By Uwe Reinhardt
Princeton University’s Ad Hoc Committee on Diversitydelivered its final report to the public a few days ago. Having served on University committees in the past, I know how much time, research, thought and discussion went into the report, for which the University community should be grateful, as I am.
One does not have to take issue with what is in the report to notice the conspicuous absence of one dimension of diversity.
On page 9 of the report, one finds a long list of characteristics of diversity that “may shape an individual’s worldview,” among them gender, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, citizenship and life experience. Notably absent from this catalogue is the life experience of individuals who have served this country in the military — especially those who have served in combat zones abroad. In my view, they deserve explicit mention in any serious discussion on diversity.
I would not howl here into the wind with the theme that our nation owes veterans a debt of gratitude, especially those who for so many years worked and suffered on far-away combat duty. Most veterans I know are sober enough not to expect all that much on that score from the rest of society. That so many veterans remain unemployed speaks volumes.
Instead, I write here about the valuable perspectives these veterans’ life experiences could add to a campus that seriously seeks a greater diversity of perspectives in its community.
For starters, our armed forces arguably represent the most amazingly effective educational institution in the country. Our military recruits youngsters from the socioeconomic strata routinely overlooked by higher education. With discipline and idealism, they forge the motley crews they take in into racially and ethnically integrated communities with a great variety of highly technical skills — a community with a unique sense of honor and willingness to sacrifice for members of their community and for the country at large. These are characteristics and perspectives less commonly found outside the military.
If I were the Dean of the College, you can bet that I would always have on my staff some ex-military men and women, perchance even a drill instructor. Who knows better how to deal with rambunctious young people of diverse backgrounds, to exhort them to greater things and, just as importantly, to develop in them that personal “bearing,” as the military call it, that might make college students think twice before ending up drunker than skunks in a hospital’s emergency room, there to shame their community by begging for succor from the consequences of their own folly?
I would imagine also that a faculty member with a military background would bring valuable perspectives to the class room. Who would know better how tough moral choices are actually made, sometimes under the most bewildering and strenuous circumstances and in split seconds, or how to ration scarce resources? The typical faculty member can imagine and theorize about such choices. It might help sometimes to have actuallyfaced such choices.
One final point. It may be thought that I put finger to word processor here mainly because my own son is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Not so.
I have been an admirer and friend of America’s military long before he was born, going back to the time when I was a child. I have written in the Princeton Alumni Weekly tributes to our military when our Marine was still in kindergarten, and I served on the Veteran Administration’s Special Medical Advisory Committeeduring the Reagan Administration. When my children were small, we visited American military cemeteries in Europe with them, there to show our respect and gratitude and to show my children a glorious part of their American heritage.
This column is not about my son. It is about American veterans, period, and it is about a potential benefit to our community that this University may overlook to its disadvantage.
Uwe Reinhardt is a James Madison Professor of Political Economy and a professor of economics and public affairs. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.