University of Illinois now requires diversity statements for tenure and promotion

April 7, 2022 • 11:45 am

I’m not sure whether this new requirement is legal, since the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the flagship campus of a state (governmental school), but that University is now, according to Inside Higher Education (IHE), beginning to require diversity statements for all faculty members who want to be considered for tenure or promotion (and who doesn’t?) The statements are optional now, but in two years will be mandatory.

This requirement, detailed in the article below seems to me inappropriate on several counts:

a. It changes the job of professors in a way to make them engage in social engineering as well as of education. While universities should certainly foster a welcome climate for minorities and not discriminate against them, and (in my view) can engage in limited forms of affirmative action, it should not enlarge the job of the faculty to comport with certain social goals that the university deems desirable.

b. It is a form of compulsory speech or viewpoint discrimination, since if you don’t adhere to a prescribed form of social engineering involving minorities, your prospects will suffer and your job will be endangered. When you take a job at a university, and presumably at the U of I, you have not signed on to doing this work.

c. There are other forms of nonacademic work that could be promoted in this way, but are not. For example, you might be forced to submit “poverty alleviation statements” showing what you’ve done to help the poor, or “outreach statements”, that demonstrate how you’ve tried to educate society about your academic work, or any number of statements documenting how you’ve tried to do nonacademic things to achieve social goals the university deems “desirable”.  You could, for example, teach illiterate adults to read. But people who do this other work do it without the promise of reward, or of any expectation of reward. I give any number of free talks on evolution to nonacademic groups, high schools and so on, and often do it for free. I do that because I love it (it’s fun!(), because I do want to educate people about how great evolution is, and because I do feel an obligation of payback since the public has funded my research. But I expect no professional reward for this, nor do I feel that this should be required.

d. Although racial equality is both desirable and essential, the job of engineering that falls to the government, and even though universities are organs of the government, their job is education. If university professors were forced to engage in forms of social engineering that the government favors, the purpose of a university would not only be diluted, but corrupted. Imagine if professors had to submit statements, under a Republican administration, documenting how they had not promoted critical race theory. Academic freedom requires that professors have the freedom to work on what they want, and if they’re rewarded, it should be for fulfilling the traditional academic duties of teaching, research, and administration (committee work). They should not be rewarded for fulfilling “diversity goals”, nor penalized for not fulfilling them. Remember, just saying in your diversity statement that “I have treated all students equally and engaged in no discrimination” is deemed completely insufficient as a diversity statement. Saying that will, in fact, take you out of the running if you apply for a faculty job at the University of California.

And, as I implied in (b) above, perhaps this kind of practice is illegal as a form of government-compelled speech. I am not sure because this kind of DEI statement is already required when applying for jobs in many places, as in the state universities of California. But even if it’s legal, it’s not appropriate for a university. This was the viewpoint of Stanley Fish’s book Save the World on Your Own Time.  The Amazon blurb summarizes his thesis, with which I agree:

What should be the role of our institutions of higher education? To promote good moral character? To bring an end to racism, sexism, economic oppression, and other social ills? To foster diversity and democracy and produce responsible citizens?

In Save the World On Your Own Time, Stanley Fish argues that, however laudable these goals might be, there is but one proper role for the academe in society: to advance bodies of knowledge and to equip students for doing the same. When teachers offer themselves as moralists, political activists, oragents of social change rather than as credentialed experts in a particular subject and the methods used to analyze it, they abdicate their true purpose. And yet professors now routinely bring their political views into the classroom and seek to influence the political views of their students. Those who do this will often invoke academic freedom, but Fish suggests that academic freedom, correctly understood, is the freedom to do the academic job, not the freedom to do any job that the professor so chooses. Fish insists that a professor’s only obligation is “to present the material in the syllabus and introduce students to state-of-the-art methods of analysis. Not to practice politics, but to study it; not to proselytize for or against religious doctrines, but to describe them; not to affirm or condemn Intelligent Design, but to explain what it is and analyze its appeal.”

If you are compelled to do DEI activities, this will perforce bring political views into your academic work and change the nature of your job.

Click to read the IHE piece:

The interesting (but hardly novel) aspect of the U of I’s promoting this policy is that it avoids the elephant in the room: these policies are in place to increase “equity”—to equalize the proportion of different ethnic or minority groups in society with the proportion existing among the professioriate. They are largely about that slippery social construct of race, but also include gender and LGBTA groups (see below). To quote from the article:

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will soon require all faculty members to submit a diversity statement to be considered for tenure or promotion.

Andreas C. Cangellaris, UIUC’s provost, announced the change this week, saying that in order to meet the goals of its current strategic plan, the university must “catalyze innovation and discovery, find novel and proactive ways to educate students from all walks of life, and develop ever-deeper connections with the public we serve.”

All of that requires that UIUC “recognize and support a wider range of contributions to the excellence of our institution,” Cangellaris added.

Note the implication that the university should serve “the public” when it should do that only by “serving the students”, not by striving for particular social goals.

Note as well the euphemism “students from all walks of life”. But surely if your DEI statement is about trying to increase the number of underrepresented conservatives or Republicans in your university, you would probably be demoted (just kidding, but you’d gain no promotion or tenure for that). There’s more:

Numerous institutions or specific departments now require faculty job applicants to submit a diversity statement. Others encourage professors to include their diversity, equity and inclusion work in their tenure and promotion portfolios. Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis even approved a new DEI-related track to tenure and promotion last year. But few institutions of UIUC’s size and research profile have considered requiring diversity statements—and, effectively, DEI work—from all professors who hope to be tenured or promoted.

William Bernhard, executive vice provost for academic affairs, said UIUC began working to update its tenure and promotion policy more than two years ago, to better align it with the strategic plan. The policy update also carves out a clear place for DEI contributions in the tenure and promotion process, he said, as individual faculty members or departments had long been “squeezing” this work into the service criterion of their faculty reviews.

But “service” for an academic has always meant one thing: service to the University, usually by serving on committees or bodies of governance. It has never meant striving to meet socially desirable goals.

Here’s how the U of I’s statement works (it’s voluntary through 2024-2025 academic year, and will be mandatory after that):

The provost’s office describes the new DEI requirement as a one-page-maximum personal statement detailing “specific individual and/or collaborative activities aimed at supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as access.” Candidates should “include a discussion of the context, importance, and impact of their contributions along with their future plans for contributions. The candidate may choose to organize the statement by topic, activity, domain (e.g., research, teaching, and service), or in another manner.”

The policy says that the departments’ evaluations of teaching, service and research and future potential “must, where appropriate, consider the candidate’s diversity, equity, and inclusion activities and their impact.”

Note that neither race or gender is mentioned here, and there is simply NO definition of what “diversity, equity, inclusion, and access” actually mean. Shouldn’t they specify what they mean by these terms to help candidates forge their statements? (They do give examples below.)

Then they pretend that by adding these statements, and making them mandatory, they’re not really “changing one’s research focus.” But the statement below by Bernhard is cant, pure and simple:

Bernhard said this adjustment period is designed to give all faculty members time to think about how DEI fits into their work.

“Think” my tuchas!  The period is to get faculty off their tushies and start doing the kind of DEI that the University wants (and everyone knows what they want.) My emphasis below:

“There are many different ways to make contributions, and you can make contributions in research or teaching or service. And the centrality of those contributions is going to vary enormously,” he said. “For some candidates whose research centers on these topics, it’s going to be very important and very central to their case. For others, maybe it’s not going to be as central, but there are still things that they can do. Maybe it’s changing when the lab group meets to be at a more family-friendly time. That’s a contribution.”

Bernhard continued, “We really want to underscore we’re not expecting anyone to change their research focus to say that they’ve done a DEI activity. Research is research and you’re guided by your disciplinary challenges and your interests and funding availability and all of those things.”

This is a lie. Of course they expect people to either start doing DEI activities or, if they don’t, lie about it and pretend that they do.  In fact, they give a list of activities that they consider will help you get promotion and tenure.
  • A labor and employment relations professor establishes a campuswide gender-in-higher-education research initiative
  • A medical school professor attends a workshop on culturally responsive approaches to recruit groups underrepresented in medical research
  • A history professor creates a student advisory panel to provide input into the representation of diverse perspectives in courses departmentwide
  • A media professor includes a module in their course on the history of media coverage of issues that impact LGBTQ+ communities in the Midwest
  • A chemistry professor organizes seminars, workshops or informal discussions about supporting the growing number of nontraditional students who are enrolling in undergraduate courses in the department

These are all expectations that you will change your research or teaching focus to favor underrepresented minorities. And hardly any of these courses or activities would be undertaken unless the university were putting its students under the gun.

The whole point of this—to get faculty to engage in academic or nonacademic activities that conform to the University’s social-justice “values”—is summarized in Bernhard’s statement:

. . . Burbules said this is “going to look different for different people. It’ll be less central for some people than for others. But the intention here—the headline is—everybody is expected to contribute to this campus value in some way.”

I presume the campus value is “achieving equity”. But I don’t, and never have, seen that as part of my academic job.  Yes, I’ve engaged in charitable activities that serve underrepresented groups but I’m not going to stoop to describe them because it’s a form of virtue flaunting. And I would not want to penalize a mathematics professor because he’s not engaged in activities to recruit more “nontraditional” students.  While I believe racial and sexual equality (of opportunity) is a valuable social goal, it’s one that should be in the government’s hands, not among the criteria for academic excellence. And when the government does it, it should start with a big overhauling of social policy, including with social and legal changes beginning at birth. But for the rest, while I applaud those professors who do DEI work on their own volition, I don’t denigrate those who choose to concentrate on more academic ventures.

Under no circumstances should DEI statements be required for hiring, promoting, or tenuring professors. As Stanley Fish said, “save the world on your own time.”

h/t: Larry

27 thoughts on “University of Illinois now requires diversity statements for tenure and promotion

    1. A good time to point out that “table the motion” means the opposite in U.S. and British English. Not sure what it means in a partially French-speaking Canadian province. 🙂

      1. Thanks! I just looked it up.

        It explains a confusing conversation I had about a decade ago. A US guy wanted to table something. I said no. He said that we could not consider it at the time. I agreed.

  1. PCC I agree with you that it’s bad. I doubt it’s illegal, as a state can certainly form or reform a state university to fulfill a specific state mission. A&M schools, or UNC’s School of the Arts for example. Or if you’re looking for a state school that promotes a specific ‘mission’ which is more comparable to the notion of diversity, consider Florida A&M – a specific mission twofer! It’s both an A&M and an HBCU.

    I’d also add that even if a university takes on diversity and equity as part of their mission, wouldn’t that be primarily the job of the admissions department? It’s not like a Bio professor can go out and recruit diverse High School kids to enter into the bio department; they must draw students and student researchers from the pool of those admitted.

    Which brings up a ‘shark feeding frenzy’ image of all the various departments and professors in a single university now scrambling and competing to get the same set of minority students to be majors and student researchers.

  2. In Canada, we are far down the rabbit-hole of absurdity with respect to woke overreach in academia:

    Do not turn to us for an example of a balanced nation.

  3. More of the same, sadly. Professors seeking to meet the requirement will perform a few perfunctory acts, none with any sincerity, and will either lie or embellish their resumes to make the grade. Everyone will understand this, and nothing of value will result. The university will be able to check the diversity box and the hearts of admissions officers will swell with pride. It’s all performance art and nothing more.

    1. But how would an “outstanding” record read?

      “accepted 7 women in semester 2 who were born in regions with low median household incomes and high crime rates”?

      Or would that be too … too detailed?

  4. I think there is something more than performance art involved in the viral spread of Diversity Statements
    as a credentialing device in academia. After all, it achieves something else: a ladder of professional status distinct from capability in the nominal subjects. Is an individual academic not much good at (or even much interested in) Music, History, Architecture, Math, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy, etc. etc.? No matter, that individual can gain professional points—hiring in the first place, or promotion, or tenure—by doing, or promising to do, DEI activism.

    I know the origin of this trend, and it was already satirized in the British academic novels of David Lodge. A generation ago, literature departments were invaded and then partly taken over by academics who, mystifyingly, seemed actually to hate literature. [I know some people who were driven out of English departments by this transformation.] The postmodernist literature-haters made “deconstructing” literature into a way to advance in the status structures of academe. Beyond the literature departments, the technique was then expanded to create new, bogus departments, often using magic words such as “Critical” or “Theory”. We are witnessing the expansion of this technique to all academic disciplines, with DEI-worship in place of post-modernist incantations. The result will be professors with biomedical titles who assert that the Normal distribution is a tool of colonialism, etc. etc. The fun will really begin
    if pilot’s licenses start getting awarded on the basis of Diversity Statements.

      1. “Changing Places” and “Small World”. They are both so funny that I reread them periodically. In one of them, an “angry young man” working class novelist is introduced to a computerized word-use survey of his own writing—in response to which he develops writer’s block such that he can’t write a thing for years.

        1. I see them with Small World in a collection titled “the campus trilogy”.

          … I’ll assume Changing Places is entirely unrelated to the movie Trading Places…

          1. Yes, those are the ones. Changing Places is about an American and a British academic who trade positions for a year. It points up the differences between academic life in the two countries. I read them while I was a PhD student (in Canada) and found them hilarious.

  5. Hey, that is my grad school alma mater.
    It seems to me that a sincere and not legally entangled way to get the desired effect is for a faculty member to voluntarily document acts of public outreach in their promotion dossier. Tenure decisions are generally weighed by different criteria [scholarship (generally with a rubric about a minimal # of grants and peer reviewed papers), teaching (student evaluations and other documentation of excellence in teaching), and committees (being useful and not useless. Maybe be a chair of a departmental committee, and serving on some university committees)]. A DEI record could be a 4th item that is done if they want to. A committee could work out later how much to weigh this, and how much it counts toward making up for possible deficiencies in the first 3 items.

  6. We wonder how and why this stuff has taken root across several countries – US, Canada, New Zealand etc. Are all of these universities thinking independently or is there a kind of contagion effect?

    Of course, repairing past wrongs to minorities and present inequalities across demographic groups are crucially important if we are to have civilised societies. Apart from the descriptor “civilised”, what other adjectives could we consider here – peaceful, harmonious, civil, prosperous, egalitarian, compassionate, stable, enduring, sustainable, fair etc. We want all of these and more. However, what is happening is beyond a joke.

    The function of a university is to educate and engage in research and certainly not to undertake social engineering. I append some text from an article written by Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger and myself that was rejected for publication in New Zealand recently. It refers to the, by now well-known, letter written by the seven University of Auckland professors.

    “Three authors of the original letter to the Listener (Michael Corballis, Robert Nola, Elizabeth Rata) have commented on indigenising universities (Corballis et al, 2021). They state that it could mean ensuring equity, so that there are representative numbers of indigenous staff and students within the university. It could mean “reconciliation indigenisation”, in which there is power-sharing throughout the university and, concomitantly, that the different “knowledge systems” of indigenous and non-indigenous people are given equal recognition. At the extreme end of the spectrum of possibilities, is “decolonial indigenisation”, in which indigenous people are in full control. The empowerment of Māori within tertiary education is most desirable and should be supported but we agree with Professors Corballis, Nola and Rata that there is no agenda, religious, political or indigenous, to which the university must necessarily conform. Quite rightly, they state that if there is any agenda at all, it is the exercise of academic freedom, as spelled out in New Zealand’s Education Act 1989.”

    Let’s quote Mario Bunge from In praise of intolerance to charlatanism in academia (2006):

    “Over the past three decades or so very many universities have been infiltrated, though not yet seized, by the enemies of learning, rigor and empirical evidence: those who proclaim that there is no objective truth, whence “anything goes”; those who pass off political opinion as science and engage in bogus scholarship. These are not unorthodox original thinkers; they ignore or even scorn rigorous thinking and experimenting altogether.”

    Finally – in a recent review on Jonathan Rauch’s book on The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defence of Truth (Rauch, 2021), Brian Boyd (Professor of Literature at the University of Auckland) suggests:

    “It needs concerted action, both local and global, against the current designers of social media to turn them away from harm and falsehood and towards healing and truth, and in our educational, research and political institutions a commitment to the rewards we can reap only through open inquiry and reasoned, respectful debate.”

    David Lillis

  7. The common notion “we are the traffic” seems to be a driver of “social engineering”.

    I have nothing to develop from that though.

  8. I don’t think this is anything new. Diversity/equity statements have been required with job applications at numerous schools for at least the last two decades. I had to write a few back when I was job hunting, and it struck me then that the task was to figure out what they wanted to hear rather than what I might actually think.

    Of course I agree that there should be every effort made to promote equality, and extra resources available to help disadvantaged students, but yes, that is the job of the administration, not the faculty.

  9. Bureaucrats who are hired to promote Diversity, Equ(al)ity and Inclusion will work fervently to earn their coin by doing what they think will achieve those ends.

    The trouble is that the end result is, all too often, Conformity, Heirarchy and Exclusion. The University becomes a Monoversity. How on earth can anyone with any intellectual integrity subscribe to this? It’s nothing more than a contemporary “Trahison des Clercs”.

  10. TL;DR : I re-read Self-Reliance by Emerson partly because of this post.

    The title “Save the World on Your Own Time” – with another event today – somehow led me myself reading Emerson’s Self-Reliance after leaving it on a shelf for a long time.

    I don’t know why, but Self-Reliance – as flawed as Emerson’s piece is – seems to me to have something the “DEI” fad misses … must think that over …

  11. I wonder when K-12 teachers will be required to submit a diversity statement with their employment application. There’s such a great shortage of teachers that it will be some significant time before these statements can be imposed on teachers.

    University officials are recommending K-12 Positive Behavior Support and Intervention techniques to professors when dealing with the current crop of university students:

    (The professor is black.)

    I would have (reasonably) thought that a goal of (K-12) Positive Behavior Support techniques would be to get students to a position where they would not need PBS as (young) adults.

    1. I have no hope for the next generation of young adults. The stuff that my high school aged nieces bring home almost brings me to tears.

  12. I simply can’t see how this requirement would be legal in a public university in the US. The “No religious test” clause in Article VI of the constitution says “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Courts, especially the Supreme Court, have interpreted this broadly to apply to all matters of opinion and conscience, not just religion. Hiring procedures (or tenure approval, which is effectively an extension of the same process) in which diversity statements are used to weed out candidates *before* their actual qualifications are reviewed are particularly vulnerable to challenge under that clause. The requirement to demonstrate political action and voice agreement with debatable politico-religious propositions, before you can even begin to describe how well you might deserve tenure, is surely nothing but the imposition of a politico-religious test, and in a public university, should therefore be unconstitutional. It just needs someone who would otherwise be clearly qualified for tenure to challenge their failure to be given it for a test case to provide a ruling on this.

    1. >It just needs someone who would otherwise be clearly qualified for tenure to challenge their failure to be given it for a test case to provide a ruling on this.

      This is the type of case the American Civil Liberties Union ought to be thrilled to take on. Think what it would do for its public perception. /s

      1. Unfortunately, the ACLU has given up its mission of defending free expression and climbed aboard the social-engineering train.

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