Compelling Diversity and Punishing Dissent

Universities’ misguided effort to enforce racial equity

As universities’ obsession with race and pursuit of racial “equity” continues apace, the Board of Directors of California Community Colleges has decided that the system will now grade its employees, including, of course, its faculty, on the extent to which they promote “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility.” The guidelines of a March proposal “include DEIA competencies and criteria as a minimum standard for evaluating the performance of all employees,” and, in case a staff or faculty member was uninterested in this mandatory goodthink, the rules firmly “provide employees an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of DEIA and anti-racist principles.”

The California Community Colleges system is not the first to mandate DEIA “competence” and adherence as a component of hiring and tenure decisions. A recent report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) found that “DEI criteria were found in tenure standards at 21.5 percent of institutions.”

In April, for example, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign announced that it will demand diversity-contribution statements, in which faculty must profess their allegiance to diversity and inclusion as part of the process of tenure and promotion.

Unsurprisingly, UC Berkeley instated a similar policy, portentously entitled “Guidelines for Assessing Faculty Candidate Contributions to Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Berkeley,” which has as its broad mission to advance “diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are responsibilities of all Berkeley faculty through their research, teaching, and/or service.”

Even if diversity and inclusion were objectives proven to have positive and productive results—which they clearly are not—a policy to compel faculty to pledge allegiance to these ideologies is both misguided and likely to violate academic free speech. This consideration, of course, has not prevented ideological hordes of woke students and faculty from censuring and canceling those whose views are deemed unacceptable. These forced commitments to diversity and inclusion, in fact, are reminiscent of the odious loyalty oaths demanded of faculty and other employees during the 1940s and 50s.

The campaign for diversity is based on the unproven assumption that diverse student populations are automatically superior to non-diverse ones, and that diversity not only benefits minority students but all students, as well as the university as a whole. This belief is accepted by woke administrators and diversocrats as a given, but it is certainly still a topic that can be questioned, critiqued, and challenged. A faculty member has the right to not accept it as settled doctrine.

In fact, extensive research on DEI activities by two Heritage Foundation researchers, Jay Greene and James Paul, has shown that universities not only spend excessively on their DEI offices, but that, more seriously, “large DEI bureaucracies fail to make a positive contribution to campus climate.” While universities use DEI activities to signal their commitment to minority recruitment and retention, “DEI personnel may be better understood,” the research suggested, “as a signal of adherence to ideological, political, and activist goals. Employing dozens of DEI professionals . . .  appears to work better as a jobs program subsidizing political activism than a means of improving campus climate.”

Is it reasonable that a professor seeking tenure be made responsible for a broad social problem—racism and inequity—when the proper and traditional role of the tenure process is based on scholarly or artistic excellence? It is neither fair nor legal to compel a professor to support the vague and unproven mission of diversity and inclusion, something that the institution as a whole might support but which an individual faculty member—teaching literature, finance, mathematics, or biology—has no business making part of his teaching, research, and scholarship.

[Related: “Let Sarah Lawrence College Be a Warning”]

These new hiring and tenure policies are troubling because they represent the institutionalization of the current dogma about race and so-called equity. We have witnessed in the past few years an odious series academic “cancellations,” punishing those who did not adhere to acceptable notions about race or who challenged the heterodoxy with alternate, sometimes provocative, views of their own.

In a normal culture where free speech and academic freedom are honored, these cancellations would not have occurred, but we are not in normal times.

Moreover, like speech codes that have been struck down as unconstitutional for being overly broad and vague, policies that measure a faculty member’s commitment to racial equity are constructed and enforced in a way that is certain to chill speech. That is, when it is not enough to merely refrain from racism and one is required to be an anti-racist—to affirmatively fight for racial justice and equity as the Left defines them—that expectation intrudes not only on a person’s First Amendment right to freely articulate his views but also on the unenumerated right to privacy. We have the right to be left alone and, among other things, to not pledge support to a country, a government, or a university’s mission even if it purports to have a noble purpose in pursuit of a social good.

Junior faculty in the process of seeking tenure and building their careers should not be hobbled by their failure to adhere to diversity mandates, something outside of their disciplinary scholarship. The way senior faculty have recently suffered at the hands of race-obsessed activists for wrongthink should provide ample warning of the type of reputational and professional damage that can be done when the woke mob punishes dissenters.

For example, Bret Weinstein, a white professor, was punished and eventually terminated at The Evergreen State College in 2017 for refusing to stay away from campus during the school’s “Day of Absence,” an annual event during which Evergreen’s white students and faculty are urged not to come to campus in order to demonstrate black solidarity.

At Princeton, self-inflicted racial guilt was so prevalent that the university’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, published a self-flagellating open letter in which he bemoaned the fact that “racist assumptions” are “embedded in structures of the University itself.” When Professor Joshua Katz made the mistake of questioning that alleged systemic racism and referring to Princeton’s aggressive, radical Black Justice League as “terrorists,” he was vilified on campus and fired.

Georgetown lecturer Ilya Shapiro, too, experienced the collective wrath and opprobrium of his own school when he tweeted comments criticizing Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a black woman as the new Supreme Court justice. In a since-deleted tweet, Shapiro referred to that eventual nominee as a “lesser black woman,” which proved to be a most unfortunate choice of words. For that grave thought crime, Shapiro was excoriated by the Georgetown community and was driven to eventually resign.

Another victim of the woke mob was Charles Negy, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida. Negy’s thought crime? “Black privilege is real,” he wrote in a now-deleted tweet. “Besides affirm. [sic] action, special scholarships and other set asides, being shielded from legitimate criticism is a privilege. But as a group, they’re missing out on much-needed feedback.” For that heresy, Negy was vilified and terminated, although a court recently determined he should be reinstated.

[Related: “Democracy in Danger: A Notice to the National Security Community”]

In 2018, a similar frenzy erupted at the University of Pennsylvania when one of its law professors, Amy Wax, brought up one of the flaws critics see in affirmative action programs, something known as the “mismatch effect.” She argued that this is the result of black students gaining admission to law schools as a result of racial preferences so that their academic records and preparation are weaker than that of their non-black peers. Because they then must compete academically with students who are better prepared and whose educational background has equipped them for the rigors of law education, black students have performed poorly when compared to their non-black peers.

The depressing reality is that professors are regularly censured and condemned for having views that contradict prevailing orthodoxies, even when they are discussing factually correct ideas—as was the case in the examples listed above—and not merely personal opinions.

The diversocrats on American campuses may recoil at the notion that their efforts to achieve racial equity have unintended, even harmful, consequences. Silencing and punishing those who expose the defects of DEI is a serious violation of academic freedom, not to mention indicative of the willful blindness of progressives who seem to care more about appearing virtuous than they do about contributing to constructive social change.

As demonstrated quite saliently by the experience of these professors (many of whom are senior professors protected by tenure), anyone who questions either the utility or the moral, legal, and ethical justification by which these efforts are maintained can expect to be denounced as a racist—especially now, as the country is experiencing paroxysms of racial reckoning and atonement. To question the hypocrisy and fairness of affirmative action, for example, is to step on a moral landmine.

In 1967, the University of Chicago produced what is known as the Kalven Report, which wisely advised against mobilizing an entire university to advance a certain ideological position, assuming that ideologies will change over time and university missions cannot and should not be absolute or inviolable. The report suggested that “a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom and inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures … and must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.”

It also anticipated the current debate about race and the efforts to address it when it warned that the university “is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives.” The report adds that a university “cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. [emphasis added]”

Combatting racism and helping to facilitate the participation of marginalized and underrepresented students in university life are noble, well-intentioned goals. But enforcing a culture of anti-racism as part of that effort, not to mention punishing and crippling the careers of faculty who fail to conform to woke doctrines about race, is both misguided and contrary to the tenets of academic freedom.

“ . . . [T]here emerges,” the report concluded, “a heavy presumption against the university taking collective action or expressing opinions on the political and social issues of the day, or modifying its corporate activities to foster social or political values, however compelling and appealing they may be.” Is there a better description of modern academia?


Image: niu niu, Public Domain

Richard L. Cravatts

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of "Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews."

5 thoughts on “Compelling Diversity and Punishing Dissent

  1. All true.
    But there remains a fundamental — even critical — misunderstanding here.

    Mr. Cravatts asks the question: “Is it reasonable that a professor seeking tenure be made responsible for a broad social problem—racism and inequity?” The answer, of course, for every job and every position held by the 158M of us who work…is NO, absolutely not. We are not responsible for that fact that people hate or that outcomes are imbalanced. And we definitely have no need for Loyalty Oaths, even well-intentioned ones (maybe especially well-intentioned ones), nor should they ever be made a condition of employment.

    But even more critically, at a more fundamental level — it is not reasonable or right that we have redefined the human emotion or attitude of ‘hate’ as a ‘broad social problem’ requiring broad social solutions (let alone broad social solutions that require reprogramming human consciousness, as per our New Red Guard). People hate for all kinds of reasons, some rational and reasonable…some irrational. And hating the Other because of race clearly falls into the latter category. But until the Thought Police arrive, our emotions and attitudes are entirely irrelevant to our potential employment.

    So what about racism as a ‘broad social problem’?
    Clearly it’s not. There are no laws which discriminate by race (excepting, for the moment, Affirmative Action); there are no organizations which hire or fire or promote via skin color…no venues which sell tickets on the basis of melanin…no schools who admit per skin tone….no towns or cities which are race-exclusionary. None of that is happening. America is perhaps the least racist country on earth. But — are there still racists out there? Sure there are, just like there are anti-Semites, Misogynists, Misandrists, Anti-Christians, Anti-Muslims, Anti-Fats , Anti-Straights, etc. So what?
    Again, human hatred is not a social problem to be solved by the State …this is a derivative of our naturally ornery human condition. Society cannot and should not seek to mandate that Old Joe, over there stop hating, no matter how much we dislike it.

    And so to ‘inequity’.
    It’s hard to imagine a more asinine thing. Inequity is a given. Higher education is founded on inequity: those who learn more, know more, become more valuable which means less ‘equitable’ as measured against those who know less. People who work harder earn more. People who contribute more are demanded more. From birth to death we all work our asses off trying to create MORE INEQUITY between where we were (in terms of wealth, learning, home, social position, etc.) and where we want to be. LeBron James earns 10 Gajillion Dollars every year because his basketball skills are HIGHLY HIGHLY inequitable. Nor would any of us want this any other way. The cream rises, inequitably, to the top and plays in the NBA.

    The world works; America works because most of us quite rightly believe that we can move from where we were to something better. It works because we want, need, and demand INEQUITY.

    So is ‘inequity’ a broad social problem? No, not at all. Nor should any reasonable individual wish to eliminate the very quality which allows wheat to be separated from chaff. Teaching, challenging, pushing creates the very inequitable outcomes that Loyalty Oaths and Inequity Pledges would kill.

    God save us from those who would give everyone an A+. Save us from the Idiocracy.

  2. Thank you for this essay. From where I stand, the final four paragraphs about the University of Chicago Kalven Report contain the crucial point. As you imply, we face a situation of competing goods. Combating racism and opening up academic life (learning, teaching, administering) to previously excluded groups is unquestionably a good thing. Ensuring that universities remain free of political pressures and enforced intellectual conformity is also an unquestionable good. Balancing competing goods always demands pragmatism and the willingness to compromise. In this case, I propose that combating racism — in pragmatic, not merely performative terms — is possible through organizational changes. Here are some examples: targeted recruitment of students from under-resourced high schools, financial aid to lower the barrier for first generations students, effective tracking methods so students who veer towards failing or dropping out can be contacted and offered interventions. That stuff can be measured and evaluated, and it does not touch anyone’s intellectual freedom and right to dissent. Yes, it costs money, but so do many social improvements.
    By the way, I suggest that Minding the Campus commission an article entirely about the Kalven Report (why it was written, its uptake by other universities, etc.). If more people digested that report, we could have a more constructive debate about DEI initiatives.

    1. You state “Combating racism and opening up academic life (learning, teaching, administering) to previously excluded groups is unquestionably a good thing.” Perhaps you can cite some examples of where this has been happening in, oh I don’t know, the last 30 or 40 years.

      Affirmative action admissions to colleges for students of color have been in existance since the 70s. The same with race-based scholarships. Anyone who has been in academia for the last 30 years can attest to affirmative action hiring of faculty, staff and administrators that is growing exponentially. Ever notice lately the number of universities with female provosts? Can you name a university without a black student union or a multicultural center?

      The fact is there is no such thing as “marginalized communities” on college campuses today—or for that matter, the last few decades. We need to stop promoting this because it’s just not true.

  3. Thank you for one of the most insightful and concise summaries of the intellectual madness that the “anti-racist”, DEI movement has wrought. As a recently retired California Community College professor I have had a front-row seat to the increasing violation of academic freedom and free speech and the ideological litmus tests that are used in both hiring and promotion of faculty. To combat this woke and illegal orthodox mindset we must have the courage to confront it in the courts, one targeted victim at a time. We also must threaten and follow through with defunding taxpayer-supported public universities that enforce these unjustifiable doctrines. The DEI movement does not stand for diversity, equity and inclusion. Rather it denotes decisiveness, exclusion and intolerance, in that it excludes opposing views and will not tolerate questioning and rational debate on the dubious DEI doctrine. Nothing less than freedom of thought and expression is at stake if this insanity is allowed to prevail.

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