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