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.
. . . 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.
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).
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.