Bow Down to Diversity or Risk Your Academic Career

When jobs are scarce, and when you’ve spent your 20s living spartanly, reading books, books, books, writing a dissertation, and you’re sick of being a nobody whose only recognition comes from students in your freshman comp course who thank you for spending time correcting their grammar and punctuation, you’ll say anything the people who control the market want you to say in order to win a tenure-track post.

The hiring committees determine your future, and in academia, if you don’t earn a decent job within a few years of earning your Ph.D., you start to look like a loser. You may publish a sterling essay in a recognized journal, and you may have wonderful evaluations of your teaching, but if you don’t get a job offer, the doors begin to close on your professional career.

So, when a school asks every job applicant to write a “diversity statement,” which demonstrates the candidate’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity, you do what you’re told. You’ve devoted your studies to an academic subject–18th-century landscape painting, the Thirty Years War, or particle astrophysics and cosmology — –that hasn’t asked you to consider questions of diversity and inclusion, but you don’t hesitate to work up some earnest expressions that you’ve heard before in meetings and orientation sessions and commentaries in the press.

Even if your work broaches identity issues dear to the human resources department–for instance, you study W. E. B. Du Bois’s later politics–you can’t rest with the fact of studying a person of color. That’s not enough to demonstrate your diversity contribution. If you’re a person of color or a female in a heavily male field, you’re fine. If you’re not, your interest in Du Bois doesn’t give you very much diversity credit. You have to show that you will work inside the classroom and out to promote diversity within the institution.

You don’t have much experience with diversity programs; you haven’t done outreach to black and brown students; you haven’t had to make professions of cultural sensitivity and the like before. You’ve spent your time researching and writing, trying to get those thesis chapters in shape. You didn’t propose to your department a curriculum revision that brought more works by people of color onto the syllabus. But you’re ready to say that you really, really want to.

So, when a job application asks you to declare your diversity efforts and intentions, you write things like this:

Across all my course, I emphasize the intellectual contributions provided by scholars from underrepresented groups and feature studies of a range of diverse research subjects.

That’s an actual quote from a diversity statement. The obvious question a hiring committee should ask never gets asked: why should the identity of an author become a determinant of your “emphasis”? It’s unscientific, no matter how many specious arguments identity scholars make about how perspectives are shaped by racial and sexual factors. But nobody will object. The systemic bias in favor of diversity compels everyone to accept this tendentious pedagogy.

The diversity statement is not a position piece that the committee intends to discuss. It’s more of a membership card.

Or, you could write this:

In my recent years, being instructor at a particularly culturally diverse campus has helped me achieve one of my personal goals as an academic, which is to create a safe space in classrooms where ethnic, racial, cultural, religious, and gender differences are respected.

Again, the obvious questions go unasked in the interview. A committee member might wonder what the candidate does when an issue arises in the classroom, and a fundamentalist Christian espouses a biblical conception of heterosexual chastity and an LGBTQ activist in the room takes offense. Will the candidate really “respect” the Christian position? Shouldn’t the Christian student’s outlook itself be recognized as a form of disrespect and be ousted?

But, of course, the committee won’t go into that. The diversity statement is not a position piece that the committee intends to discuss. It’s more of a membership card. Just declare yourself on board the diversity train. Prove that you’re a true believer. Or, at least show that you’re willing to cooperate fully in any future diversity efforts should you be hired. The university has big plans to diversify its student population, so if you can say something like the following, the committee gives you a seal of approval and moves on to other aspects of your record.

I plan to build on the insights gained through this research [into white and black communities] to work with the university and local groups to cultivate more productive pathways and practices for mentors and mentees.

In other words, the diversity statement asks young scholar-teachers to change the direction of their labor. The scholarly values separating the disciplines must make way for the universal values of diversity and inclusion.

The diversity/inclusion outlook is an intellectual fraud, but a thriving practice.

I remember the days when astute theorists in the humanities would regard such demands as coercive and ideological. Michel Foucault would hear the word inclusive in this particular discourse and laugh, knowing that it means the opposite, “exclusion,” and in his Nietzschean vein would label it a tyranny of the weak. Jacques Derrida would submit the word diversity to conceptual analysis, some putting it in binary opposition of hegemony, universality, or some species of “univocality,” only to conclude with a dialectical reversal that recasts diversity as, rather, the hegemony of a whole new kind.

But all these complications are academic. It’s the compliance that counts. The diversity/inclusion outlook is an intellectual fraud, but a thriving practice. People need jobs. They’ll do what they must. Those who have jobs and witness the bankruptcy of the industry know better than to object. They don’t want trouble.

They couldn’t withstand the pressure that came down on Jordan Peterson when he declared “No!” to mandated pronoun usage. They’re already on the inside, and they have their own work to do. To challenge diversity is to take on the whole institution. The diversity project is so intellectually flimsy, and it has yielded such meager results (as the diversicrats still insist) that the institution must over-react to the nay-sayers.

The diversity project has turned into what the French Marxist Louis Althusser (a widely read thinker in the humanities in the 70s and 80s) called an “ideological state apparatus.” It is an instrument of a ruling class, which the local diversity personnel has become, that regulates behavior and also gets inside people’s heads. It has a surveillance system within the institution, and it punishes miscreants. I don’t see it collapsing any time soon.

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory.

7 thoughts on “Bow Down to Diversity or Risk Your Academic Career

  1. With each day that passes, which offers at least one additional really bad idea such as students grading their own papers or fake diversity, the greater peace I feel, having been born so long ago (1938). I think I have been blessed with living within the bounds of the most wonderful slice of time in history, past or future.

    Thank you Dear Lord,

  2. Kinda reminds me of the situation faced by German professors when the Nazis took over: tow the Nazi Party line or lose your job. Of course we know how history has judged those who bowed down. If your career is more important to you than your self-respect, then don’t resist. It is only you who will have to look at yourself in the mirror every morning for the rest of your life.

  3. “So, when a school asks every job applicant to write a “diversity statement,” which demonstrates the candidate’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity, you do what you’re told. ”

    And THAT, exactly, is what it’s all about, dear Alfie.

    The school doesn’t care WHAT the Statement actually says. They care less as to whether the candidate actually believes what she just wrote. What they care about is that the Faculty-Member-To-Be does what she is told to do. No more; no less.

    It is the academic equivalent of, “When I tell you to jump…all I want to hear in return is “How High?”. Well, that, and the sound of jumping feet.

    Of course it’s a pro-forma exercise. It can be nothing else. It is a Loyalty Oath. And like every Loyalty Oath, it doesn’t matter what is said, what matters is that you say it (even better if you can memorize it and repeat it at will, as needed or prompted). “Diversity! Sir! Yes Sir!” It is a profession of subservience; a vow of obedience.

    But as a concept? As a ‘truth’? As a philosophical perspective intended to shape & form righteously brilliant dialogue and discovery? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again.

    We might as well vow to have differently colored text books in our classrooms … or use differently gendered chalk …or rainbow’d PowerPoints….or teach our lessons in different tones of voice (a forced falsetto, perhaps? or painful bass!).

    The entire Diversity Mantra is anti-thought, anti-education, anti-truth….for if thought, education and truth actually mattered, then the color of the booties of the authors of the work we must consider wouldn’t matter at all. Is the magic of Shakespeare somehow less magical (or more!) if we know his skin tone or his sexual predilections? Is DaVinci somehow less a genius (or more) if we know the degree of fluidity associated with his chosen gender-identities? Or should we, in the name of Almighty Diversity, abandon Shakespeare, abandon Da Vinci, and Rodin, and Dickens, and Einstein entirely to study, instead a much more diverse (but intellectually bereft) Tom, Dick, Harry & the T-G’d Sally Smith-Jones?

    It’s a farce, sure; but it’s a billion dollar farce played with life-changing implications. Diversity, mein herr? Diversity Sieg Heil! Here is my statement; listen to my heels click!

    We would be ashamed if we weren’t so scared.

  4. Thank you for your article. It confirms my experience— and let’s me know that I’m not alone in these thoughts. It also gives hope: Diversity statements are “party cards”; there will come a day when those cards will be rapidly disowned as cravenly irrational and unjust.

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