Higher education has become obsessed with intense devotion to the all-encompassing cult of “diversity,” and as usual, California is leading the way. New loyalty oaths have become so demanding that, as Heather Mac Donald has written in the Los Angeles Times, even Einstein probably could not be hired on a public California university campus today.
Would Einstein’s “job talk,” she asks, quoting UCLA guidelines, reflect his contributions to “equity, diversity and inclusion.” Would he have participated in “service that applies up-to-date knowledge to problems, issues and concerns” of underrepresented groups?
The document announces that the Office of Faculty Diversity and Inclusion is seeking applications for many faculty positions, “including the inaugural Provost’s Chair of Faculty Diversity and Inclusion” who will serve “as a leader” of an unspecified number of new “Provost’s Professors of Equity in Education.”
What is especially noteworthy and perhaps novel here is that although these are ostensibly faculty positions, “all positions will report to the Associate Vice President for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion,” not to any academic dean or department chair. Diversity is getting its own faculty.
The primary responsibility of these new faculty hires will be to develop practices and procedures to ensure that the SDSU faculty religiously follows the university’s “diversity and inclusion goals and are provided with capacity-building activities that can better empower all personnel to support these efforts.” Got that? A good deal of this effort will take the form of “training sessions,” some examples of which “will include unconscious and implicit bias, racial/gender microaggressions, teaching practices for underserved students, and cultural competency, and becoming a Hispanic serving institution.”
These “training sessions” will emphasize the faculty search process, such as:
- Understanding of bias in commonly employed applicant criteria
- Bias introduced through informal background research on candidates
- Bias in the messages received by candidates during interviews and on-campus visits
- Bias introduced through off-list reference checks
And my favorite:
- Common phrases and sensemaking that conveys bias (e.g., fit, likability, strong)
I’m not sure what that last one means, but “sensemaking” seems to be big at SDSU. For example, one of these new diversity professors’ responsibilities is to help departments develop diversity plans “congruent with the university’s” goals through “Collective sensemaking around areas of disproportionate impact.”
In order to see how the fervor to eradicate all traces of possible bias undermines academic freedom, imagine, if you can, what would happen if James Damore, the former senior software engineer fired from Google for writing a memo questioning efforts at gender diversity, were to apply for a position at SDSU. Observing a search committee considering his application would probably call to mind Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, about witchcraft in Salem.
As University of Virginia law professor Deborah Hellman concluded in a just-published paper after summarizing the Damore controversy, Damore’s unforgivable offense “lay either in (a) having certain beliefs, which he should not have had, or (b) expressing these beliefs, which he should have kept to himself.” (Hellman here is stating the views of Damore’s critics, not her own. In fact, the gist of her deeply philosophical article, “The Epistemic Commitments of Nondiscrimination,” is to take seriously and even enhance the arguments of those “pragmatists” who maintain that some views should not be held or, if held, expressed.)
In short, SDSU’s efforts to root out bias — or anything anyone might ever claim is bias, whether overt, implicit, or unconscious — is much more vigorous than anything California and other universities did during McCarthyism to root out radicals.
Universities now demand loyalty to “diversity” in both thought and deed. What Jonah Goldberg wrote in National Review about Damore’s firing would almost certainly apply to his predictable non-hiring at SDSU: “[t]he issue here isn’t diversity, but conformity. Everyone must agree with a very narrow dogma about not just sexual equality but the approved ways of enforcing it.” As a result, university diversity czars and their burgeoning staffs of administrative and now faculty apparatchiks now resemble nothing so much as academic equivalents of the old committees on un-American activities.
This is not the first time California universities have been obsessed with loyalty. During the McCarthy period, for example, and even for decades later the campuses were engulfed in conflict and litigation over required loyalty oaths. Oaths were ultimately declared unconstitutional and fired faculty were eventually reinstated, but oaths requiring allegiance to the Constitution etc. lingered. According to Berkeley history professor David Hollinger, “The oaths of the McCarthy Era were embedded in a campaign against certain political opinions, while the oath people sign today has no such connection, and hence is perceived as irrelevant to contemporary issues.”
Alas, that is no longer true. The McCarthy era oaths required statements of allegiance and often denial of membership in the Communist Party, but in some respects, today’s oaths go farther by requiring not only affirmations of belief but actions to implement them.
As Northwestern law professor John McGinness has written, “In the nineteenth century, Oxford and Cambridge required dons to adhere to the 39 Articles of Religion, the basic creed of Anglican Church. Today the University of California requires faculty to adhere to a new creed—diversity…. The old requirement of the British colleges was at least less intrusive. One had to profess a set of beliefs but did not have to do anything to advance their social realization. But under the California policy, a prospective faculty member must advance a designated social mission to advance his or her career.”
This criticism has just been echoed by an influential academic, fomenting a Twitter tsunami of controversy. As Inside Higher Ed reports, “‘As a dean of a major academic institution, I could not have said this. But I will now,’ Jeffrey Flier, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and Higginson Professor of Physiology and Medicine, tweeted Saturday. ‘Requiring such statements in applications for appointments and promotions is an affront to academic freedom, and diminishes the true value of diversity, equity of inclusion by trivializing it.’”
Flier’s critics cannot comprehend how being required to genuflect to diversity can have a negative impact on academic freedom, and their failure is a good illustration of the depth of the problem. One need not look beyond Flier’s statement that “as a dean of a major academic institution, I could not have said this.” Why not? Perhaps because if he had his fate would have been similar to former Harvard President Lawerence Summers, whose reflections on the underrepresentation of women in the higher reaches of mathematics were widely regarded as beyond the pale, and certainly not the sort of thing a Harvard president could say and keep his job.
Heather Mac Donald and others have documented the explosive growth in the bureaucracy of diversity, inclusion, etc., but San Diego State appears to be pioneering in taking diversity mania to new heights, or depths. Rather than simply hiring another few associate or assistant vice presidents, provosts, or deans of diversity or beefing up their staffs, SDSU is now hiring a slew of professors of diversity, regardless of their academic discipline, to … surprise! … promote diversity.