The University of Chicago nixes required diversity statements for hiring

November 12, 2021 • 10:45 am

I’ve written several posts about why diversity statements should not be required nor suggested for candidates from applying for a job (or promotion) in academia, but should be prohibited. This is not because I oppose increasing diversity in hiring (I’m in favor of it), but because these statements are a form of compelled speech, in which you must tender certain approved ideological views to be seriously considered for a job.  These statements are, of course, a way to increase the ethnic diversity of a faculty, but in my view there are better ways.

As I wrote in April of last year:

. . . the mandatory “diversity statements” now required by the University of California [will] soon be required on campuses elsewhere. These statements are used to weed out candidates for academic jobs before their academic credentials are even assessed, and they require candidates to do three things: they must express their philosophy of diversity, they must recount their past efforts to promote diversity, and they must describe their plans to increase diversity at the UC campus where they’re applying.

Just saying you’re in favor of diversity is not enough. You have to have that track record and you have to have a credible plan to promote diversity (“diversity” refers, of course, to gender and racial diversity, not socioeconomic, religious, or political diversity). Asserting that you’re in favor of diversity, and will treat all students as equals, is not sufficient—your application will get tossed. At Berkeley and Santa Cruz, for instance, the applications are scored by committees, not the relevant departments, and you’re given points for each of the three parts. If your points don’t exceed a specified threshold, your candidacy is stopped in its tracks.

I’ve been opposed to these statements on several grounds, including the insupportable requirement that faculty adhere to a particular ideological position (you cannot, for example, be opposed to affirmative action, or even take Dr. King’s view that someone is to be judged by the content of their character rather than their pigmentation). Further, faculty who have done outreach in other ways besides promoting diversity (e.g., writing popular articles, lecturing on their field to secondary-school students, and so on) get no credit for that, and their applications are discarded. As I wrote in February, while I favor affirmative action, I oppose these ideological purity tests. . . .

If you favor some affirmative action to diversity your faculty’s ethnicity, the last thing you want to do is choose candidates that adhere to a favored ideology.  My own view would be to consider ethnicity itself as a desirable characteristic in hiring, though I know some readers will consider that “reverse racism.” Nevertheless, in his essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education below, my colleague Brian Leiter recommends that, if you want to increase diversity, you use the rationales of reparations for previously oppressed groups as well as creating more role models. I agree with those views. But compelling speech (and don’t think for a moment that those requesting diversity statements are open to all ideologies), especially in public universities, is not the way to do it.  It’s illegal, though it hasn’t yet been contested in court.

Click on the screenshot to read Brian’s piece:

I wanted to find out whether the University of Chicago required diversity statements for its hires, and so I made inquiries.  One of my colleagues helpfully emailed an administrator (I don’t have the guts to do that!) and got a response. The short answer is, no, we don’t require them and it is in fact against University policy to require them—or any other non-academic attestation. With the permission of the administrator, I quote his/her email response with permission. The bolding is mine:

Our guidelines on faculty cases is attached (a slightly older version is on the web here). Although units (Divisions, Schools, and the College) are given leeway to build convincing cases for faculty appointments according to their norms and traditions, we do expect units to operate under the guidelines that we’ve created, based on the Shils Report and decades of provostial practice. We also operate under the usual rule of statutory construal, “expressio unius est exclusio alterius”: “the expression of the one is the exclusion of the other”. That is, our list of elements that need to be included in a case file is exhaustive. [JAC: See below for the University’s “list of elements.”)
Some policies are recorded only in provostial internal memos, but all are reflected in the written guidelines and in our office’s guidance to deans, who we encourage to ask us whenever questions of implementation or clarity arise.
To date, no search committee or chair or dean has asked to be allowed to solicit statements from candidates re academic freedom, freedom of expression, democracy, capitalism, or other important values of the University and/or societal elements that have allowed the University to flourish. Our policy does not permit the solicitation of such statements. The principle here is that we should not solicit materials unless we can articulate how we intend to assess those materials. For the usual materials (cv, statements of research and teaching, research publications), we have well developed traditions that guide our understanding of excellence. For anything else, the University would have to give uniform guidance regarding the assessment of materials, and this guidance has not yet been developed.

The second statement in bold would seem to prohibit diversity statements.  Yet departments get around this by including statements like these in job ads:

Applicants must upload a CV including bibliography, a research statement, and a teaching statement (which may include a description of the candidate’s experience in teaching diverse students).
Now every candidate on the job market knows that the word “may” in the above is a euphemism for “must”, for without some mention of “teaching diverse students”, your application is going nowhere. In fact, I have heard, though I can’t vouch for it, that some committees triage job ads by simply discarding ones at the outset that don’t have a “acceptable” diversity statemen. If that is the case—and I emphasize that I don’t know if it is—it would be a violation not only of University principles, but unfair to everyone who applies for the job and isn’t told that the diversity statement (part of the teaching statement) is not optional but really mandatory.

Below are the University’s guidelines for faculty hiring reappointment, and promotion as of April of 2021. Click to go to the pdf which is public:

From page 6 of these Guidelines, here’s an exhaustive list of what an applicant for a job, tenure-track or not, must submit:

Nothing but these items must be submitted by the candidate, and there is no mention of diversity statements. Given the administrator’s opinion above, they are prohibited, though I don’t know about whether it’s kosher to say that an applicant may include a statement about teaching diverse students. After all, there are many aspects of what a good teacher should do, but the ad above stipulates only one.

The department also asks for letters of reference for the candidates, and the people asked must be justified in a statement to the provost.

Finally, after the interviews, when the department has chosen its favored candidate, a complete description of the search must be forwarded to the provost, along with the chairman’s account of the faculty discussion about the candidate and a statement from the head of the search committee.  The Provost and her assistants would review this information carefully, and only if the Provost approves can an offer be made to the candidate (items going with the offer, like space and salary, must also be approved). I presume that if this is a “diversity hire”, the discussion about diversity would have to be included in the package that goes to the Provost.

This is my best judgement about how the process works, partly based on what I’ve observed. The main point is that we do not require diversity statements, but we do ask about diversity (though I’m not sure this is kosher), and we do try to increase the diversity of our faculty, which is fine. What I object to, and what Leiter objects to, are mandatory statements that, at least in public universities, may be illegal because they constitute compelled speech. Further, job ads should be transparent and not describe things as optional if, in practice, they are mandatory.

11 thoughts on “The University of Chicago nixes required diversity statements for hiring

  1. This has always been a difficult topic and I’m often torn on this. I see and understand your point and I see and understand the point of the diversity statement. Both points are equally valid and I wonder if there is any successful method of promoting diversity, inclusion, etc. that wouldn’t leave someone questioning it. The sad part is that we haven’t progressed far enough to not need a diversity statement.

    It’s like packing a jury with one group of people, white males. Most agree that we need to ensure that our institutions look and think like the general public. The question is HOW.

    1. “Most agree that we need to ensure that our institutions look and think like the general public.”

      Are you sure about this? There’s no good reason to expect, let alone strive to ensure, that people in any activity or profession (including our institutions) will reflect the general public. It’s fashionable today to think that the only valid explanation for disparities among groups is systemic discrimination, bigotry, racism, prejudice, etc. While those things can certainly be a factor, we can’t ignore that different groups of people have, for myriad reasons that have nothing to do with systemic anything, different interests, talents, cultures, preferences, educational levels, etc., and they will naturally gravitate towards activities best suited to their particular characteristics; the result being that, even in the absolute absence of any inequality and discrimination whatsoever, the members of no activity or profession are likely ever to mirror the general population.

      And regarding our institutions, specifically, I’m not sure why they should look and think like the general public. Their members should just be those best suited for the job, whatever their ancestry and socioeconomic background. Granted, it may well be that a particular life experience may be an important component of what makes a person best suited for a role, but it’s doubtful it should ever be (save perhaps in some very specific cases) a sine qua non for their selection.

      1. The strongest case for “institutions look and think like the general public” must surely be government. It seems important for legitimacy that any large group of people have *some* members in positions of power, although not necessarily any exact proportion. And it seems important for policy that some people in power automatically know what their constituents care about, without needing to hire a polling company.

        After that I’d put the armed forces, and primary-school teachers. If nobody from X group will actually die when we order an invasion, or conversely, nobody from Y group believes in the country enough put his neck on the line, that’s a problem. And it is, I believe, important for small children to have a variety of role models, I’d vote for a law mandating close to 50% male teachers. They are much more teaching socialization than actual knowledge. Hire retired marines, or something.

        Somewhere after this come front-line doctors. Maybe adults in distress find it easier to talk to someone more like them, and missing treatable conditions is a real problem.

        But representation among scientists, mathematicians? If you make it to university-level study and cannot learn it from someone who doesn’t look like you… I mean the way in which you seek teachers “like you” at this stage ought to be in their approach to the subject matter, their tastes in what problems are worth solving, their flair or rigor. If you or they are more interested in people’s hair and skin than what they write, then perhaps university isn’t the place.

        1. >Somewhere after this come front-line doctors. . . . more like them.

          No matter how much the med-school graduation photo looks like the census, you can’t compel minority students to practice in minority neighbourhoods just because they will have a cosmetic match with many of their patients. That would be naked, ugly racial discrimination.
          (Besides, many neighbourhoods are so diverse that no doctor is going to match more than a few of them anyway. At least in Canada, a “highly diverse neighbourhood” doesn’t mean 95% black. It means most people don’t look much like anyone else, including whatever doctor you send down to treat them.)

          Students at medical schools are looking out for their careers, just as students in every other discipline are. It is unwise to expect that minority graduates will gravitate to poor minority neighbourhoods out of altruism or “racial identity”. Not when there are so many opportunities open to bright students, including minority students now that we have removed the barriers of systemic racism as we postulated at the beginning. Black students want to be (and are now) cardiologists, allergists, dermatologists, and gender reassignment surgeons just like white and South Asian students. They also want practices that pay more than Medicaid pays, because otherwise they can’t afford to look after uninsured patients.

          The adult in distress in a poor, violent minority neighbourhood may find that the only doctor willing to take the job of talking to him is a foreign medical graduate from Pakistan who has struggled and strived to qualify for an American (or Canadian) license and is happy to be doing his humanitarian best.

          Just like now.

  2. People will always question attempts to increase diversity if they’re not color-blind, which of course defeats the purpose of boosting diversity. My own view is to ensure that the process casts a wide enough net, solicit specific diverse candidates that you’d like, and then, from the pool of candidates that are seen as qualified for the job, select the minorities. You have no assurance, of course, that they will conform to the “accepted” viewpoint for that ethnicity, but that’s not the point.

    1. I agree. While not everyone will have the same fairness in selecting people like you and I do, I would hope that enough people are out there who are fair-minded that will in order to have more balanced institutions.

    2. What do you do when there simply are not enough qualified minorities to meet the diversity goals? Do you lower standards? And how much do you lower them? That is the practical reality nobody wants to talk about candidly.

      For example, ticking the right diversity box is worth about a 10 point bump on the LSAT score for law school admission. 10 points is the difference between being a good candidate for a top 50 school and a good for a top 10 school. Even so, certain groups remain highly underrepresented in proportionate terms. How much further should standards be lowered?

  3. Given the administrator’s opinion above, they are prohibited, though I don’t know about whether it’s kosher to say that an applicant may include a statement about teaching diverse students.

    The instruction “explication of teaching philosophy and goals” is generic enough that I think if a candidate really wanted to say something about their goals of improving or increasing diversity, they could do it there.

    If they’ve published research or editorials on diversity, or won awards for their work on diversity, those things could be included in the CV.

    Lastly I’m not sure how one could fit diversity into the research statement as it’s written in the instructions, but if a candidate has experience advising graduate students, and they made it one of their goals to select, encourage or support minority grad students, then they could probably find some way to talk about it there.

    1. Yes, certainly you can say whatever you want about teaching or research, but the point is that the ad gives a “wink wink nod nod” about diversity by making it the only area that they mention. That, unless you have no neurons, is a tip that says, “You’d better say something about diversity and it had better be the right thing.” That is, no questioning affirmative action or promoting standardized tests.

      1. Well it sounds like Chicago has it right. I really don’t mind the idea of an academic who is proud of the work they’ve done in improving diversity sticking it in their teaching philosophy or what have you. More power to them. But I agree that asking for separate statements probably does more harm than good to the process.

        I would consider the advertisement’s “may” in an even more cynical light than your ‘we all know that means must’. May means they can use different standards for different candidates. If they get a candidate who they think is going to bring in big grant money or has a good chance of a Nobel, or fits some other profile they want, and the candidate chooses not write such a thing, why it won’t be held against them because it wasn’t required. But if you’re a candidate they don’t particularly favor, well then, maybe you really should.

  4. Success in developing a multiracial culture might depend, like success in astrophysics, dentistry, or automobile repair, on accurate use of language. The world of what we now call D/E/I, on the contrary, rests upon language fakery that comes straight out of the world of advertising.

    For the laudable goal of increasing the number of African-American students in higher education, the campaign initially made use of an obvious quota system, but without using the word “quota” aloud. What was it called? It was called “affirmative action”, a pair of words that could just as accurately be applied to an unspecified step in bee-keeping or plumbing repair. Then the Supreme Court’s Bakke decision ruled out obvious quotas, but acknowledged the educational value of “diversity”—after which Diversity became the new magic formula So now we are told that “Diversity” is the reason California imposes compelled speech on applicants in a process far more autocratic than the loyalty oath of the supposedly conformist 1950s; and professors are disciplined for uttering forbidden words or anything that even sounds like them. In line with this use of language, the exclusion of some names from buildings is called “Inclusion”; and Harvard turns handsprings to screen out Asian-American applicants in the name of “inclusion”, as well as of “equity”.

    It will be no surprise when the D/E/I nomenklatura tells us that they are “good to the last drop”, “remove the toughest stains” and provide us with “the breakfast of champions”. We should begin to worry if they try to impose this kind of word use on astrophysics, dentistry, and automobile repair.

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