tenured black woman professor to its staff. To Professor Bell, the absence of such a person indicated that the law school's predominantly white administrators wanted only staff members like themselves, though the school has three tenured black males. Mr. Jackson went further, claiming that ``diversity of thought and multicultural education'' was the issue. He asserted that, by not having a black tenured woman professor on the staff, black law students would be deprived of a role model and would not learn how to live in a pluralistic society. At other schools, too, some black and white faculty members and students have called for preferential treatment, proportional representation, or outright quotas. Blacks are not alone, nor the first, in seeking positions in keeping with their percentage of the population or in claiming discrimination because of a numerical imbalance. At various times in this century, Jews, Italians, Irish Roman Catholics, Poles, and Eastern Europeans generally have made such demands.
Whatever the words used, the goal is the same - granting students admission, hiring faculty, or adding minority courses simply because of race, ethnicity, or sex. The absence of such preferential policies is labeled discrimination or said to be inimical to fostering minority self-esteem.
Leaving problems of constitutionality aside, there is no evidence that having racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual ``diversity'' or ``pluralism'' makes minority - or majority - students study better, learn faster, or live more cooperatively in school or society.
If it did, leading campuses across the country would not be experiencing outbreaks of ``hate crimes.'' Large inner city schools would not be grappling with problems of school violence, dropouts, and poor academic achievement on city- and state-wide tests. And students in ``integrated'' schools would not be self-segregating themselves at lunchroom tables along racial, ethnic, class, or sexual lines.
Nor is there any evidence that teachers of a Spanish, Afro-American, Asian, Jewish, or a male, female, or gay background are more effective in teaching students of their own background than other teachers are. If it were so, segregated schools would have turned out large numbers of high ranking students and foreign students would not be rushing to American colleges, where in spite of language difficulties, Asians are excelling.
Diversity or pluralism should not be an educational (or social) goal in and of itself. Who cares what the social backgrounds of teachers of medicine, auto mechanics, or football are? Can they teach? And do students want to learn, as evidenced by their attendance and homework? Students go to Harvard or any ``good'' school for excellence, and not for the biological or cultural lineage of their peers or professors.
There is such a thing as being a ``top'' student or teacher, as there is being a ``bad'' one. Who would demand racial, religious, or ethnic diversity in calculus, Latin, athletics, or 17th-century English literature simply because the class would allegedly be more ``democratic''? And what happens if some students don't want to enroll in such courses? Are they to be compelled to do so to achieve an educational rainbow?
The absence of student pluralism in higher education today is no longer due to institutional discrimination or racism - to which there are ample legal remedies. Some minority-group students do not have the funds, motivation, or academic preparation for the better colleges. It is also unfortunately clear that some minority-group spokespeople have become solely interested in their own group agendas and yearnings for respect, while ignoring those of other groups. In the process, they are demeaning the accomplishments of those students within their own group, as well as of other groups, who achieved or want to achieve because - as Martin Luther King Jr. noted - of the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, whether it be in sports, music, economics, or literature.
Underlying Bell's and particularly Jackson's plaints is an understandable yearning for status, and frustration, if not anger, at decades of racial discrimination. However, their operational solution reeks of invidious preference, which can only lead to a lowering of educational achievement, an undermining of minority self-pride and societal respect, and an intensification of resentments by students who still believe in equal opportunity for all, regardless of one's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex.