David Brooks Misses the Mark on DEI

When colleges and universities opened in the fall of 2023, five states—Florida, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas—had passed legislation banning diversity, equity, and inclusion programs (DEI).

These states were well aware that, as David Brooks notes, universities are failing at inclusion—the many so-called diversity initiatives have promoted an ideology of exclusion and intolerance of others. The result of DEI’s intrusion into student’s lives is that rather than “creating a healthier, more equitable campus, this ideology demonizes, demeans and divides students.” Brooks is right in observing that “Students have gotten the message that they are not on campus to learn; they are there to express their certainties and to advance a rigid ideological formula.”

Brooks clearly understands the toxic contributions DEI offices have made on campuses across the country. Brooks unqualifiedly writes that “ideological activism is replacing intellectual inquiry as the primary mission of universities.” If this is the case, why not eliminate DEI offices, as some states have done and other states are in the process of doing?

For Brooks, colleges should “counterweight” DEI offices with a heavy dose of pluralism: “In a liberal society we beat bad ideas with better ideas.” Other thought leaders tend to agree. In their eyes, pluralism has the potential to replace DEI offices and their corrosive wake with actual inclusion. Brooks and others are naïve to think pluralism alone can topple DEI offices. After teaching for close to two decades, I have to sadly admit that the illiberal forces on college campuses are far too strong and too deep in higher education today.

Of course, colleges and universities should be a marketplace of ideas. Viewpoint diversity, deep respect for difference, and discourse around ideas are how societies innovate and develop new ideas. But DEI offices have made open inquiry practically impossible. Peddling hate-based identity politics on campus is a choice that has been reaffirmed by top college administrators and their boards who cannot pretend to be unaware of the progressive, exclusionary, and dangerous culture these offices have created. Given the stranglehold DEI offices have on campuses today, I worry about the success of the pluralistic counterweights. DEI offices already refuse to protect and serve all students and communities equally. They influence hiring and promotion committees, have their say on syllabi, and even make their way into resident halls for orientation programs. Their reach knows no limits—reason, logic, and evidence are not part of their activist, identity-laden world, and they have been given a blank check by many administrations.

Israel’s war against Hamas is a perfect example of DEI’s irreparability.

The atrocities committed on October 7th exposed the identity-based hate on campuses across the country. As a result, countless Jewish students and faculty fear for their safety and livelihoods. If these offices were doing their jobs, they would take the lead to protect all students on campus and promote debate and understanding. Instead, these offices sophomorically divide the world into oppressors and the oppressed, have politicized almost every facet of life on campuses, and are fixated on the idea of difference and the immutable characteristics of students at the expense of community and shared experiences. Those who work in these offices maintain the unshakable belief that Jews are oppressors and that Israel is a “genocidal, settler, colonialist state.” A former DEI official rightfully found that “criticizing Israel and the Jewish people is not only acceptable but praiseworthy” and “if you defend them, you’re actively abetting racist oppression.”

This climate is anti-Semitic and dangerous.

Will another center or office on campus change the campus climate and the antisemitism that DEI offices are peddling? Hamas’ acts of terrorism and DEI offices’ lack of acknowledgment underscores just how deeply entrenched illiberalism is on campus. I am not convinced that a heavy dose of pluralism is enough to counteract DEI’s grip on college campuses whatsoever.

Those on the left have taken the position that all of Hamas’ actions are justified under the guise of “Israeli colonialism,” and that the rape and murder of women and children—despite graphic and horrific proof—is simply fake. There is no room for debate, persuasion, and truth here, and this is why so many Jewish students and Jewish institutions are scrambling and in shock. If DEI offices have the support and financing from their administrations, new centers will make no difference.

Simply put, Brooks’ idea that new “pluralistic programs that offer an alternative to and a critique of the currently prevailing ideology” misunderstands DEI’s power on campuses.

Our campuses are anything but real marketplaces when it comes to administrative action—DEI offices are not subject to free market competition where better ideas can win but are actually monopolistic actors with the backing of their boards.

Despite my appreciation for Brooks’ work, he misses the mark concerning the DEI offices. At their core, DEI offices should promote pluralism on college and university campuses. Yet, DEI offices are doing just the opposite and undermining a core collegiate function of helping “young people from different backgrounds learn to work and live together.” To realize this essential goal, DEI offices—and their huge staff—must be fired and removed from our campuses, as new countervailing offices are not going to reign in and reform DEI.

The only chance higher education has is to remove DEI and revert to the principles of a classic, liberal education. Only here can we have true diversity and inclusivity.

Photo by Geo Swan — Wikimedia Commons


  • Samuel J. Abrams

    Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

7 thoughts on “David Brooks Misses the Mark on DEI

  1. Brooks is unbelievably näive if he thinks pluralism is the way to counter DEI. It was recently reported the University of Michigan spent, in one academic year, $18 million dollars for salary and benefits of nearly 150 DEI employees. With funding and staffing like that debating ideas isn’t going to accomplish squat

  2. David Brooks time at National Review is long, long past. His subsequent immersion in the microcosm of New York City has permanently warped his thought. Perhaps he sees NYC as a pluralistic city and thus projects this thought onto universities around the USA. But Abrams’ view of DEI culture on campus is more appropriate. It is too entrenched at this point, with administrative, board, and donor support to be easily muted. And DEI is a divisive belief system. President Biden makes an occasional call for unity, but successfully spends most of his effort on division in pursuit of power. His administration has made a small effort against monopoly. But the media largely ignores it which is unfortunate because it is an area where majority political unity may be possible, including opposition to the on-campus monopoly by DEI activists.

    1. NYC is a foreign country. Same with California. If that’s pluralism, no thanks. Multiculturalism/pluralism, whatever you want to call it, destroys the nation it’s imposed upon. And though diversity is so great, Western nations are becoming indistinguishable from each other thanks to obiden’s unrejenting third world immigration coupled with cultural Marxism in our schools. Replacement is happening. Question is, are we going to do anything about it?

  3. Brooks is a fraud who enjoys party cake with other pseudo elites and zero concept of the reality laid out here.

    DEI is Marxism, plain and simple reflecting the vaunted Barack’s view of the world. Time to yank the kids out of the cesspool of hate.

  4. Does anyone ever write about David Brooks getting anything right? The man is reviled by both Right and Left, and apparently only keeps this gig due to masochistic satisfaction.

    The guy’s a low-end history major doing a performative conservative schtick for the NYT. Why anyone pays attention to him is mystifying.

  5. The power of DEI offices with their simple binary oppressor/oppressed template and overwhelming hubristic belief that they’ve achieved a supreme level of moral transcendence unequalled in history, as opposed to the nuances, uncertainties and humility required by classical liberal pluralism, seems to be riding on an underlying powerful social current.

    Social media develops grandiose egos that are flattered by followers and avoids contact with alternative viewpoints unless to attack them as a mob. And then, there’s something about the complexity of rapidly changing large scale societies that promotes a clinging to fundamentalist moral certainties, whether it be islamism or identity politics. There’s also ye dimension if class conformity and class interest among the new elites, where ideology is the ostentatious badge of class position. Together, the warped, hubristic egoism, the drive to simplistic moral certainties stripped of complication, and the basis of power and prestige invested in these ideologies, seem to be creating the underlying conditions for the DEI craze.

    It’s not going to be a simple policy fix.

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