Opinion: UTC should reimagine its Reimagining Committee's suggestion of mandated diversity, equity and inclusion courses

Staff File Photo By Robin Rudd/ A UTC ROTC graduate student carries the American flag around Chamberlain Field during a 2019 commemoration of those lost in the terrorist bombings of 9/11.

If a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Reimagining Committee has its way, all students in the fall of 2023 will be required to take six hours of diversity, equity and inclusion courses as part of their general education requirements.

The committee would lower the school's general education requirements from 40-41 hours to 39 hours and remove some math and humanities requirement hours to include these courses.

We hope this idea is shot down quickly by the university administration or such courses are offered only as electives. In an era where more and more parents are questioning whether a four-year university is the right choice for their child because they see academics being replaced by social indoctrination, requirements of diversity, equity and inclusion courses play right into that scenario.

Students attend college to be trained in a major of their choosing, likely one they hope to make a career. General education courses round out those majors to be sure the students have skills or knowledge - at UTC - in writing and communication, mathematics and statistics, natural sciences, humanities and fine arts, cultures and civilizations, and behavioral and social sciences.

We would hope their higher education experience would also help train them to think critically and open their minds to new ideas and a wider world.

UTC's reimagining committee, according to online reports, says students have expressed the belief the current general education program is not working, is irrelevant and is largely a repeat of their high school courses.

To an extent, we understand that. No one wants a do-over of what they thought they'd mastered. But all high schools are not alike. Some who sail through high school are lost in college because their high school curriculum wasn't rigorous, they had to put in little effort or they were given a social promotion. They need some of those courses.

However, if UTC were to require students to put in more hours in their majors and fewer overall in general education requirements - the Southern Association of Colleges and School Commission on Colleges requires a general education minimum of 30 credit hours (and several classes in specific fields) - we would agree.

But the reimagining committee opines that what the general education requirements lack is "an in-depth examination of issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion." And touching on them throughout the curriculum is not good enough, they say, because they would wind up being dealt with in a "superficial way." They need more "in-depth study."

The committee also says the requirement of six hours (two full-semester classes) would help the university achieve its goals to "ensure all students are prepared to live, work and engage in reasoned discourse in a diverse, global society" and to model "inclusive excellence through diverse representation."

But the committee would go further." It also "hopes to encourage all departments to introduce courses that address diversity, equity, and inclusion from a variety of perspectives."

The problem, as always, is who decides what's diverse, what equity is and what inclusion should be.

Would such courses, for example, teach that future UTC sports teams should have players mimic the diversity of the school? Would they suggest the university hire professors with political leanings that accurately reflect the city where the school is located? Would they posit that highly technical industries should make hires based on race rather than qualifications? Would they want the university to have speakers whose ideas don't reflect those of the faculty and administration?

Would those courses suggest the abolition of grades because they are unfair, endorse the thought that math is racist, or advocate that women should be graded on a curve in STEM subjects? Those are all suggestions that have been made nationally about education in the name of diversity, equity and inclusion.

One of the sharpest mind we know of on such issues was the late Walter E. Williams, who was a professor at George Mason University and whose column ran on this page for many years until his death in 2020.

He called diversity, equity and inclusion "a spreading cancer" on higher education, suggested they only seek ideological conformity and said the last thing they seek to accomplish is a diversity of ideas.

In one column, he quoted Yale University President Benno Schmidt, who in 1991 remarked, "The assumption seems to be that the purpose of education is to induce correct opinion rather than to search for wisdom and to liberate the mind."

"College administrators have closed minds about their diversity agenda," Williams said, "but there's nothing more effective in opening up closed minds than the sound of pocketbooks snapping shut."

If UTC moves forward with such a plan, that's the sound it may hear.