More universities than ever are now requiring lengthy DEI statements from job applicants. Is that good for academic freedom?
In many American universities, prospective professors are now expected to include lengthy diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements in their job applications. Eschewing academic freedom concerns, these schools are requiring applicants to state their allegiance to a specific political perspective, to the point even of penalizing people who express their affinity for diversity in the “wrong” ways.
Last week Tablet magazine published an overview of the phenomenon, written by John Sailer of the National Association of Scholars. “It’s conceivable that job candidates could list their plans to contribute to diversity and inclusion without indicating a commitment to any particular political or social viewpoint, but the most commonly available rubrics for assessing diversity statements demonstrate a clear ideological gloss,” he reported. Berkeley’s rubric, for example, gives a low score to any applicant who “states the intention to ignore the varying backgrounds of their students and ‘treat everyone the same.'”
A 2021 American Enterprise Institute survey found that 19 percent of academic faculty jobs require diversity statements. Another survey, this one from the American Association of University Professors, found that 21.5 percent of universities require the statements for tenure evaluations; nearly 40 percent of institutions reported that they are considering the idea. Of the large institutions surveyed, only 18.8 percent neither have nor are considering such a requirement.
Many schools’ guidelines for mandatory diversity statements are thinly veiled ideological litmus tests. For example, the Board of Governors of the California Community College system, which Sailer notes is “the nation’s largest system of higher education, governing 116 colleges that together enroll 1.8 million students,” recently approved changes to its employee evaluation policies. Among its criteria: a “race-conscious pedagogy and/or curriculum.”
This poses a clear threat to academic freedom. Mandatory diversity statements, particularly when specific versions of “diversity” are explicitly preferred, can have a chilling effect on faculty who disagree with the approach. And when institutions, such as the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, require instructors to write about their specific actions to bolster DEI efforts, they raise of the spectre of punishing faculty who aren’t interested in becoming diversity activists.
Faculty DEI statements end up “shifting the focus away from research and teaching explicitly to making it about a cause,” says Samuel Abrams, a political scientist at Sarah Lawrence College. “It takes a lot of the decision-making process away from faculty and into the hands of administrators. So suddenly academic freedom is under threat and expertise is under threat.”