Clearly a lot of people feel that there’s good reason for academics applying for their first job to include “diversity statements” in their application package, for this is becoming de rigueur for nearly every place except the University of Chicago. And even here we “encourage” applicants to discuss how they’d address the issue of teaching diverse students, though we don’t encourage them to discuss other aspects of their teaching.
I’ve already discussed why I think “diversity statements” are a bad idea, but I’ll mention just the most important: I see them, in today’s political climate, as a form of compelled speech that violates the First Amendment, even though the Constitution doesn’t apply in this sense to private schools. They force many applicants to make up stuff that they think fits with the “approved” narrative about fostering racial diversity (no other form of diversity is of interest in these statements). That is different from making candidates write about their academic achievements and research plans, as there are no generally approved narratives about what kind of research a candidate is supposed to do, and achievements can be checked.
Further, some schools, like the University of California, often screen applicants based solely on their diversity statements, so if you don’t have a good background in promoting diversity as well as a good plan for promoting diversity at the University and a philosophy of diversity, your application gets tossed without further consideration. That is unconscionable, and puts considerable pressure on the candidates to confect a statement that they think will pass muster.
I just received this tweet and its followups within the last half hour—UCSC is doing such a thing (Berkeley and Davis already do); there is more evidence in the thread:
I'm kind of floored by this. UC Santa Cruz is running a bunch of faculty searches, most of which require DEI statements which are scored by a university-wide standard rubric, and initial screening of candidates is based solely on those DEI statements.
— Joel Fish (@joelwatsonfish) November 17, 2021
All of these job applications contain that same line: "Initial screening of candidates will be based on statements of contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion."
— Joel Fish (@joelwatsonfish) November 17, 2021
The thread goes on, but you can read it for yourself.
The article below from the Chronicle of Higher Education (click on screenshot) is in general against the issues I usually write about here. While you might think from the title that the author, a professor of philosophy at York University in Toronto, might be anti-woke, but she is in fact pro-woke, and her beef is that she’s tired of antiwoke people complaining about wokeness. Do read it, as it offers many views opposed to my own. Rini thinks that the whole “woke crisis” is overblown, and is mainly (but not exclusively) a cherry-picked set of anecdotes without major implications and no ability to solve problems. Move along, nothing to see here. (But she apparently doesn’t worry that Wokeism itself offers no ability to solve problems, either, and that’s one reason to criticize it!)
Click to read:
While Rini doesn’t like anti-Woke rhetoric, there’s one exception—diversity statements:
Perhaps the worst effect of the anti-Wokeist rhetoric invading academe is that it drowns out more careful critiques of so-called “Woke” policies. Take, for example, the diversity statements that some colleges and universities now require from faculty job candidates. I think these are a bad idea for at least two reasons having nothing to do with scary stories about Wokeism.
First, requiring diversity statements in job materials places responsibility for correcting entrenched historical injustice in exactly the wrong place: on disempowered applicants (often themselves members of marginalized groups), rather than on the top-of-the-hierarchy administrators who can actually make systemic change. Second, requiring these statements as part of the hiring process encourages candidates to think about diversity as just another marketable skill, something to puff up and cynically stage like everything else in one’s portfolio.
Agree with these criticisms or not — but notice they don’t involve ascribing a devious agenda to diversity-statement proponents. I think administrators who impose diversity-statement requirements are doing their best to address a difficult problem, even as I believe they’ve made a mistake. This should be a collegial disagreement over a somewhat technical problem, a careful survey of all those air-conditioner components spread out on the desk.
But we can’t have that collegial disagreement while others keep pulling the Wokeism alarm.
I’m not sure how much I agree with her here. You’re not placing responsibility on the candidates to correct inequality; you are hiring diverse candidates (who may largely confect their statements of plans and commitments) as a way of correcting injustice. The very presence of minority professors is a corrective. But yes, the top administrators bear substantial responsibility for creating the programs to increase diversity.
But I do agree that such statements encourage candidates to see diversity-promotion as a “marketable skill”, and there are even people whom you can pay to write a statement for you! The pressure to make up stuff, though, is much higher for diversity statements than it is for writing about your research plans and goals. Further, once you’re hired, few colleges seriously consider how much you’ve promoted diversity as an assistant professor when you’re later up for promotion. (However, granting agencies like the NIH do give out grants, whose acquisition is important in advancing a scientific career, based on diversity and inclusion aspects of one’s research).
To quote Rini again:
Frank McCormick, a history teacher and author of many impassioned tweets about critical race theory, says diversity statements are “what ideological screening in education looks like. This is how the Woke uses gatekeeping to maintain institutional capture.”
That sounds terrible. But is it happening? Isn’t it more likely that job candidates will tackle diversity statements the same way they do other application materials: look up examples on the internet, change a few details, and render the entire thing in bland inoffensive prose that no one on the hiring committee will want to read?
. . . Correcting historical injustice in academe is too serious to treat as just another PDF upload or entry on a search-committee spreadsheet. That conversation shouldn’t be conducted through job-market materials — but that’s because it is too important, not because it is a stalking horse for angry mob ideology.
Rini, however, is in favor of diversity training, though she doesn’t mention that such training has repeatedly been shown to be ineffectual because it doesn’t dispel bias and may increase it:
The political scientists Elizabeth Corey and Jeffrey Polet say:
Trainings now aim at ends that are not only tendentious but even contrary to one of the chief ends of the university itself, which is the pursuit of truth. The problem is that “training” tends to assume that the truth is already known. It claims expert knowledge of truths about such complex and abstract things as “justice” and “race” and “gender.” But when these “truths” are, in fact, a matter of reasonable disagreement and current political contestation, the trainings become indoctrinations.
That certainly does sound terrible! But isn’t the problem here with trainings as such, not specifically about diversity training? As Corey and Polet go on to say: “Training stipulates the truth of its goal, and thus operates outside the proper authority and function of academic life itself. Educators take nothing to be self evident; trainers take everything to be so.” Understood literally, this view of academe — that its practitioners should take nothing for granted — implies educators should never be trained on anything, not even a payroll interface or PowerPoint. But, of course, that’s unworkable in practice. There is an inevitable tension in requiring academics — people prized for their independent thinking — to sometimes suspend their autonomy for the sake of keeping a large institution manageable. Yet we do it anyway for things like accounting rules and hiring practices. The answer isn’t as simple as that iconoclastic slogan “take nothing to be self evident.”
Yes, but there’s a big difference between diversity training and the kind of mandatory training I’ve taken here: training in sexual harassment, fire prevention, what to do if there’s a shooter on campus, how to deal with a kidnapping, and so on.
Diversity training isn’t required here and would never fly as a requirement—it’s optional. When the Provost once suggested that the faculty might have diversity training, the howl of protest was so loud that the matter wasn’t brought up again. The reason we require other types of training but will never require diversity training is that there are arguable and factually dubious contentions often made in diversity training, and we don’t propagandize our professors with things that can be contested. On the other hand, how to prevent fires or deal with shootings or illegal sexual harassment can’t be seen as contestable issues—at least to most reasonable people.
Note that I’ve just “engaged in collegial disagreement while still pulling the Wokeism alarm”, something that Rini thinks isn’t possible. But it is.
And I disagree with her that the excesses of the progressive left are relatively harmless. I can think of few greater harms than Trump getting re-elected in 2024.
Finally, below is a recent ad for a physical chemist at San Diego State University. It is overwhelmingly about the candidate’s ability to address diversity, with very little about their academic qualifications. Click on the screenshot to read the whole thing.
Do read the whole ad. It’s 764 words long. Of these, 251 words are about diversity statements and 85 about the diversity-promoting nature of the college, for a total of 336 words (44.7%). Only 86 words are used to describe the academic requirements of the job (research, teaching, funding, etc.); that’s 11.2%. The rest of the words deal with various policies of the university.
I submit that something has gone wrong in a job ad—and perhaps in academia— when discussion of diversity requirements is four times as important as academic requirements.
h/t: Luana, Anna