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Looking at the “Whole Person”: Yesterday it was the Ivy League, Now It’s the State Department

Our Foreign Service is changing the rules:

The Foreign Service – the US Department of State’s on-ramp for career diplomats – is watering down its application process with a change that critics say could have troubling implications for national security.

“I worry that we’ll be sending good community activists over to Baghdad and Beirut who don’t have the depth of knowledge they need to conduct American diplomacy,” said Brett Bruen, a former foreign service officer who served as President Barack Obama’s director of global engagement.

“We could end up creating unnecessary crises,” he warned.

A century ago the Ivy League got away from exam results to a more “holistic” approach in order to trim down the overachieving Jews from dominating the scene. They’re doing the same thing with Asians now, although that’s still tied up in litigation. They went to considering the “whole person” and their narrative, especially the essay. The State Department is doing the same thing with its applicants. Their rationale? To increase the diversity of the Service, what else?

There are opponents within the system, chiefly the diplomats’ trade union, who fear that the process will “risk being seen as excessively subjective and subject to partisan influence.” They haven’t forgotten the exodus detonated by Donald Trump and fear that, should he or someone like him get into power, they’d be in trouble. The trade union remembers what most people forget, that processes can cut both ways, a fact to which the people now in power are oblivious.

Tests are not the “end-all” of evaluating people, but you need to know some basic facts of the world around you to be an effective diplomat. Americans are product enough of a monoculture. Adding ethnic diversity hasn’t really made a dent into that monoculture. Including factual ignorance to that will make our Foreign Service even less effective than it already is.

Personal note: I had a prep school classmate who managed to get into Georgetown. She ended up marrying a diplomat and never actually worked for the State Department. The idea of an “Mrs.” degree from an place like Georgetown certainly alters your view of our elite institutions!


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