UMBA in Diversity

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

American businesses would rather gamble on finding talent abroad than rely on homegrown collegiates who have been through the entire public school system in the United States. Nonetheless, for its part, the higher education establishment finds more value in teaching young men and women how to meet goals and timetables under affirmative action rather than how to meet payroll in the middle of a business slump.

“Students are coming out of college with huge debt, but with some of the lowest competencies I have ever seen,” Stetson University professor Peter F. Lake said at a conference recently, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Some can barely read; some can barely write.”

“He predicted that if default rates on student loans increase, financial institutions may look to blame colleges for not properly preparing the student to enter the work force and make enough money to pay off the debt,” Martin Dan Der Werf reports in the September 22 issue of the Chronicle. Could the University of Michigan be at risk of such an accusation?

On the one hand, the UM’s School of Business (an unfortunate acronym) ranks tops among corporate MBA headhunters. “Recruiters give top ratings to Ross for its students’ ability to work well within teams, analytical and problem-solving skills, and their well-roundedness,” according to Harris Interactive News.

On the other hand, the UM has been placing more and more emphasis every year on multicultural and diversity courses that don’t prepare MBAs for much more than the fast track to retail management at Starbuck’s. For his part, Professor Leslie Thornton of UM-Dearborn has been floating an idea for a mandatory diversity course on his own campus for years.

“Before we can talk about globalization, global competition, global economies, and/or the proverbial ‘global village,’ we must first give people the necessary knowledge, skills and experiences of interacting with people who are culturally different from themselves who are real, present, and exist now in their own school, city, state and nation,” Professor Thornton noted in his initial proposal five years ago. “Students who leave our university with the personal and professional expectation of being able to function effectively in and within a world that is, to many of our professors a ‘foreign’ place, deserve to be more than simply ‘schooled’ in technical skills that are already or predictably will become obsolete by their third year of employment.”

“Because business and industry claim they need competent people who can comfortably cross borders and move between and among cultures, we have a duty to provide students with necessary skills, informed knowledge and meaningful experiences before we turn them out into a world where they will be expected to interact with different countries.”

The “informed knowledge” that Professor Thornton would cover includes a debriefing on “Sexual Orientation -as it pertains to actual personhood orientation, not the erroneous and misleading qualifier ‘preference.’”

“The study of sexual orientation examines what exactly ‘orientation’ means and why recognizing orientation is an integral part of person-to-person interaction,” Professor Thornton explains and includes “such questions as ‘Why is it important in organizational contexts?,’ ‘What’s all the fuss about?,’ ‘What does Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell imply?,’ ‘Why?,’ and ‘Who decides?’”

Professor Thornton teaches in the school of education. The future teachers in his classroom have had a dress rehearsal for this course. “Professor Leslie Thornton has invited several gay/lesbian speakers for a panel discussion,” one of his students remembers. “He made that session a no-cut day, such that we will receive a larger than usual grade reduction if we protest by our absence.”

Oh, and this avatar of academic freedom places a premium on secrecy, urging his students to keep the course material a secret from parents, spouses and other significant others. “They’re in the cave, and they want to keep you there so they can keep on telling you what to do,” the professor allegedly said.

But doesn’t that also work as a self-description for this maverick?

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.