The Academic Freedom Alliance denounces required diversity statements for academic positions

August 22, 2022 • 10:30 am

Even if you’re in favor of efforts to increase diversity in colleges and organizations, as I am, and favor some form of affirmative action, as I do, that doesn’t mean you should endorse the use of “diversity statements” when applying for jobs and promotions, which I don’t. They are an affirmation of political fealty which does not belong in the hiring process. There are an infinite number of moral, ideological, and political affirmations that could be required to accompany job applications, and none of them are appropriate, for they all dilute the purpose and mission of a university as defined by the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report:

A university has a great and unique role to play in fostering the development of social and political values in a society. The role is defined by the distinctive mission of the university and defined too by the distinctive characteristics of the university as a community. It is a role for the long term.

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge.

It’s as simple as that.

Yet diversity statements for hiring are proliferating to the point where it’s unusual for a university not to require them.  The University of California system, for example, not only requires statements for applicants, but grades them in three areas: what the applicant’s record for promoting diversity has been, what their philosophy of diversity is, and how the applicant proposes to promote diversity at the school if they’re hired. If you don’t make the cut with your diversity statement—a sure job-killer is to affirm Dr. King’s philosophy to judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin—your application goes no further. It gets binned.

The Academic Freedom Alliance, now just behind FIRE in its reputation and power to defend academic freedom, has just issued a call for the end of these statements. You can see the announcement by clicking on the link below:

And the official AFA statement is here.  I’ll quote an excerpt from that statement giving the rationale for the AFA’s position.

The practice that prompts our concern are requirements that members or prospective members of faculties submit statements in which they are forced to detail ways in which they have advanced or plan to advance “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI). A school of engineering requires that all applications for faculty positions include “a statement of your experience with or knowledge of inclusion, diversity, equity, and belonging efforts and your plans for incorporating them into your teaching, research, mentoring, and service.” A school of medicine has proposed that faculty members “be required to show effort toward advancing DEI in at least one mission area for which they are evaluated by including a short narrative DEI summary in their personal statement and by listing DEI-related activities on their CVs.” A history department directs applicants to submit a diversity statement that ‘highlights an understanding of the role of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in a university setting. Please include examples from past experiences and reference plans to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in your teaching, research, and service.”

Requirements for diversity statements have spread quickly and will continue to do so absent a determined effort to persuade academia to reconsider a practice with conspicuously disturbing features.

Academics seeking employment or promotion will almost inescapably feel pressured to say things that accommodate the perceived ideological preferences of an institution demanding a diversity statement, notwithstanding the actual beliefs or commitments of those forced to speak. This scenario is inimical to fundamental values that should govern academic life. The demand for diversity statements enlists academics into a political movement, erasing the distinction between academic expertise and ideological conformity. It encourages cynicism and dishonesty. An industry of diversity statement “counselling” has already emerged–and could easily have been predicted. There are prevalent and reasonable suspicions that beneath the stated rationales for diversity statements lurk unstated motives that include providing a way to screen out candidates who express ambivalence about DEI programming

The header page above gives quotes from several of the AFA’s members, including some who drafted the statement. Here’s one:

Regarding the AFA’s statement, Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University*, said, “The danger that mandatory DEI statements would function as ideological loyalty oaths worried academic freedom advocates and other civil libertarians from the start. Experience, far from diminishing that worry, has heightened it.”

I don’t have much to say about this position except that I agree with it: statements of ideological fealty should not be part of university job applications—or indeed of applications for nearly any job.

Fortunately, these statements are forbidden at the University of Chicago by another report I haven’t mentioned, the Shils Report, which sets out the criteria for academic appointments. Made policy in 1970, the report in its entirety (it’s 23 pages long) is here. Here’s the relevant statement from page 5:

“There must be no consideration of sex, ethnic or national characteristics, or political or religious beliefs or affiliations in any decision regarding appointment, promotion, or reappointment at any level of the academic staff.”

Note that DEI statements can fall under ethnicity, but certainly fall under “political or religious beliefs or affiliations.”

Of course departments here try to get around this requirement, but they also get called on it and are forced to abide by Shils.

One curious aspect, though, is although we prohibit the use of DEI statements, we provide a lot of resources to our own students to write them. Here’s a U of C site that helps our students write their statements and shows some examples (from the University of California at San Diego!). Now I can understand that, while we prohibit diversity statements, we must nonetheless help our own students prepare for jobs at the many schools that do require them. Still, it gives me a bit of a queasy feeling— as if we’re trying to teach our students how to distort and exaggerate to further their careers.

Let’s face it: nearly every applicant such statements will be full of distortions and exaggerations. And this is what we encourage in the name of ideology.

18 thoughts on “The Academic Freedom Alliance denounces required diversity statements for academic positions

  1. As the AFA hints, diversity statements encourage candidates to lie. Do we really want people to have to lie in order to get into medical school? The best candidates won’t be able to bring themselves to lie and will be left out. But those are the ones we want to have as doctors, no?

  2. Very happy to see this statement!

    (I’m extremely uncomfortable submitting DEI statements for assistant faculty jobs. I won’t apply to UC Berkeley due to this. The only university I’ve bothered applying to is the University of New Mexico, which didn’t make me lie or dance about DEI upfront.

    I am an academic through and through, but I will likely pivot to industry due to the ideological heaviness at universities.

    I no longer see the benefits of staying in academia when any industry job I take will pay me more than assistant faculty positions will. Power hungry authoritarians trolling through tweets to try to prevent tenure is something that I do not see relenting in academia over the next 5-10 years. Industry feels economically safer.)

    1. “We know, of course, that there is no freedom of speech … in Communist countries . . .,” he explained. “But few persons realize that there is no freedom of silence, either. Residents of a Communist state are required to make positive statements of belief and loyalty.” dr. hu shih

  3. At future academic gatherings to introduce the new Vice Provost for DEI, the applause will go on for many, many minutes—as all the attending faculty members vie with each other to not be the first to stop applauding.

    1. Sounds analogous to the moment Saddam Hussein publicly starts arresting opposition “conspirators” and marching them out of the chamber for execution. The remaining fall all over one another in professing their newfound loyalty to the dictator.

  4. One trump card that is often cited to justify such race-based discrimination (which is what much of this seems to be a stalking horse for, especially to get around affirmative action bans at the UCs) is the “role model” hypothesis, that if you don’t have faculty who look a certain way then you won’t be able to attract and support students who look like them.

    I have not been able to find clear evidence within the (limited) empirical research on this question, but I would be interested in whether or not there is actually much supportive evidence of more faculty of similar race helping, especially compared to other types of interventions such as simply supporting all first-generation students or checking in on failing students.

  5. From a dean at Harvard last week:

    “Dear colleagues,

    Please help the Offices of Diversity and Inclusion and Faculty Affairs to recruit motivated candidates for a unique one-year opportunity to study postdoc diversity, satisfaction, and wellness, and to make recommendations for institutional best practices in postdoc recruitment and retention. This is an Administrative Fellows Program role (info about the AFP below) with a firm start date of 9/23/22.”

    So, we have an Office of Diversity (fully aligned with Faculty Affairs), and it sure keeps itself busy sending email after email about “diversity” and now seeks to hire staff to run focus groups.

    In an anonymous questionnaire, I told them how their endeavors were isolating and alienating non-progressive faculty, staff, and students. Of course, they don’t care about that kind of feedback. And there is no way in hell I’d go to a focus group to out myself as against their ideology just so that I can be targeted.

    Part of me wants to write them a manifesto (when I leave) about the ways their ideology prevents inclusion and belonging!

    1. Find a really lucrative (even if soul-destroying) job in industry and quit academe before it kills you, Roz. That’s the best revenge and it will make you feel much better for much longer than writing a manifesto, which experience suggests you will regret forever beginning five seconds after you publish it. These gestures have a way of coming back to bite you.

      1. I think you are right, Leslie. And I can triple my income in industry. Every mentor of mine thinks leaving academia is the right move. It’s so sad because I am competitive: around 20 first and last author papers, which is enough to launch as assistant faculty in my fields. So, it seems I’m another another classical liberal making way for far-left progressives. This has to stifle innovation.

        Opened my inbox this morning to find yet another email about DEI from Faculty Affairs. If I were an alien peering into Harvard’s emails, the corpus would lead me to think this place was aimed primarily at remedial behavioral engineering, not scholarship.

        Here’s the latest. Of course, all the instructors on “lab culture” are non-Whites…

        “DEI in the Lab: Creating an Interdependent Laboratory Culture

        Like many workplaces, lab culture is undergoing a shift. The future of laboratory culture can be defined as a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace that is key to achieving innovative science.

        Join us Tuesday, September 20, 2-3 p.m. ET for an informative and interactive ABRCMS Online event, DEI in the Lab: Creating an Interdependent Laboratory Culture. Our expert panel will discuss important aspects of enhancing lab culture, including ways to avoid workplace toxicity and cultivate cultural humility and leadership. The webinar will also cover how laboratory professionals can motivate one another, both inside and outside the laboratory, to facilitate a thriving, respectful and welcoming lab atmosphere.”

  6. I am often struck by the verbiage I am sent along with promotion and tenure review requests. I wonder to myself how the Teaching Philosophy statements etc. can even be evaluated (who ever, honestly wrote, “I prioritise time for my academic publications over my teaching when they clash”?), but assume that is for the internal panel to worry about. The DEI statements that U of C is giving people as examples remind me a lot of the teaching philosophy statements. I just see another burden on already stressed out and under-resourced early career academics. Some of the achievements in the model statements suggest people who come from middle-class or other economically privileged backgrounds (it’s a rather middle class conceit to reframe “helping others out” as “mentoring”).

  7. It gets worse, a presentation was given at the University of Michigan in which it was explained how to ‘integrate’ DEI with Mathematics with the title ‘Rehumanizing Mathematics’. There is an archived copy of the presentation slides and a YouTube Video of the presentation. Both are well worth looking at. To avoid problems I will not post links.

    1. Well, i found several links to rehumanizing mathematics and michigan…honestly i did not know math had been DEhumanized or even humanized at one time. I feel like i am in the middle of an Onion article. Is this really a thing? So i guess i will, out of academic curiosity and equity, spend a couple of hours this morning reading some of this material to see what these math ed scholars have produced over the past twenty years. I do not think that awareness of this area of nsf funding will help my insomia, but thanks for the heads up, deodand.

      1. I doubt that anyone will look back and read this, but I looked at the video of the rehumanizing math lecture and it is not the math per se that is being rehumanized but rather the teaching of math it seems. The professor is a professor of ed…she has no degree in mathematics (BS in human biology; PhD in education) and her scholarship seems to be about twenty years on how minority students feel in math classes that they are forced to take. Complaints that almost all the theorems are named for white males were one of the points from the audience. So, at least in this one data point, it is not the math content at issue, it seems but rather the teachers and maybe some context around presentation of course schedules and required content by the departments.

  8. With reference to comments under #8, I have devised a new sub-discipline for academia. Surely there is a crying need for specialists not in Mathematics Education itself, but in the teaching of Mathematics Education. Or, in other words, a program of Mathematics Education Education. I will soon propose this innovation to the School of Ed at my own institution, and, of course, to all the budding educational consultant entrepreneurs who need a content-free subject to major in.

  9. So you don’t think a new professor, whose job will be to teach a diverse class of students, should at least show minimal knowledge of inclusive teaching/mentoring practices? Isn’t that a core part of the job? To teach and mentor ALL students, not just those who look like them?

    1. You’re asssuming that every different ethnic group (as well as political groups and social-class groups) require a special teaching method, but of course you’re concerned only with “race” (the “look like them”) comment. What’s your evidence that you need to tailor your teaching not to individual needs but to characteristics that differ in a predictable way between groups? Further, if it’s about interacting about different INDIVIDUALS with different learning styles, well, you learn that from life and from teaching, not from teaching someone according to race-specific requirements.

      Finally,jobs already require teaching statements. If this is a genuine issue, it’s part of a teaching statement. But it’s clear that DEI statements aren’t about effective teaching of different groups. You do know that, don’t you? It’s about achieving equity.

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