Bending the Knee for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

Since the early 1960s, universities have sought to achieve racial equality. Initiatives have ranged from offering extra tutoring for struggling minority students to making them more comfortable on campus by providing segregated housing and black-only graduation ceremonies. Unfortunately, nothing has worked.

Now, after over a half century of trying everything imaginable and sparing no expense, what is left? Never underestimate determined professors chasing Utopian fantasies. The latest racial equality measures are now transpiring at the University of Illinois-Urbana, a school where I spent 28 years as a professor of Political Science.

In a nutshell, all professors up for tenure or promotion—including those in the hard sciences such as physics and engineering–must submit a statement about their personal commitment to diversity. Currently, this is voluntary, but it will soon be mandatory.

According to the University’s Provost, the university must “catalyze innovation and discovery, find novel and proactive ways to educate students from all walks of life, and develop ever-deeper connections with the public we serve.” In their diversity statements, candidates should “include a discussion of the context, importance, and impact of their contributions along with their future plans for contributions. The candidate may choose to organize the statement by topic, activity, domain (e.g., research, teaching, and service), or in another manner.”

In other words, even if you are teaching electrical engineering, be prepared to be judged by how you contribute to the campuses’ “…diversity, equity, and inclusion activities and their impact.”

Is there anything that suggests that this latest effort will finally be successful? What scientific evidence can justify the enterprise? Neither the provost nor anyone else provides any reason to believe that university faculties will be better if we favor those who most convincingly proclaim their dedication to diversity while rejecting those who do not.

It’s hard to believe that it will succeed and, I suspect, everyone at Illinois knows this uncomfortable truth. So, that reality acknowledged, why all the cumbersome effort? Surely there is something that drives this venture beyond hoping for an educational miracle.

[Related: “Exclusionary Inclusivity: How the Mount Royal Faculty Association’s ‘Woke’ Faction Coerces Conformity”]

Let me offer some plausible hypotheses.

Most obviously, this is a make-work project for today’s massive campus bureaucracy and as such, it has little to do with promoting academic achievement among minority students. This is about hiring more administrators who will spend their days reading statements generated by faculty in fields that have nothing to do with race and attract hardly any black students and, since tenure and promotion are an ongoing university activity, this administrative “work” is forever.

On the upside, however, it is arguable that the generating of pointless paperwork is preferable to the mischief that might otherwise be instigated by these Diversicrats. All things being equal, better to have them reading statements from Professors of Molecular Biology about how they will add people of color to their classroom lectures than haranguing the professor’s department to hire more impossible-to-find molecular biologists of color.

Unfortunately, there is a more troubling side to this wasteful endeavor than just increasing an already bloated bureaucracy. As the DIE orthodoxy grows ever more totalitarian it will become increasingly necessary to uncover heretics who must be publicly crushed to teach all the others to bend the knee and obey. Recall the Soviet Union when commissars scanned the audience to spot those who were the first to stop clapping after Stalin’s speeches.

Now, while nearly all professors will obey and dutifully offer up boilerplate cliches to satisfy the diversity apparatchiks, a few will object and, sin of sin, even proclaim that promoting racial Equity has zero to do with teaching students to grow soybeans. And rest assured, the response to this heretic’s transgression will not be a reasoned rejoinder; rather, our heretic will be informed that he is misinformed and a troublemaker and if he wants future research funding, he better get with the program.

And what might happen if the heretic refused to repent and repeatedly left blank the space marked “promote inclusion” when up for promotion? Just study the history of religions to see how top clerics deal with those nailing their objections to established orthodoxy to the church door. Better to crush the apostate early on.

Every professor knows that academic benefits such as salary increases are always decided at the margin given competition from colleagues and limited resources. With a tight budget, what administrator wants to reward a professor who earns a reputation for refusing to drink the DIE Kool-Aid?

[Related: “The DIE Industry’s Iron Rice Bowl Under Attack”]

If dissenters become too troublesome, retribution can become more draconian. Diversity statements resemble Cold War loyalty oaths that were designed to rid government and higher education of communist sympathizers. Signers had to disavow any past or present communist affiliation though critics always correctly noted that a real communist would lie and thus these oaths were not only pointless but violated a person’s First Amendment rights.

That criticism, however, missed the point—of course the communist would lie but if it were discovered that he had lied under oath, the signatory committed perjury, a serious crime that could bring jail time. That was the real purpose of the oath—criminalizing communist activity by punishing it with perjury.

The academic parallel would be a professor who tells the diversity bureaucracy that he will promote diversity by highlighting the contributions of people of color when teaching calculus. But what happens when the Dean of Diversity asks to see the professor’s syllabus or lecture notes and, surprise of surprise, no mention of what was promised? What was initially the minor offense of ignoring the contribution of people of color to calculus now becomes the more serious crime of misrepresentation on an official university document. No doubt, at least in the eyes of today’s ideologues, this may be a sin far worse than falsifying data in one’s research or even plagiarism.

Viewed broadly, this initiative has nothing to do with helping academically challenged youngsters thrive in a major research-oriented university. All the King’s Men, all the King’s Horses, and all the Public Affirmation of Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity will not succeed where countless past endeavors have failed.

The enterprise is all about showing who is in charge and proclaiming official dogma. That everything is just a foolish and costly display of virtue signaling is not a defect; it is fundamental to the enterprise.

As in some religious cultures, obedience to the preposterous signifies true faith. After all, anybody could propose something sensible, and enlisting in that cause would thus hardly be an expression of devotion. To spend a few hours telling lies as the price for promotion or tenure affirms the sacred authority of those who rule.

Unfortunately, the exercise of this power over a smart faculty by bureaucrats who themselves could not secure a BA from the University of Illinois in most of the offered majors may only whet appetites for more kissing the ring. After this scheme fails, a new form of humiliation will be devised. Conceivably, all professors will be required to master some nebulous “cultural competence” so that their academically struggling black students will excel in STEM fields. Or textbooks, even in the sciences, will be rewritten from a more “inclusive” perspective by eliminating “white” mathematics and logic.

This is not the first time that learned men and women have pursued the unreachable. Education becomes an exercise in forcing smart people to genuflect and embrace the faith. Ironically, in today’s secular world, the cult of diversity again makes universities faith-based institutions.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal on May 11, 2022 and is crossposted here with permission.

Image: Koshu Kunii, Public Domain

Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg is a professor emeritus of political science at The University of Illinois-Urbana.

7 thoughts on “Bending the Knee for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

  1. Why can’t this be challenged as being a religious test for public employment?

    Just for fun, replace DEI with “teachings of Jesus Christ” and see how long that lasts…

      1. I know. 🙂

        But we are dealing with people who can’t comprehend that there are only three tenses, i.e. masculine, feminine, and neuter — and hence that it has to be either “he”, “she” or “it.”

        I’ve had to sit through social justice seminars — in addition to everything else, these people really aren’t very bright…

  2. Dear Comrade Bob: You are going too easy on what passes for conservative self-governance in the United States. The red states have the power to stop this stuff. Not Illinois, not California, but plenty of states. Little is being done because of the indifference and ignorance of the red state governors and legislators. If they wanted to, they have the power to stop this stuff cold. But they really don’t care. Their constituents are too preoccupied with paranoid conspiracies and bashing irrelevant things like gender studies.

  3. It never ceases to amaze me how gullible and naive so many white (primarily female) college students are regarding these DEI initiatives. They seem to think the reason there are few students of color or faculty of color (particularly in STEM departments) is due to systemic racism or inherent bias or some other such nonsense. If only we get rid of those policies, then under-represented minority groups can finally achieve their true potential.

    In reality, that is all complete garbage. Engineering programs get very, very few black or hispanic applicants. This is not the fault of the engineering schools since they have no control over who applies for admission. When you don’t have many students of color applying, there are few students in the pipeline. That means there are few graduates. Where then are the engineering schools supposed to find minority faculty to hire? (I will leave aside whether that provides anybody any benefit.) Apparently this has never dawned on these foolish, woke students.

    Moreover, these white students fail to understand that DEI initiatives work directly against them. Schools have finite resources, which means they can only admit a fixed number of students. When meritocracy is ignored to achieve some racial admission quota, that means qualified white students—perhaps them and in the future perhaps their children—are denied academic opportunities all because they don’t have the right skin color. Apparently these foolish, woke students don’t see the irony in a DEI program that supposedly compensates for past racial discrimination by promoting current racial discrimination.

    And finally, one important point needs to be made. DEI is just the new name for affirmative action. Affirmative action programs are now entering their sixth decade. That means roughly three generations of racial minorities that have received special admissions and set-aside scholarships. Now they are getting segregated dorms and graduation ceremonies. After all of this pandering, for so many decades, is there still a need for aggressive DEI programs? There is only one answer: they don’t work.

    1. Isn’t SUNY Buffalo a fairly good engineering school?

      We aren’t supposed to ask this, but what might push a White male high school over the edge at the end of his senior year?

      As soon as I saw that the perp had a Regent’s Diploma, that both of his parents are engineers, and that he was attending a community college – I thought “affirmative action.”

      It’s 230 miles from Boston to Bangor, Maine. I don’t believe he drove all the way to Buffalo because of some ZIP Code. I don’t.

      I also would like to know why the community college can’t tell when he stopped attending as this would only be his second semester, and he is either enrolled or not.

      Unless they kicked him out…

      I’m not say that ANYTHING justified what the schmuck did, only that I wonder how many monsters affirmative action is creating.

  4. We also taught at a state university in Illinois. Before we could interview candidates for faculty positions we were required to submit a report to the university affirmative action office. If the office did not like our report they kicked it back, and we had to rewrite it. As a result, we learned to carefully document why we considered a candidate unqualified, and we learned to wait a week or two before we were permitted to contact candidates for interviews. After the interviews there was a second report, and a second wait. Over the years, several candidates told us they had recently accepted a job elsewhere– which we could have avoided if we were able to move more quickly. This was be a major problem in searches that yielded no more than three qualified applicants.

    We sat on faculty search committees for twenty five years, and never saw any behavior that could remotely be considered discriminatory.
    The job candidates saw no benefits from this exercise. The faculty got extra work, had to sit on our hands a week or so, and saw their chances of a successful hire diminished. But the affirmative action office could justify an additional administrative position.

    Illinois state universities have been doing this kind of thing for 30 years– what we see here is simply mission creep. Professor Weissberg is justified in his doubts.

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