The University of Georgia (UGA), “the birthplace of public education in America,” recently posted a tenured faculty cluster hiring notice for its Integrative Precision Agriculture program. The program, a cross-disciplinary undertaking between the Engineering and Agricultural & Environmental Sciences colleges, seeks tenured or tenure-track professors who have expertise in distributed sensing, systems modeling, AI-enabled decision analysis, and automation. Fashionably, the notice includes a requirement for job seekers to submit “a diversity statement describing the candidate’s commitment to working toward achieving equity and enhancing diversity.”
In other words, a scientific discipline analyzing farm field variability in crops has embraced the doctrine of diversity as a work requirement at the nation’s first land-grant university. Scientists who should be proficient in researching the diversity of agricultural resources and sustainable farming must now navigate the unfamiliar territory of skin-color diversity, equal outcomes, and identarian representation.
As it turns out, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UGA, a top-three program in the country for agricultural sciences, houses an Office of Diversity Affairs that awards generous race-/ethnicity-based diversity scholarships, including one called the “Ethnic Minority Scholarship,” which is awarded to minority students earning a minimum 2.5 GPA.
Adding insult to injury is UGA’s purported suppression of academic freedom as a result of prioritizing political correctness over rational thinking. The university has had its fair share of encounters with cancel culture: a former faculty member reported being targeting on Twitter after criticizing the university’s decision to review its building names. In another instance, a UGA junior created a Twitter account to expose and shame what she perceived as “racially offensive incidents on campus,” in an attempt to break the silence after the death of George Floyd.
When an elite academic program in a state where agriculture is the #1 industry mindlessly bends the knee to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) dogma, the public should be alarmed about the ramifications for academic freedom and global competitiveness.
It is well-documented that American higher education has increasingly trended leftward in recent decades. According to the Higher Education Research Institute, 42% of the professoriate identified as being on the left in 1989-1990, and the percentage shot up to 60% in 2016-2017. A more recent survey of 12,372 American university professors by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) found a glaring 8.5-to-1 ratio of registered Democrats to registered Republicans, a ratio that is almost eight times larger than that of the general population.
This extreme leftward lurch started in the liberal arts and humanities, made its way through law schools with the famed UCLA Law School launching America’s first Critical Race Studies specialization, and is now making significant inroads in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Nature published a study in late November 2021 arguing that discrimination against women and minorities remains a prevalent problem in the sciences. To evidence scientific institutions’ alleged reluctance to accommodate demands from “recent social protest movements such as #MeToo and #BlackInSTEM,” Nature reports:
Unsurprisingly, some groups are more likely than others to feel targeted. Women reported experiencing mistreatment more often than men: 34% to 21%. Workers in academia were twice as likely as those in industry to report such behaviour: 30% to 15%. A woman who is now a staff scientist at a US biomedical company wrote of her experience in academia: “I was bullied and harassed repeatedly at my previous job, and literally nothing there has changed or will ever change. My current job is much nicer, but I will never ever work in an academic setting again. A postdoc in the lab kept touching my hair and the university did absolutely nothing to protect me or stop it.”
Could it be that academics are more inclined than their industry counterparts to report discrimination, since they are at least twice as likely to characterize unpleasant, petty workplace occurrences as episodes of racism and sexism? A diversity statement requirement risks amplifying the disproportionate tendencies of overgeneralizing isolated events and coddling victimhood, all at the expense of productivity and creativity.
The severe imbalance of ideology in agricultural sciences can have chilling, Lysenkoist effects on viewpoint diversity and scientific inquiry. Trofim Lysenko promoted pseudoscientific, anti-Mendelian theories of crop production as the head of the Institute of Genetics at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The Chinese government imported his methods in the 1950s, which directly caused the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-62, when an estimated 15 to 55 million people died of starvation. The lesson here is clear: when dogma trumps reason on both sides of the political aisle, science loses, and in extreme cases, people die.
What’s more, America may be facing a STEM crisis. According to a 2017 Pew survey, U.S. students ranked lower than many other advanced industrial nations in international math and science assessments. Another report predicts an American STEM talent shortage of 1.1 million workers by 2024. The American Association for the Advancement of Science reported that just 16% of its members considered the quality of American K-12 STEM education to be above average, while 46% said it was below average.
Faced with declines in student performance and educational quality, STEM institutions should focus more on merit-based recruitment rather than require prospective faculty members to toe the party line. Instead, too many have chosen to chase racial diversity, gender representation, and cultural inclusion as an end goal without reflecting upon root issues contributing to the achievement gap in the K-12 pipeline. Earlier this year, the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences ran a story titled “Building equity in Georgia agriculture,” which argued in support of a debt relief program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) targeting “socially disadvantaged farmers.” The article featured a UGA graduate who was quoted saying:
Working in agriculture, I tell people all the time that, traditionally, diversity is viewed as older white men, younger white men, white women and little bit of everything else. The leadership at institutions like UGA and other large-scale organizations need to make the commitment to racial and ethnic diversity, or it won’t happen.
The USDA has reformed itself in recent years to uphold racial diversity as one of its top institutional goals, explicitly channeling taxpayer funds to minority and women outreach programs. The very loan forgiveness program supported by UGA was challenged in a federal lawsuit by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of 12 white farmers, and was then halted in a temporary restraining order. It turns out that there are legal repercussions for over-the-top diversity programs that fight discrimination with discrimination.
For America’s first state-sponsored university and a patent powerhouse for cutting-edge agricultural technologies, let’s hope diversity is not its new goal. Let’s be honest: farmers care more about the efficacy of UGA’s award-winning poultry vaccines and the quality of UGA-developed high yielding, TSWV-resistant peanuts, rather than scientists’ alleged devotion to a controversial ideology. Don’t let DEI get in the way of agricultural advancement.
Editor’s Note: The last paragraph of this article was rewritten by the author. The new version was substituted on December 7, 2021.
Image: Dan Meyers, Public Domain