Inside Higher Ed, When White Scholars Pick White Scholars:
All but one of the National Communication Association’s 70 distinguished scholars are white. Most if not all members of the organization agree that’s a problem. But the association’s new plan for selecting its distinguished scholars — in which a special committee, not the existing group of scholars, chooses new honorees — has proven controversial. And one of the association’s distinguished scholars in particular just fanned the flames with an editorial that critics say pits merit against diversity.
“The change is being pursued under the banner of ‘diversity,’ which is, of course a god-term of our age, and rightly so,” Martin J. Medhurst, distinguished professor of rhetoric and communication and professor of political science at Baylor University, and editor of Rhetoric and Public Affairs, wrote recently therein about the association’s procedural shift. “But there is a difference in trying to promote diversity within a scholarly consensus about intellectual merit and prioritizing diversity in place of intellectual merit.”
He continues, “Let me be clear: I strongly support diversity and recognize that social, cultural and racial perspectives make a difference in what is studied and how it is studied. The work of the field has been enriched as it has become more diverse. That is a belief, I am sure, shared by the distinguished scholars as a group. We support diversity, but not at the price of displacing scholarly merit as the chief criterion for selecting distinguished scholars, choosing journal editors and evaluating research.”
Beyond the distinguished scholar question, Medhurst says the “far more important issue is what sort of organization the NCA will be. One where selections are made on intellectual merit or one where identity is prioritized over intellectual and scholarly merit? One where new journal editors are chosen on their background, publication record, vision and experience, or one where the color of one’s skin or one’s gender trumps everything else?”
In addition to negative comments on social media, some association members have called for a boycott of Medhurst’s journal. ...
Star Muir, associate professor of communication at George Mason University and president of the association, said Wednesday that his organization is absolutely trying to address structural racism, in part due to a #CommunicationSoWhite campaign by members who want it to do more to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. That includes how it looks to underrepresented scholars when a group of mostly white men act as a gatekeepers to a major honor within the field.