Sanford V. Levinson — Wrestling with Diversity

“Diversity” has become a mantra within discussions of university admissions policies and many other arenas of American society. In the essays collected here, Sanford Levinson, a leading scholar of constitutional law and American government, wrestles with various notions of diversity.

He begins by explaining why he finds the concept to be almost useless as a genuine guide to public policy. Discussing affirmative action in university admissions, including the now famous University of Michigan Law School case, he argues both that there may be good reasons to use preferences—including race and ethnicity—and that these reasons have relatively little to do with any cogently developed theory of diversity. Through discussions of religious diversity, school vouchers, and whether it is desirable, or even possible, to subordinate merely “personal” aspects of one’s identity—religion, political viewpoints, gender—to the impersonal demands of professional roles, Wrestling with Diversity is distinguished by Levinson’s characteristic open-mindedness and willingness to tease out the full implications of various claims.

Written over the past decade, each of these nine essays is a case study focusing on a particular aspect of public life in a richly diverse, and sometimes bitterly divided, society.

Sanford Levinson holds the W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood Jr. Centennial Chair in Law at The University of Texas School of Law. He is the author of Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies (also published by Duke University Press) and Constitutional Faith.

Critical Praise:

"[T]houghtful. . . . Levinson's quiet insistence on bringing religion into our definition of diversity is a critical gesture that is particularly welcome coming from a legal scholar. For, as the recent Supreme Court decision regarding affirmative action made clear, the definition of such ambiguous terms will ultimately be codified in the courtroom."
- Publishers Weekly

"In this highly engaging, beautifully written, and provocative volume, Sanford Levinson 'wrestles with' the meaning, significance, and consequences of diversity in multicultural societies. . . . Throughout this volume, Levinson demonstrates the ambiguities, difficulties, and dilemmas associated with diversity and encourages, even inspires, readers to join him in thinking through, or 'wrestling with,' some of the most significant questions. His goals, by his own account, are modest, seeking to initiate, provoke, and stimulate conversations. He accomplishes these goals beautifully and concludes by seeming to suggest that the most fundamental questions surrounding diversity must continue to be discussed and debated, even if they may not be answered definitively. . . .This volume contributes importantly to the struggle to understand more fully the many complexities, subtleties, and nuances of the contemporary world that we all inhabit. It asks novel and politically significant questions that force it readers to think."
- Mark Kessler, Law and Politics Book Review

Wrestling with Diversity by Sanford Levinson, a UT law professor, refuses to back away from some of the more polarizing terms of the day: diversity, nationalism, liberalism, religion, and identity. In his collection of essays, these terms purposefully provoke a catalyst to thought that is more observation than indictment.”
- The Alcalde January/February 2004

“Sanford Levinson’s essays are real pageturners. You want to turn the page to find out how he comes out on the incredibly provocative questions he poses. Whether it be ‘Does diversity have any real value?” or ‘Was Sandy Koufax a “Jewish pitcher”?’ Levinson’s answers always surprise. He is one of those rare academics who belong to no club and subscribe to no overarching ideology. He actually thinks for himself and always poses questions and suggests answers that make you think. To read these essays is to engage in a dialogue with one of America’s most interesting minds.”
- Alan Dershowitz, author of The Case for Israel

“People talk a lot about language being performative: Sanford Levinson’s kind of high level analysis and his extraordinary sensitivity to the positions of others make his method the very model of what one would hope for in a ‘multicultural’ society.”
- Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University

“Issues of identity, diversity, and multiculturalism sit at the center of our public debates, but discussion of these related terms are too often partisan, overheated, and without nuance. Not so Sanford Levinson’s Wrestling with Diversity. At once thoughtful and passionate, it is evenhanded without being in any way equivocal. It provides readers with examples to think on and with analyses that deepen the questions they raise. A wonderful book.”
- Stanley Fish, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago