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On Diversity and Tolerance

Mick Stratton


We, the faculty of the College of Education and Human Development, value and respect diversity and the uniqueness of each individual. The Faculty affirms its dedication to non-discrimination in our teaching, programs, and services on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, domestic partner status, ethnic or national origin, veteran status, or disability. The College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University is an open and affirming organization that does not tolerate discrimination, vandalism, violence, or hate crimes, and we insist that appropriate action be taken against those who perpetrate such acts. Further, the College is committed to protecting the welfare, rights and privileges of anyone who is a target of prejudice or bigotry. Our commitment to tolerance, respect, and action to promote and enforce these values embraces the entire community.*

* This was a statement on tolerance and diversity considered by The College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University during the Spring of 2003.  It was accepted.

Universities and colleges across the nation have been adopting various statements on diversity and tolerance. Unfortunately these statements, instead of improving the environment of the institutions of higher education, often have the opposite effect by stifling free speech, the right of association, free exchange of ideas and open debate on selected subjects that are apparently deemed to be too sacred to be debated.

The problem with these statements is they use generalized terms that sound reasonable, but when analyzed are meaningless, contradictory and unobtainable.


For instance once a group decides that one of its major goals is diversity, it creates a situation that includes differences that may not be able to coexist. When this inability of reconciliation is noticed, it causes frustration which often leads to someone making one of the greatest of all oxymoron statements “I will not tolerate intolerance.” Sadly, one more person is now incapable of tolerating himself.

Diversity itself is not a virtue. Diversity can be useful or harmful. It can aid in problem solving, the health of a society and acquisition of knowledge, or it can hurt. It is not diversity that is beneficial. It is the positive interaction of the diverse entities involved. In some cases the desire for diversity harms the productivity of an institution because the better candidate is not hired because of the perceived need for diversity. This occurs when the diversity created does not address the need for the new position. For instance, if everyone wears different colored shirts, diversity is achieved, but does it have any value in solving a specific problem other than that of shirt colors?

As silly as this sounds, in principle it is the same practice that’s being promoted at many universities. Too often diversity is considered achieved when there seems to be the appropriate balance of ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual preference. However, there may be no diversity of philosophical, religious or political views. The perspective of everyone may be the same and the group may not include anyone who thinks “outside the box.” Often this is considered OK, even preferred, as long as people look different. This leads to issues being decided by people who think exactly alike, only differing in their ethnicity and sex. The value of diversity lies in the importance of specific differences in specific situations. Anything less is just window dressing.

This is not to say that diversity based on such things as ethnicity, race, and gender has not been, or can not be, of value for its own sake. As in all cases, it depends upon the situation. The problem is when these qualities become the definition of what diversity is; and this diversity is considered good by definition. This seems to be the case in most institutions today.


Tolerance is neither inherently good nor bad. For instance most people rightly consider tolerating rape and murder as bad, but tolerating different world views as good. Tolerance of anything should be based on its harmful or beneficial qualities as empirically measured, or on philosophical, religious and political beliefs. Certain behaviors, such as drunk driving, can be empirically shown to harm individuals and society, and most would agree it should not be tolerated. Tolerance and intolerance based on philosophies, religions, and politics are harder to agree upon. They tend to create conflicts among themselves concerning what should and should not be tolerated. A philosophy that believes society should treat men and women as equal will have a hard time tolerating a philosophy that believes that women should be subservient.

This means that institutions and society will sometimes need to make decisions on what behaviors should or should not be tolerated. This is rarely easy, and invariably leads to strife and conflict. This may be what is going on presently in universities, but few are willing to admit it and therefore unwilling to address the problem openly.


Three rights that are often included in statements on tolerance and diversity, tacitly or outright:

1.The right not to be offended

2.The right not to be judged

3.The right not to feel uncomfortable (fearful, feeling threatened, feeling the environment is hostel, etc.)

Of course this is in direct conflict with the free exchange of ideas because virtually all views and beliefs can be considered offensive, judgmental or creating an uncomfortable atmosphere by someone. An institution that believes in freedom of expression and exchange of ideas should be very careful on insisting that there is a right not to be offended, judged or made to feel uncomfortable.

Being offended or feeling uncomfortable is based on personal perceptions. Often these perceptions are wrong. Some in higher education have complained about certain views being expressed concerning marriage, gender, and sexuality because it offends them or makes them feel uncomfortable. These individuals seem not to understand that others can consider specific behaviors as wrong. These others are not hateful bigots trying to destroy those with whom they disagree. They just think it is wrong and say so. It is not reasonable to expect people to change their views, based on another’s perception. Nor is it reasonable to silence them from expressing their opinions, because it might offend some. Unfortunately this is exactly what is often done in the name of tolerance and diversity.

An example of this absurdity was recently demonstrated at Ohio State University-Mansfield. Several professors attempted to get a librarian charged with sexual harassment. Why? Because he suggested books for a reading list which they believed were threatening and offensive.

In many universities, judging another’s behavior is considered bad. Interestingly, many do not see the irony of being judgmental about being judgmental.

Judging is as natural as breathing air. Every time a choice is made it includes the process of making a judgment. People are expected to make judgments concerning their own behavior, and the natural extension is to make it concerning the behavior of others. These judgments will be based on what the individual believes to be good or bad (right-wrong, positive-negative, workable-unworkable, moral-immoral, logical-illogical, it’s all the same). Recently some in higher education have decided what kind of behavior can be judged and what kind cannot. The inference is it is only judgmental when it concerns selected behaviors.

An example of this recently occurred at Texas A&M University. Some called for the sanction of specific Christian faculty members, because these faculty members stated publicly that they believed (judged) homosexual behavior to be immoral. In other words the Christian Faculty’s behavior of judging others’ behavior was judged as inappropriate because it was judgmental.

The various statements on diversity and tolerance cannot withstand scrutiny when one analyzes what is actually being said. What then is it that the statements are really trying to say? Are these statements just shallow thinking and poor writing, which would be an embarrassment when coming from institutions of higher education; or is there a more sinister purpose? Intentionally or not these statements have been used in such ways that, when the veneer is removed, they seem to be saying:

1.We demand that you be nonjudgmental of all things except that which we judge to be bad.

2.We demand you are tolerant of all things except those things we find intolerable.

3.We demand you celebrate diversity as always good except when it interferes with our world view.

4.We endow upon you the right to say whatever you want, as long as it does not make us feel uncomfortable.

5.By making this statement we allow ourselves the right to sanction you based on our views and beliefs.

What is more reasonable is for institutions of higher education to issue statements addressing the law, civility and rules of debate. It would also serve them well to state that above all, all ideas and views are open to discussion and debate regardless of how offensive some may find them to be.

With that in mind it is suggested that the University include somewhere in its statement something similar to the following:

The University believes that the free exchange of ideas is absolutely necessary in the pursuant of truth. Any, and all, ideas should be allowed to be debated as long as it is done in a civil and honest manner. Whereas the University wants all individuals to feel comfortable and of value, it also realizes that in a society that believes in debate and free exchange of ideas that this will not always be possible.