Research, Teaching, and DEI

Diversity statements—short essays that express one’s past contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and future plans to advance the cause—have become ubiquitous in academia. As I’ve written before, many universities embrace these requirements not only for faculty hiring but also for all levels of employment. And in a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, I exposed how Texas Tech University used the statements as functional ideological screening tools.

But the policy is also shrouded in ambiguity. When the Academic Freedom Alliance called for an end to mandatory diversity statements, it noted that a temporary moratorium might be appropriate, given the general lack of transparency surrounding the practice. Even though the Texas Tech case provides a moment of clarity, it’s  often unclear how the statements are used elsewhere.

A recent article in the journal Communications Biology provides another moment of clarity, showing that diversity statements can make or break a would-be professor’s job prospects. In the article, biologists at Emory University explain how they assessed their job applicants’ contributions to DEI at multiple points while hiring two new biology professors. The article makes clear that a scholar or scientist’s contributions to DEI are just as important as his ability to research and teach.

For the Emory search, the job application required a diversity statement, and the hiring committee began by narrowing down its initial applicant pool from 585 to about 45 candidates by scoring three categories equally: teaching, research, and contributions to DEI. A diagram depicts a three-legged stool. On the seat is the word “Excellence.” One leg is labeled “Teaching,” another “Research,” and another “Actions toward DEI.” 

The hiring committee included questions about these “Actions toward DEI” in their first interviews, during which candidates had to give an account of their DEI credentials in real time. The interviewers asked six sets of questions. The last one was as follows: “Describe something you did that you are proud of to change a process or how you functioned as part of a program to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion at your current institution? How do you plan on engaging in DEI efforts at Emory?”

[Related: “The ‘Racial Pairing’ Fallacy”]

After that interview, the committee returned to DEI statements while determining a final slate of candidates. This time, they employed a rubric to score the remaining candidates’ statements—one that does little to hide its ideological orientation.

The rubric suggests a high score for candidates who advance DEI through “community activism.” It likewise rewards candidates for understanding the concept of intersectionality, a term coined by one of the architects of critical race theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw. It also gives a nod to Ibram Kendi’s all-encompassing account of anti-racism, dictating a high score for candidates who articulate “that antiracism practices requires [sic] consistent and long-term growth, reflection, and engagement (and that they are prepared to put in this work).”

The rubric also lists various ways that the statements can immediately earn a failing score. These include statements in which a candidate “solely acknowledges that racism, classism, etc. are issues in the academy.” It makes no mention of candidates who reject the idea that academia is overrun by racism. If you acknowledge racism, but stop there, that’s already a problem.

At times, the rubric makes its focus on a narrow conception of racial diversity painstakingly clear. At the beginning of the section that scores candidates’ “Track Record in Mentoring Diverse Trainees,” the rubric provides a long preface: “For this section, keep in mind the difference between diverse and BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color). I.e., a white male who mentors a white woman 10 years their senior can honestly say they mentored a diverse trainee however has no interaction with trainees from historically underrepresented groups in STEM and therefore cannot advocate or be an ally for these trainees.”

In other words, Emory’s biology department does not merely value diversity statements heavily. It also evaluates them in a way that will almost necessarily punish candidates for their opinions on social and political issues. The department perfectly illustrates the crux of the argument against diversity statements: that they constitute a sort of ideological litmus test, a violation of academic freedom. 

[Related: “Faculty-Packing at Ohio State”]

But framing the issue as a matter of academic freedom can obscure a more basic concern about this all-out embrace of DEI in hiring. The Emory hire also functions as a telling statement of priorities. The department makes clear that it prioritizes a candidates’ political activism, understanding of intersectionality, and embrace of Kendian anti-racism as much as it does basic merit.

Unfortunately, the Emory model is increasingly common. Emory’s own College of Arts and Sciences spearheaded a practice known as “cluster hiring” to increase faculty diversity. Put simply, DEI cluster hiring involves replicating what the Emory biology department did on a broader scale: hiring multiple professors at once with a heavy emphasis on DEI. As the dean of Emory’s College of Arts and Sciences put it, “Diversity statement, then dossier.” Emory’s cluster hiring initiative, which has garnered national attention, inspired the National Institutes of Health to create a program to grant a quarter of a billion dollars for cluster hiring around the country. In a forthcoming report for the National Association of Scholars, I explore this relatively new phenomenon, which has taken higher education by storm. 

The discussion surrounding diversity statements often dwells on whether they violate academic freedom or whether they lead to screening based on ideology—these issues are, of course, important. But a more basic fact is more concerning, namely that researchers in critical areas of science are being selected based on criteria so deeply unrelated to science. The implications for health science alone are worth considering. Now, some researchers who work on drug development and cancer treatments could be passed over because they are not sufficiently enthusiastic about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

DEI evaluations function as a kind of affirmative action for social views. They prioritize factors in hiring, promotion, and tenure that have nothing to do with a candidates’ basic scholarly or scientific ability. They betray a profound unseriousness regarding matters of deep importance. Unfortunately, that unseriousness is becoming more common in academia.

Image: Brett Weinstein, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license


  • John Sailer

    John Sailer is a senior fellow at the National Association of Scholars. Follow him on Twitter @JohnDSailer.

20 thoughts on “Research, Teaching, and DEI

  1. Chinese communist party inserts party carders into everyday entities: private companies, universities, banks, etc. These political appointees wield absolute power over everyone—- that’s how communists maintain power. This DEI structure is the America version. I am appalled.

  2. Here’s something else that nobody talks about but which is like the elephant in the room. I’m talking about DEI for males. There is a huge amount of affirmative action for males in college admissions. The males on average have higher SAT scores and much lower grades. Well, throw out the SAT and ACT, and then you have a bunch of males with much lower grades. Of course, there are many more college females than males now because the guys just don’t care to attend. But to get even the current imbalanced classes, a lot of affirmative action has to be done for the males with their lousy high school grades. Admissions officers all know this, and practice it, but they are very reluctant to talk about it, for a lot of reasons.

    So I will end with the question: if/when the Supreme Court throws out AA in admissions, is this going to include sex? And if it does, what happens to the M/F ratios at colleges?

  3. The market needs to develop a DEI index/ranking for universities based on some specific set of measurable metrics. If Hillsdale is on one end of the spectrum (a complete rejection of DEI, a sole focus on merit and performance) and the Ivy Leagues are all the way at the other end (complete embrace of DEI and rejection of merit and performance), we need a way to measure the level of DEI nonsense in all universities. Light and data are the way to rid our nation of this extremely destructive belief and practice.

  4. I am a 1976 graduate of Emory College. The biology department was great, in its day.

    We thought about sending our high school senior, who plans to major in biology, to Emory, but he chose Auburn. I am so relieved. What abject nonsense. The end of science as we know it, along with wisdom and truth.

  5. You miss the most important part….it selects scientists on the basis of their willingness to repeat factual claims which are either untrue, or dramatically overstated. For example, that the United States is currently a country that practices systemic anti-black racism. This and other articles of faith in the Crenshaw/Kendi complex are simply unsupported by evidence or where this evidence to support some disparity it is overblown. It requires scientists to conflate disparate impact with intentional discrimination as a job condition. In short to avoid the hypothesis of co-variant factors as an explanation of outcomes. This is deeply unscientific thinking and wouldn’t pass any critical analysis as the term “critical thought” has normally been used.

  6. “Those whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad.” Not an idle observation. A warning to people going crazy and thinking there are few or no consequences. It’s merit or perish. Only fools think otherwise.

  7. DEI is a cancerous cult built on lies and propaganda. Its purpose is to drive dissenting voices from the University in order to achieve a stifling conformity (a feminized “safe space”) that renders the search for truth impossible. Since reform doesn’t appear to be in the cards, it’s time for serious intellectuals to abandon Universities and find alternatives…

  8. This is great work, but it’s even more depressing to read just how extensive and one-sided this is. The Twitter thread with the specific rubrics is just gross; you basically have to agree and vocalize Kendi-style “antiracist” jargon or else get penalized.

    The obsession with DEI here leads to things like beancounting the racial makeup of mentees. Are you supposed to reject non-URM students who might be otherwise qualified for research or labs to ensure that you have this area covered? Do you have to interrogate your trainees to ensure that their racial mix is acceptable? What a strange way of viewing the world and “diversity” as entirely defined by race.

    And what’s with the obsession with organizing/attending workshops and events? This seems highly performative and unlikely to actually do much to address differences (in fact, it likely will even make them worse).

    1. Please print the Twitter thread here.

      Would love to see it. Dropped Twitter a while back.Thank you. I need a longer period of rest before going back to Twitter.

  9. I do not expect any significant—let alone, moderately good—research to come out of Emory’s new biology professors. The same can be said for any future hires unless their DEI hiring practices are abandoned. They will be, at best, mediocre in both teaching and research.

    Significant research in any STEM area comes from people who are completely absorbed in their field. They are dedicated individuals who spend long hours developing new ideas, conducting experiments, publishing and presenting their work at conferences. They establish collaborations with like-minded individuals around the world. They have neither the time nor interest in participating in diversity initiatives. Or interactions with historically under-represented minority students. Or political activism. They’re too busy doing science, engineering and mathematics.

    Those capable of doing real science, do. Those that can’t? Well they spend time doing frivolous things like DEI activities. Emory seems interested in the latter. They will find out the hard way who they hired aren’t particularly the best or the brightest. Anybody with an acceptable track record in DEI will not have an acceptable track record in science.

    1. Well, I know people who are active in DEI who are also very good scientists. Up to the level of Nobel prize winner. Of all ages, from old professors to young aspirers looking for their first position. In a way, you underestimate the power of DEI. To be sure, there are very good people who are in opposition, mostly quietly.

      1. Sorry, but saying you have reasons for not naming this individual isn’t good enough.

        Nobel prize winners names are public knowledge. If you won’t name this individual, then don’t be surprised if people seriously doubt your claim.

  10. This may be part of the rationale for DEI:
    Speaking during March 1970 in favor of a U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Senator Roman L. Hruska of Nebraska said:
    So what if he is mediocre? There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they? We can’t have all Brandeises, Cardozos, and Frankfurters and stuff like that there.

    1. Hruska was roundly mocked for that. But I think there is something to what you say. Part of the DEI push is motivated by a desire to help the people who are lagging, I think. Including white people sometimes. Glenn Loury, even when he is very critical, says that we should have empathy. That “those people are us.” I think opponents of DEI would have an easier time if they adopted that kind of thinking.

  11. There is no effective means to fight this at present. None. Except perhaps in a few red states. Is DeSantis up to the job? After New College, I doubt it. Private schools like Emory? Forget it.

    Press on in the courts. Good luck.

    1. What are you saying? Did something disastrous (from the point of view of articles like the one above) happen at New College since DeSantis got Chris Rufo involved?

      1. DeSantis purged New College, which from what I can tell was working pretty well, in an eccentric way. But it was easy prey. And when he did it, they got rid of the president, who was doing good things e.g. boosting enrollment. And hired a Florida political hack at nearly triple the pay. $700K (or more) for pres of a school with 700 students. A disgrace!

        And now DeSantis is talking about getting rid of AP. People are reacting very negatively. Good for them. I think he is way overplaying his hand. The way someone else did.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *