Campus Free Speech

Clemson U.'s Diversity Training Says Being Late Is Okay Because Some Cultures Believe Time Is Relative

"Time may be considered precise or fluid depending on the culture."


Jacek Chabraszewski

Clemson University's $25,000 diversity initiative asks professors to endorse a novel opinion about punctuality: it's wrong, and probably colonialist, to expect people to show up to a meeting on time.

The administration at the public university in South Carolina has encouraged all faculty and staff members to complete an online training course, "Diversity Benefits for Higher Education," which is produced by a company called Workplace Answers.

The training presents faculty members with several hypothetical scenarios. In one scenario, a fictional character named Alejandro schedules a 9:00 a.m. meeting for visiting professors and students (one assumes these people are foreign). Some arrive early, others arrive 10 minutes late. What should Alejandro do? Participants are given three options:

Politely ask the second group to apologize

Explain "In our country 9:00 AM means 9:00 AM."

As the meeting organizer, he should recognize cultural differences that may impact the meeting and adjust accordingly.

The third answer, evidently, is the correct one—at least from the perspective of the training module—according to Campus Reform.

"Alejandro should recognize and acknowledge cultural differences with ease and respect," the module asserts. "Time may be considered precise or fluid depending on the culture."

The training module then asks participants to consider that Alejandro's "cultural perspective regarding time is neither more nor less valid than any other."

Time. It's all relative, man.

Note that Clemson would never actually endorse an across-the-board policy that all cultural traditions were equally valid. In some cultures, it's common to smoke indoors: would Clemson ever consider relaxing its total campus-wide ban on tobacco products in the name of diversity and tolerance? I thought not.

Hypocrisy aside, it's frankly bizarre to watch a university decide that it's faculty shouldn't be making any judgments about different cultural traditions. Obviously, punctuality is more socially desirable than tardiness, and a professor has every right to endorse a culture that prefers the former to the latter.

The training also presents a scenario where a person, "Maxine," expresses skepticism about diversity training, likening it to political correctness run amok. The correct answer here is to challenge Maxine and assert that diversity training is valuable and necessary, according to the module (which is awfully convenient and seems like a conflict of interest on the part of the training's creators).

Another portion of the training explains that freedom of speech and academic freedom have limits—and those limits involve language that hurts other people, particularly members of protected groups.

Clemson Chief Diversity Officer Lee Gill—who was paid $185,000 last year, according to The Tiger Town Observer—did not respond to a request for comment.

A public university can make diversity training available to its staff members. But it shouldn't require them to endorse opinions they might not agree with. It certainly shouldn't instruct them to ignore students who are routinely late to class as part of some misguided attempt to never offend anyone. Sometimes, objective reality sort of matters.

via The Big Lebowski