Benjamin Franklin once said, “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Today, though, a third item may be equally inevitable: academia’s diversity, inclusion, and equity (DIE) bureaucracies. Scarcely a week passes without some school proudly announcing that it will now hire dozens of DIE functionaries and spend millions to promote racial justice. Oddly, many professors, and even some administrators, are skeptical of yet more administrative expansion. This growth is hard to justify when countless schools are struggling financially, but it seems to be a force of nature.
What can be done beyond the usual private grumbling? The good news is that a few eminent scholars have forcefully named this DIE bloat for what it is—an attack on the core principles of academic life—and have offered a remedy for the pox: just ban it. The proposal, written by Christopher F. Rufo, Ilya Shapiro, and Matt Beienburg, also includes solutions to mandatory diversity training, political correctness, and racial preferences. Here’s a snippet of the model legislative text:
A. Public or land-grant institutions of higher education in the state of [STATE] may not expend appropriated funds or otherwise expend any funds derived from bequests, charges, deposits, donations, endowments, fees, grants, gifts, income, receipts, tuition, or any other source, to establish, sustain, support, or staff a diversity, equity, and inclusion office or to contract, employ, engage, or hire an individual to serve as a diversity, equity, and inclusion officer.
That’s the good news—someone is finally willing to bell the cat and tell the world about how the commissars are destroying American higher education. But there is also bad news. This proposal has two chances: small and none. Make no mistake—it is an important first step, but like so many reform proposals, it deftly avoids the cat to be belled.
[Related: “Not Just Semantics: Stanford’s ‘Harmful Words’ Problem Is Serious”]
Begin by recognizing that the DIE contingent is fanatical in its crusade and is strategically situated to resist, while critics seldom have a dog in the fight. Those with university experience know the obstacles of defeating the “come early, stay late” crowd. Racial justice warriors are passionate and happy to flock to committees and administrative tasks avoided by their opponents. Few critics of DIE, for example, will travel to the state capital to lobby legislators or organize a Facebook group. Nor are opponents skilled at mobilizing useful idiot students and disruptive outsiders to shout down those who question current orthodoxies.
Moreover, few state legislatures are likely to enact this anti-DIE legislation. Florida, Texas, and a southern state or two might stand a chance, but forget about states overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats, many of which are home to major public universities. Even legislative allies may be hesitant to override school administrators. Such intervention smacks of Cold War–era McCarthyism, when state legislatures sought to rid public universities of alleged communists. Sadly, this is an asymmetric battle where DIE opponents are severely disadvantaged.
Never underestimate the willingness of fanatics to lie and misrepresent. The current public-school battle over critical race theory illustrates this mendacity—hide everything, deny it when exposed, and call opponents racists. Universities know how to hide awkward, even illegal, realities. If a state bans hiring yet more Deans of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence, just create new titles and reassign them to the Office of Student Housing, where they can monitor dorms for evidence of toxic whiteness. It’s an endless game of Whac-A-Mole.
But the most formidable obstacle is the harsh economic reality of how to sustain cosmetic diversify (i.e., employing large numbers of blacks) while upholding academic standards. Past efforts to hire more blacks for academic positions have generally failed, and so the administration makes up the numbers through the DIE bureaucracy. Put bluntly, any effort to terminate large numbers of well-paid blacks will create a campus firestorm, and no administrator, regardless of his private views, will undertake this task. Even broaching this possibility will be career suicide. Not even the threat of impending bankruptcy and litigation will bring massive terminations.
[Related: “The Lessons of Hamline University”]
With these formidable obstacles recognized, is the situation hopeless? Are we in a world of DIE today, DIE tomorrow, DIE forever? Fortunately, solutions exist, albeit only partial ones. The easiest short-term solution is to mitigate the effect of these racial justice crusaders. This is a familiar tactic to academic lifers. One possibility is to create multiple committees with overlapping responsibilities that hold endless meetings to concoct multiple drafts of utopian schemes whose unstated purpose is to promote bureaucratic inertia. Think of all the time that could be spent, for example, one deciding whether those of one-quarter Polynesian decent qualify for fellowships targeting “indigenous” people. The make-work, time-consuming possibilities are endless.
Meanwhile, those familiar with James Madison’s writing on the mischief of factions might solve the problem by further diversifying the champions of diversity. To paralyze the DIE bureaucracy, just hire more advocates of groups who demand a piece of the spoils. Picture the unending battles between gays, the non-binary, and Queers of Color, for example, about arcane topics beyond resolution. Or just take a page from the United Nations playbook and invite all the warring factions for a week-long, all-expenses-paid conference in the Bahamas to draft an unreadable document outlining every imaginable grievance against American society. After a week of long-winded strife, together with excessive eating and drinking, a full month might be needed to recuperate. Then, they’re off to another conference in Zimbabwe.
Finally, as per James Madison’s wisdom, there is the option of limiting damage by compartmentalizing the DIE bureaucracy’s reach. Universities, like corporations, can “spin off” components that exclude the DIE commissars. Universities would now return to an older, Oxford-like model of separate colleges, each with their own administration. Critically, the diversity nomenklatura will be restricted to an undergraduate college wholly comprising radical departments such as Gender Studies. Give them a taste of their own medicine. If the College of Engineering must have some functionary to promote racial justice, assign it to an overcommitted distinguished professor with hardly any free time to pursue utopian agendas. The model is American federalism—if people crave sin, collect all the vice industries in one place and leave everything else vice-free.
This pessimistic analysis by no means counsels surrender. It took decades to build today’s DIE colossi, and it may take years to dismantle them. The proposal of Rufo et al. is an important first step insofar as it opens public discussion to pressing intellectual problems that have, until now, escaped serious public attention. At a minimum, their proposal highlights the trade-off between solving the diversity problem by hiring useless bureaucrats and protecting intellectual accomplishment. The undoing has begun—there are lots of cats to be belled.
Image: Adobe Stock
3 thoughts on “Belling the DIE Cat”
DEI, like its forefather affirmative action, is nothing more than a euphemism for targeted racial discrimination. DEI programs have only one objective: hire/promote people with mediocre qualifications who otherwise would not be seriously considered for the position.
I think it will slowly wither away if, for no other reason, because of its size and cost. Demographics are shifting. There are fewer college age people. Companies and even state governments (Pennsylvania comes to mind) have eliminated degree requirements for most hiring. The student loan debt situation has taken the luster off of a college “education”, especially when for some graduates a barista job is the best one can expect. In the upcoming years, there will be fewer students which means fewer dollars. Universities are going to be forced to cut costs.
At my public university we are cutting/merging several academic departments. Not many students. Tenured faculty will lose their jobs. This doesn’t have to become very widespread before faculty demand the university look elsewhere for cuts. Administrative positions will be a prime target. DEI offers no return on investment; it will be one of the first on the chopping block.
I have long compared higher education of today to the railroads of the 1950s — both highly inefficient, not caring about their customers, and totally ignoring the potential for competition from new technology.
Trains are inherently more efficient than trucks — a boxcar can hold twice what a truck can, and with the new “double stack” containers, four trucks. Trains use much less fuel per ton/mile, and aren’t bothered by slippery roads, i.e. snowstorms. And in terms of manpower, while each truck requires a driver, an 80 car doublestack train only requires two persons instead of the 320 truck drivers the same cargo would require.
Yet rail imploded in the 1960s and 1970s. And the same thing is going to happen to higher education.
“Put bluntly, any effort to terminate large numbers of well-paid blacks will create a campus firestorm, and no administrator, regardless of his private views, will undertake this task. Even broaching this possibility will be career suicide. Not even the threat of impending bankruptcy and litigation will bring massive terminations.”
If there is no threat of personal liability against such administrators for violating the law (e.g., a DeSantis-type executive order prohibiting state funds being spent on DIE initiatives, programs, or positions, or for that matter a SCOTUS decision declaring affirmative action illegal), then I agree: the administrators have no skin in the game or motivation to obey the law, as the price for their virtue signaling is borne by the institution and not the individuals.
However, pass a state law in red states like Florida and Texas that provides broad standing and a private right of action to enforce the law, and also eliminates all immunities for public employees and prohibits any state agency or department from reimbursing or indemnifying such employees for violations of the law (and imposing similar personal liability on any state employee who attempts to do so), and the ball game changes drastically. Disobeying the law to virtue signal carries would then carry very real, very personal economic costs.
How many university administrators with cushy six figure positions (and the lifestyle trappings to match) will really be willing to risk pauperizing themselves and their families? I suspect the number is lower than Prof. Weissberg thinks.