Compelling Diversity and Punishing Dissent

, Richard Cravatts, 1 Comment

As more evidence that universities continue to be obsessed with race and are in thrall with the pursuit of racial “justice” and “equity,” the Board of Directors of California Community Colleges has decided that the system will now grade its employees, including, of course, faculty, on the extent to which they promote “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility.” The guidelines of a March proposal “include DEIA competencies and criteria as a minimum standard for evaluating the performance of all employees,” and, in case a staff or faculty member was disinterested in this mandatory thinking about race, the rules firmly “provide employees an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of DEIA and anti-racist principles.”

The California Community Colleges system is not the first to mandate DEIA “competence” and adherence as a component of hiring and tenure decisions. A recent report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) found that “DEI criteria were found in tenure standards at 21.5 percent of institutions.”

In April, as one recent example, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced that it will demand diversity-contribution statements in which faculty must profess their allegiance to goals of diversity and inclusion as part of the process of tenure and promotion.

Unsurprising, UC Berkeley instated a similar policy, portentously entitled “Guidelines for Assessing Faculty Candidate Contributions to Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Berkeley,” which has as its broad mission to advance “diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are responsibilities of all Berkeley faculty through their research, teaching, and/or service.”

Even if diversity and inclusion were objectives proven to have positive and productive results—which they clearly are not—a policy to compel faculty to pledge allegiance to their support is both misguided and likely violative of academic free speech—not that this consideration has prevented ideological hoards of woke students and faculty from censuring and canceling those whose views are deemed unacceptable. These forced commitments to diversity and inclusion, in fact, are reminiscent of the odious loyalty oaths demanded of faculty and other employees during the 1940s and 50s.

The campaign for diversity is based on an assumed, but unproven, assumption that diverse student populations are automatically superior to non-diverse ones, and that diversity not only benefits minority students but all students and the university as a whole. This belief is accepted by woke virtue-signaling administrators and diversocrats as a given, but it is certainly still a topic that can be questioned, critiqued, and challenged; and a faculty member has the right to not accept it as settled doctrine.

In fact, extensive research on DEI activities by two Heritage Foundation researchers, Jay Greene and James Paul, has shown that universities not only spend excessively on their DEI staffs, but that, more seriously and contrary to what would be expcted, “large DEI bureaucracies fail to make a positive contribution to campus climate.” While universities position DEI activities as signaling their commitment to minority recruitment and retention, “DEI personnel may be better understood,” the research suggested, “as a signal of adherence to ideological, political, and activist goals. Employing dozens of DEI professionals . . .  appears to work better as a jobs program subsidizing political activism than a means of improving campus climate.”

Is it reasonable that a professor seeking tenure be made to be responsible for a broad social problem—racism and inequity—when the proper and traditional role of the tenure process is based on a professor demonstrating excellence in teaching within his discipline? It is neither fair nor legal to compel a professor, as a core part of the decision on whether or not he or she deserves tenure—to commit to the vague and unproven mission of promoting diversity and inclusion, something that the institution as a whole might well have its mission but which an individual faculty member—teaching literature, business, mathematics, or biology—has no business making part of his teaching, research, and scholarship.

These new policies on hiring and tenure are troubling because they represent the institutionalization of the current dogma about race and so-called equity. We have witnessed in the past few years an odious series of purging of faculty, “cancellations,” who did not adhere to accepted and acceptable notions about race or who challenged the heterodoxy with alternate, sometimes provocative, views of their own.

In a normal culture where academic free speech and academic freedom are honored, these cancellations would not have occurred, but we are not in normal times. And demanding allegiance to DEI and to the rules set down by supercilious university diversocrats wrongly compels faculty to virtue signal their own moral compliance even if they disagree with or do not even care about it in the first place.

Moreover, like speech codes that have been struck down as unconstitutional for being overly broad and vague, policies that measure a faculty member’s commitment to racial equity are constructed and enforced in a way that is certain to chill speech; that is, when it is not enough to be merely not a racist and one is required to be anti-racist—to affirmatively fight for racial justice and equity—that expectation intrudes not only on a person’s First Amendment right to freely articulate his or her views, but also on the unenumerated right to privacy, as well, the right to be left alone and, among other things, not have to pledge support to a country, a government, or a university’s mission even if it purports to have a noble purpose in pursuit of a social good.

And junior faculty in the process of seeking tenure and building their careers should not be hobbled by their failure to adhere to diversity mandates, something outside of their disciplinary scholarship. The way senior faculty have recently suffered at the hands of the race-obsessed for thought crimes committed at various universities should provide ample warning of the type of reputational and professional damage that can be done when the woke mob punishes someone for questioning the current thinking on race.

Bret Weinstein, a white professor, for example, was punished and eventually even terminated at Evergreen College in 2017 for refusing to stay away from campus during the school’s “Day of Absence” an annual event during which Evergreen’s white students and faculty are urged not to come to campus in order to demonstrate black solidarity.

At Princeton University, self-inflicted racial guilt was so prevalent that the University’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, published a self-flagellating open letter in which he bemoaned the fact that “racist assumptions” are “embedded in structures of the University itself.” When Professor Joshua Katz made the mistake of questioning that alleged systemic racism and referring to Princeton’s activist Black Justice League as being “terrorists” due to their aggressive and radical activism in 2015 when they presented a list of demands and grievances, berated fellow students, and occupied university property, he was vilified on campus and recently fired.

Georgetown professor Ilya Shapiro, too, experienced the collective wrath and opprobrium of his own school when he tweeted comments criticizing Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a black woman as the new Supreme Court justice. In a since-deleted tweet, Shapiro referred to that eventual nominee as a “lesser black woman,” which proved to be a most unfortunate choice of words. For that grave thought crime, Shapiro was excoriated by the Georgetown community and was driven to eventually resign.

Another faculty victim of the race woke mob was Charles Negy, an associate professor in the University of Central Florida’s Psychology Department. Negy’s thought-crime? “Black privilege is real,” Negy wrote in a now-deleted tweet. “Besides affirm. [sic] action, special scholarships and other set asides, being shielded from legitimate criticism is a privilege. But as a group, they’re missing out on much-needed feedback.” For that heresy, Negy was vilified and terminated, although a court recently determined he should be reinstated.

In 2018, a similar racism frenzy erupted at the University of Pennsylvania when one of its law professors, Amy Wax, brought up one of the flaws critics see in affirmative action programs, something known as the “mismatch effect,” the result of black students gaining admission to law schools as a result of racial preferences so that their academic records and preparation are weaker than that of their non-black fellow students. Because they then must compete academically with students who are better prepared and whose educational background has equipped them for the rigors of law education, black students have chronically performed poorly when compared to their non-black peers.

The depressing reality is that professors are regularly censured and condemned for having views that contradict prevailing orthodoxies, even when they are discussing factually correct ideas, as was the case in the examples listed above, and not merely personal opinions.

The diversocrats on American campuses may recoil at the notion that their efforts to achieve racial equity have unintended, even harmful, consequences, but suppressing the speech of and punishing those who reveal some of the defects of an obsessive DEI campaign is a serious violation of academic freedom, not to mention indicative of the willful blindness of progressives who seem to care more about appearing virtuous than they do about contributing to actual constructive social change.

As demonstrated quite saliently by the experience of these professors (by in large senior professors who are protected by tenure), anyone who questions either the utility or even the moral, legal, and ethical justification by which these efforts are maintained can expect to be denounced as a racist—and especially now as the country is experiencing paroxysms of racial reckoning and atonement. To question the hypocrisy and fairness of affirmative action, for example, is to step on moral landmines.

In 1967, the University of Chicago produced what is referred to as the Kalven Report, which wisely advised against mobilizing an entire university to advance a certain ideological position, assuming that ideologies will change over time and university missions cannot and should not be absolute or inviolable. The report suggested that “a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom and inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures … and must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.”

It also anticipated the current debate about race and the efforts to address it when it warned that the university “is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives.”

As many universities now seem comfortable with doing, the report cautioned against this type of effort. A university “cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. [emphasis added]”

Combatting racism and helping to facilitate the participation of marginalized and underrepresented students in university life are noble, well-intentioned goals. But enforcing a culture of anti-racism as part of that effort, not to mention punishing and crippling the careers of faculty who fail to conform to woke doctrines about race, is both misguided and contrary to the tenets of academic freedom.

“ . . . [T]here emerges,” the report concluded, “a heavy presumption against the university taking collective action or expressing opinions on the political and social issues of the day, or modifying its corporate activities to foster social or political values, however compelling and appealing they may be.”