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December 5, 2007, 01:58 PM ET

Diversity Makes Us Smarter?

The word “diversity” has acquired so many psychopolitical overtones and undertones that a reasoned and evidence-based discussion of diversity policies is nearly impossible in public settings. One way in which proponents of diversity policies have gotten around the tension is to assert as a proven fact that diversity produces better learning, with students in multiracial, multiethnic, multiregional etc. classrooms enjoying greater intellectual benefits than do those in mono-classrooms.

For instance, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion in the Michigan affirmative action case accepted that “numerous studies show that student body diversity promotes learning outcomes.” In that case, too, Michigan insisted vigorously on the “educational benefits” of affirmative action policies, and university administrators echo the assertion all the time.

Here’s a new report, though, that questions the equation. The abstract lays out the basic finding regarding the “effects of ethnic/racial diversity among students and faculty on cognitive growth of undergraduate students”:

“Using objective measures of compositional, curricular, and interactional diversity based on actuarial course enrollment records of over 6,000 students at a public research university, the study finds no patterns of positive correlation with objective measures of cumulative academic achievement (i.e., final graduating GPA, GRE/GMAT test scores, graduate school enrollment).”

Precisely because diversity has become an ideological token, not a simple sign, studies like this one should enter into the debate. It is unfortunate, indeed, that it did not appear before Grutter v. Bollinger was heard.

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