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.”
- 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.”