Closing DEI Offices Is Not Enough

Closing “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) offices around the country is a powerful step in halting the illiberal and divisive harm-centric monoculture that has taken over higher education. However, there remain far too many student-facing administrative offices that seek the same goals. Whether in residential services or student life offices, administrators wield significant power and influence over students, affecting their learning and future trajectories. It’s crucial to address any dangerous or divisive behavior exhibited by these administrators.

A clear illustration of the depth and size of these non-DEI offices involves the University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin), which recently announced the firing of about 60 people who were directly involved in the university’s DEI programs. Their dismissal is good for both higher education and UT-Austin but we cannot forget that the school’s housing office employs over 1,600 staff, some of whom are just as deeply involved in DEI programming but are not categorized as such.

DEI offices have had a profound influence over the higher education landscape for years, and likewise, these other behemoths of the administrative class now need to be reined in and reconstituted to be neutral and support all students.

Sarah Lawrence College (SLC), where I teach, provides a straightforward case.

Only a handful of administrative staff are technically in the “diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging” (DEIB) office, for instance. But that has not stopped the overt and inappropriate activism of many other staff members employed by SLC to theoretically help elevate all students.

One example involves the fairly new center on campus: the SLC Learning Commons.

The Learning Commons is purportedly “committed to providing comprehensive and inclusive academic support services that meet the needs of a vibrant and diverse student body. Our objective is to provide a wide range of helpful resources that will enable all students to thrive within the college’s unique pedagogical structure.” The Common’s claims to support students through a host of programs from academic coaching, research skills, a writing center, language tutoring, and health and wellness programming. This all sounds useful, but the Commons is active on social media, publically and regularly “liking” posts that demand divestment from Israel or other aggressive posts that might harm Jewish students, as well as the promotion of shutting the school down at the behest of liberal and aggressive student and faculty groups.

Another related illustration involves the school’s library, which should be completely neutral as an institution and provide access to materials across the political and ideological spectrum. The problem here is that there are activist librarian staff members who chill students with divergent, heterodox views. A notable instance involves a recent event on campus—“The Freedom University”—which was promoted as  “an academic strike in line with the Global Day of Action called for by @palestinianyouthmovement.” The various sponsoring groups did indeed “occupy Westlands [the College’s main administrative building] for the entire work day,” and they asserted that “There will be no business as usual while Sarah Lawrence remains complicit in genocide.”

One of the speakers, a digital humanities librarian, presented a talk entitled “Justice-Oriented Scholars in an Unjust World.” This is overtly political and progressive, and while this librarian was hired with activism in mind per the SLC’s advertisement for the position, this is dangerous to the school’s pedagogical mission as this role exists to support all students and not just those of a particular ideological position. Conservative students may rightly feel that they will receive disparate treatment from progressive administrators, if treatment at all; SLC staff routinely has ignored my requests over the years, and students are not unaware of these dynamics. Students have come to me many times in recent years and have shared stories of staff being unwilling to help them or paying them little attention as they did not properly virtue signal or share the right identity politics with the staff member at the outset. This is clearly unethical and runs counter to the school’s mission of intellectual diversity and education.

Another clear instance of non-DEI administrative overreach is the school’s residential education office, which this academic year appointed a recent college graduate  as a ‘resident fellow’ with the task to, in her/their own words,  “support (DEIB) Diversity Inclusion & Belonging within Residential Life on campus.” While residential education serves an important function, it also must remain inclusive and neutral but at SLC, like countless other schools, it often takes on the characteristics of an activist office affiliated with the DEI movement. At SLC, the same resident fellow describes “her/their” job as one to help “lead the design and implementation of a Residential Education curriculum that focuses on enhancing the lived experience and well-being of residential students. Collaborating with planning and implementing Student DEIB programming in residential and non-residential settings. Support student DEIB groups, initiatives, spaces, and space leaders including the THRIVE Mentor Program, and affinity group spaces.” These programs are divisive, racially exclusive, and the very sort of programs that many states are necessarily rolling back as these initiatives balkanize and hurt students as well as stifle questioning and debate, which lie at the very core of a truly liberal education.

At SLC, various administrative offices and staff well beyond the DEI department contribute to student harm and stifling viewpoint diversity, open inquiry, and intellectual exploration through their overtly political and activist stances. It’s crucial for the college, as well as all other higher education institutions, to curtail this excessive administrative influence. Regardless of whether it falls under the DEI umbrella, the detrimental effects on students and campus culture persist.

When a Jewish student who supports Israel and believes in its defense against Hamas or a conservative student who values traditional marriage and is pro-life seeks assistance from these shadow activist offices, they can’t expect equal treatment or support when the school’s staff is openly hostile towards them and has expressed disdain—or worse—on social media or in public statements. Jewish students, in particular, will be effected by residential staff who are calling for the death and destruction of their family in Israel or referring to Jewish students as evil Zionists. Even if the staff member is open to helping the student, the environment is unwelcoming and sends a clear message that not all students can benefit equally from the library’s or the Learning Commons’s resources, which is inappropriate and directly limits students from fully engaging in campus culture, community, and the educational experience.

Ironically, in response to a well-deserved Title VI complaint for rampant anti-Semitism at the college, SLC’s President recently and emphatically stated that the school’s “commitment [is] to provide an environment in which all of our students — regardless of background, belief, or circumstance — have the unimpeded opportunity to actively and fully participate in the educational experience that is at the center of Sarah Lawrence’s mission.” Everyone should remain skeptical of this sort of commitment at Sarah Lawrence and elsewhere, given the well-known activism on the part of the student-facing administrative staff. Despite being employed by colleges and universities to support their educational mission and students, these staff members are as biased and dangerous as the DEI offices themselves.

Photo by Jared Gould — Adobe — Text to Image


  • 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.

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8 thoughts on “Closing DEI Offices Is Not Enough

  1. “the University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin), which recently announced the firing of about 60 people who were directly involved in the university’s DEI programs.”


    This is where having the Master’s Degree in Higher Education actually helps because you know about such things as “union bumping rights” and “reduction in force” procedures along with the existence of byzantine policy manuals that enable end results that no one would ever imagine possible.

    First, I looked to see what the union contract said and there appears to be no union — Gotta Love Texas… So then it’s a case of University Policy and with some digging I found Operating Procedure 5-2410 (Dismissal Procedures in Cases of Reorganization, Reduction in Staff, or Funding Sources Not Realized)

    The relevant portion of that states:
    “Affected employees who express a desire to continue employment with the University may apply for other suitable vacant positions within the University. They shall be given assistance by Human Resources, which will give special notice to departments having vacant positions of the availability of subject employees. Such employees may be appointed without the necessity of a job posting as normally required for vacant positions. This special consideration will continue for a twelve-month period, or until regular University employment is secured, whichever comes first.” [emphasis added]

    They can be (i.e. will) be hired for positions that aren’t even posted (so no one can see their job descriptions) and most likely doing the exact same thing with just a different title and maybe from a different desk.

    Nothing will change — they definitely are not being “fired”…

    1. Dr. Ed,

      Great catch.

      Can you post a link to that UT policy? I’d like to point Sen. Creighton’s people to it so they can ask Jay Hartzell how many of the “dismissed” employees are being rehired under it.

      1. As requested:

        Now remember that this applies to “staff” and not “faculty” which sometimes can be as little as which line of the budget is used to pay someone. And in most states public university salaries are public information, you can go look them up.

        Anyway there is also this from USA Today:
        “UT President Jay Hartzell took prewritten questions at a faculty council meeting on Monday and said 49 employees who had previously worked in DEI-related positions had been terminated and that eight associate or assistant deans whose work previously included related duties were returning to their faculty positions full time..”

        Kinda like Claudine Gay?

        Call me cynical but what were these eight “teaching” before they joined the DEI division, and what are they “teaching” now?

        And it may not be easy to find these people — an institution as big as UTexas has a lot of places to hide people — the Extension Service, Admissions (minority outreach), and Alumni Affairs come to immediate mind, as does the President’s Office itself. Or they may get picked up by a key vendor and remain university employees in all but name.

        It’s very much like counterintelligence — you don’t look at what the person’s official job actually is, but what the person is actually doing, and with whom. These people are not going to go quietly into the night….

      2. My suggestion to Sen. Creighton’s people would be to get a couple of copies of the entire manual and have two different people (individually) go through it with yellow highlighters.

        I found this because I knew what to look for — most institutions have policies on layoffs. But I didn’t find what I wasn’t looking for and Lord knows what else may be buried in those volumes.

      3. Dr. Ed.,

        I passed along your catch to Sen. Creighton’s people. Of interest, read/see Hartzell trying to explain himself to the UT Faculty Council last week: [transcript] [video]

        in which he admits that (1) all the dismissed staffers are being paid through JULY (I don’t see an exception to SB17 for severance pay!), and (2) are indeed getting the preferential hiring treatment you found.

        But he also essentially tells the irate faculty, “the Legislature is on the warpath, and if we’re not careful they are primed to make MAJOR changes to how we do things.”

        And, of course, after yesterday’s crackdown on the Hamasniks at UT (they said they were going to occupy UT; Gov. Abbott essentially said “the hell you are!” and sent the state police in full riot gear), the wokesters on campus have now turned on Hartzell. Will be interested to see how he gets out of the corner he’s painted himself into: the conservatives don’t trust him, and now the left doesn’t either.

  2. The UT action is just a smokescreen. DEI is alive and well on the Forty Acres — it’s just keeping it’s head down for the moment.

    Recall that Texas SB17 went into effect January 1, and UT had over seven months before then to get its affairs in order. Yet these layoffs were not announced for over 90 days *after* the law banning such positions went into effect. Put another way, all of these employees were illegally paid for an entire fiscal quarter (longer, if they also received severance pay).

    So what happened? SB17 sponsor Sen. Creighton recently released a blistering public statement calling out UT and other state schools where employees were caught admitting / bragging how they were evading SB 17 by simply renaming things and making other cosmetic changes. Sen. Creighton announced hearings would be held on this shortly, at which university officials (who have to certify compliance with SB17 to obtain state funding) would be held accountable.

    Mirable dictu, a few days later uber-coward UT Pres. Jay Hartzell announces that a bunch of low level DEI staff were getting pink slips.

    Does that mean he now gets it, and now fully supports the implementation of SB17? Or is this just a PR move to deal with the bad optics of state employees openly bragging about how they are chumping the Legislature (and where the laid-off employees will be quietly rehired into different positions once the heat dies down)?

    We’ll see, but as I have written before here at MTC, history shows Hartzell is no friend of the rule of law when it conflicts with the gospel of DEI.

    Had SB17 retained some enforcement teeth, Hartzell might be in trouble. But as there aren’t really any penalties for defying the law, he’ll likely get away with it.

  3. Superb piece, Sam. It cuts to the major problem facing higher education today — clerks, enrollment managers, advisors, and reslife admins up-selling themselves as “college educators” and “higher education professionals.” These ancillary support staff acquire a chit degree, usually a “master’s in higher education” and begin to overreach as they cast themselves as “scholar-practitioners.” The pretentious narcissism of these folks is rampant in higher education and has become, as you note, a major problem.

    1. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes — with one exception — *a* MEd in Higher Education (not its present incarnation, but what the degree could/should be) *is* necessary for the same reason that the folks in your Physical Plant need engineering degrees and/or trades licenses.

      If you want the lights to work, the toilets to flush, and the buildings to not literally fall down around you, you need to have people with some fairly specific knowledge in things like electrical & mechanical engineering, along with specific skills in things like wiring, plumbing, roofing and the like. Even something as “simple” as snow removal becomes complicated on scale, and watching the DC government deal with a relatively small amount of snow is a clear demonstration of this.

      There is a LOT that the ancillary support staff need to know, and we wouldn’t be having half the problems that we are if they actually knew it at least some of them wouldn’t be doing some of the truly stupid things they are doing if they knew better (the rest are so truly stupid that they likely would, but that’s another matter).

      Financial Aid arrived in the 1960s, Nondiscrimination arrived in the 1970s, ADA arrived in the 1980s, and even if we’d stopped there, we would have a lot — AN AWFUL LOT — of really complicated stuff that would be beyond the ability of the average faculty member to do, even if faculty hadn’t largely shunned their student affairs responsibilities in the 1950s when the veterans arrived.

      My MEd program was a politicized quagmire exacerbated by the fact that the program director was (a) using it as his personal dating service, (b) playing the students off against each other, to the point where he (c) literally drove one to the brink of a suicide that I had to prevent.

      I’m not defending that program but I did learn things that helped me understand how higher education *really* works and which were/are incredibly valuable to know. And a *good* Higher Ed/Student Affairs program, with a true emphasis on diversity (ie everyone is different) and individual rights — along with simple stuff like how to write a basic memo to a supervisor or subordinate — would greatly benefit those in the student services field.

      No one would hire them, but they’d be a whole lot more competent than the clowns we have now — and that’s why no one would hire them…

      As to the concept of “scholar practitioner”, a lot of that is coming out of the mental health field — a LOT of things (all bad) are coming out of the mental health field.

      Ignoring that, I am thinking back to an earlier age, the land grant university of a century ago where both Physical Education and what is now ROTC were mandatory courses. (The “Military Training” program produced a lot of municipal police officers in an era before police academies existed.)

      From everything I’ve seen “Professors of Physical Education” were considered members of the faculty with all the respect and privileges thereof, much like high school gym teachers today are considered teachers with all the respect and privileges thereof.

      If the Student Affairs “Professionals” had a scintilla of professionalism — and if they weren’t turning entire institutions into purgatorial cesspools — would there be the same complaints about them overreaching?

      Conversely, do the faculty actually want to have to find time to do their jobs — which faculty did do a century ago. Not just academic advising and career advising but the tear-soaked “should I marry him and move far away or stay here without him” conversations that high school teachers *do* have to listen to. Do professors really want to spend entire mornings in the back row of the local District Court showing emotional support for undergrads who have managed to get themselves into trouble for something or another the way that undergrads always have (and always will)?

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