Regulatory Capture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education

On March 21, 2021, the Governing Board at the California Community Colleges (CCC), the state-wide public higher education entity in charge of 116 community colleges, held a public meeting to discuss a regulatory proposal on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). The proposal would amend the California Code of Regulations to establish a set of minimum DEIA standards for employee evaluation and tenure review processes.

In other words, America’s largest system of higher education—and the world’s third largest—has decided to rollout the political edict of DEI for its over 91,000 employees. Those wishing to obtain satisfactory job performance reviews or secure tenured positions must commit to navigating the ideological map situated among “intersectionality of social identities,” “multiple axes of oppression,” “minoritize(d) subordination,” and “equitable student outcomes.” (All these buzzwords derive from major tenets of critical race theory, commonly referred to as CRT.) CCC brands the DEIA regulatory change as an indispensable part of its “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Integration Plan,” with a vision to become an “anti-racist institution.”

While CCC’s public meeting notice didn’t specify the fiscal impact of the DEIA proposal, we should anticipate enormous ramifications for the school system’s institutional culture, personnel management, and social impact. CCC is a critical component of California’s economy, generating $128.2 billion in annual economic activity and supporting 1.5 million jobs in the Golden State.

This top-down mandate for all employees to demonstrate DEIA competencies will lead to the bureaucratic capture of the system’s hiring and promotion processes, which would then bleed over to student and community engagement.

The craze to elevate DEI and anti-racism as inherently good, without providing substantive justifications or leaving any room for conceptual clarifications, is intimately linked with the education apparatus’s thirst to racially balance. In his April 2020 letter to Governor Gavin Newsom, CCC Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley frames the institution’s DEI approach as one that identifies “strategies to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the California community college workforce.” In November 2021, Los Angeles Mission College, the #1 ranking community college in the CCC system, was named “Equity Champion of Higher Education” for its “exemplary work in awarding Associate Degrees for Transfer (ADT) to Latino students.” Ironically, the Campaign for College Opportunity, the non-profit organization that hands out these equity champion awards, was a major political proponent of the “Yes on Proposition 16” campaign in 2020. The failed statewide ballot measure had sought unsuccessfully to scrap California’s constitutional principle of equal protection, which states:

The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

The DEI cult that seeks to capture CCC subscribes to the bizarre and untested hypothesis that you can fight fire with fire and cure discrimination with more discrimination, the illogical basis of Kendian anti-racism. Instead of serving the public interest by providing quality, affordable career or college transfer pathways for its students, CCC has been co-opted to advance the ideological concerns of special interest groups such as the radical political establishment, fringe non-profits, unions, and CRT ideologues. At the March 21st board meeting, Chancellor Ortiz Oakley listed “equitable student placements for low-income, first-generation students and students of color” as a top priority for the school system, a position echoed by most of the board members. Equal treatment has been overshadowed by racial spoils and political favoritism.

[Related: “Attacking Merit in a Bumbling Bureaucracy: The University of California Leads Again”]

CCC’s DEIA proposal would undoubtedly chill free speech and academic freedom. In the prospective “classification-specific obligations,” faculty members are required to implement culturally affirming practices and “employ teaching and learning practices and curriculum that reflect DEIA and anti-racist principles.” Moreover, the DEIA obligations extend beyond a pedagogical emphasis on anti-racism to call for the integration of “anti-racist principles into existing policies and practices, funding allocations, decision-making, planning and program review processes.”

Sadly, California Community Colleges is only a faithful follower and is, in fact, a latecomer in the movement to replace equality of opportunity and the merit-based principle with CRT-based ideological abstracts. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), for instance, has a DEIA program that purports to formalize and normalize diversity mentorship and leadership. Under this top priority, the National Institute of Health (NIH) launched the UNITE initiative to “identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and the greater scientific community.”

The University of California system (UC), CCC’s higher-end fellow public higher education institute, already requires diversity, equity, and inclusion statements for much of its hiring and promotion processes. UC sustainability offices and staff across its ten campuses signed a DEI statement recently, not to carefully present the empirical values of these contested concepts, but to “recognize that Black Lives Matter and that the indiscriminate killing of Black people must end.” A quantitative analysis of the effect of DEI statements on faculty hiring at UC Berkley shows that DEI screening disproportionately favors underrepresented applicants and filters out Asian applicants. The objective of racial balancing is glaring.

By upholding the mantle of racial diversity and equal outcomes, CCC is taking a giant step back towards zero-sum identity politics and ideological conformity. This political exercise is particularly troubling coming from our nation’s biggest higher education institution, a place where many underprivileged students from all racial backgrounds gather to acquire practical skills for either college transfer or technical careers. In 2022, California Community Colleges is expected to receive $3.5 billion of additional funds due to higher state revenues and federal stimulus funding. How much of that will go into feeding the DEIA frenzy?


Image: Coolceasar, Public Domain

Wenyuan Wu

Wenyuan Wu is Executive Director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. Twitter: @wu_wenyuan

2 thoughts on “Regulatory Capture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education

  1. As a longtime history instructor (30+ years) in the CCC, I can answer that last question for you. Almost all of the 3.5 billion will go to DIE as I call it. My personal take is that a lot of these CRT advocates sense that political change is coming and they are eager to embed their ideology at the quantum level in the system so that it will be virtually impossible to untangle later on when they are no longer in power.

  2. I have yet to see any evidence that a diverse workforce in any way provides more efficient, responsive, or higher quality service. I’m waiting for someone to tell me how a “marginalized student” (whatever that is) somehow doesn’t feel to be in an inclusive environment because when they went into the financial aid office there wasn’t anybody there who “looked just like them”. Silly me. I thought they went into that office to check on their student loan application.

    It used to be called an affirmative action program. Today, it’s a DEI initiative. But the goal is the same: to hire people who otherwise would never be seriously considered for the job. Well, you can only hire the mediocre for so long before all you produce is mediocre results. You can’t make a purse out of a sow’s ear.

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