Crowdsourcing the best arguments for DEI initiatives

September 30, 2022 • 10:45 am

Reader Karl, who is investigating the relative benefits and harms of DEI initiatives in “scholarly life” (I presume he means “universities”), and like a good Mills-ian, he’s trying to find the best arguments on each side.  I gave him some possible resources, but he would like to crowdsource the answer to the question he poses below. I, too, would like to know the best arguments in favor of the side that I often criticize. So, if you don’t mind, try answering Karl’s question in the comments:

My question is: what are the strongest arguments for making DEI activities a required part of scholarly life? Who has articulated these arguments most clearly? I’m not asking for you to reply to me personally or do my homework for me. This might might be a fun/useful thing to poll the WEIT readership about.

Well, I’m not taking a poll, but you can suggest readings and arguments.

Thanks.

20 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing the best arguments for DEI initiatives

    1. By “part of scholarly life” I mean specifically for university faculty as part of promotion decisions — required diversity statements.

  1. “What are the strongest arguments for making DEI activities a required part of scholarly life?”

    There is no justification for making pseudo-racism a required part of anything. I think we went over this last century.

  2. > what are the strongest arguments for making DEI activities a required part of scholarly life?

    I suspect that the strongest arguments would end up redefining ‘DEI activities’ to the point meaninglessness. It seems close to the Moving the Goalposts or the No True Scotsman fallacies. As we dispute the benefits of various specific activities, I fully expect responses like “Well, sure, that one is problematic…”, without clearly proposing any specific activities.

    If the author were to suggest specific activities, we could analyze them on a case-by-case basis.

    1. I’m talking here about required diversity statements. The problem is, I can’t give specific activities. Vagueness seems to be a feature of these initiatives. Faculty are often requested/required to partake in such activities, but rarely given a comprehensive list of what counts and what does not count (likely to avoid flagrantly violating the first amendment). For example, I suspect teaching that SAT scores are discriminatory would count as “incorporating DEI in teaching”. But I also suspect that teaching that the SAT is well validated and among the least biased pieces of information an admission committee could consider would emphatically *not* count.

      1. You might want to read up on the fight against similar “statement of principles” mandates at the Law Society of Ontario that were ultimately repealed. Plenty of reasons about why the concept is fundamentally egregious but there might be some useful lessons touching on refinement.

        1. I suppose then it could be a benefit for humanity as a whole, if not for the particular institution requiring diversity statements. Look at how many great scientists fled authoritarian regimes insisting on Gleichschaltung and party loyalty, from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union. Requiring party loyalty now could encourage new think tanks to pop up elsewhere around the world. I’m already hearing about more foreign academics leaving the US; pretty soon, I hope to see more American expats.

          (Isn’t it funny to see how one person’s pessimism can be turned around into another’s honest optimism – thanks to silly tribal loyalties?)

  3. The only argument I see for required DEI activities is a cynical one, to give academic and business leadership cover so they don’t feel as much heat from the activists. Leadership’s desire for cover makes them susceptible to imposing nonsense consultant powerpoint presentations and inclusion activities on staff to show they are doing ‘something.’

    In my experience, requiring inculcation in a topic as poorly defined and potentially divisive as DEI (in its current form) raises a high level of automatic resistance, if not animosity against it in staff which is counterproductive to a more wholistic inclusionary effort that should be modeled by leadership.

  4. Here is the preamble of a piece I wrote a couple months ago for internal use in my department that laid out the arguments for and against requiring DEI statements by job applicants. I’d be glad if anyone found the points , but please ask (hey@temple.edu) if you want to reuse the actual text.
    ————-
    There are a great many benefits to a university to having it be accessible and welcoming to people from across the full spectrum of human identity and experience. Increasing diversity is an important way to strengthen the university, including by conventional standards of what it means to be a strong university, as well as by making the university a more fair and equitable environment for everyone (Smith and Schonfeld 2000; Powell 2018; Page 2019; Nunes 2021).

    The practice of requiring diversity statements in faculty hiring is one of many efforts that universities may take to serve the general goals of removing barriers and of increasing diversity on campus. However, universities change slowly and faculty recruiting depends on many factors that are beyond a university’s direct control, so it is reasonable to consider bringing all the tools available to bear on the issue (Lawson-Borders and Perlmutter 2020).

    If we focus on the benefits to a university that requires diversity statements of applicants for faculty jobs, there are two partly overlapping rationales that are regularly cited. The first of these emphasizes engagement and commitment to breaking down barriers and fostering diversity; and the second focuses specifically on hiring applicants who, by their backgrounds and identities, are underrepresented on campus (Bhalla 2019; Sylvester, et al. 2019; Glastonbury, et al. 2021; Bombaci and Pejchar 2022).
    Regarding the first of these two goals, it is argued that having such statements can lead to hiring more people committed to diversity. In other words, having diversity statements be part of the hiring process can lead to the recruitment of faculty who have the expertise, knowledge, and interest in meeting the needs of a diverse university, and who would work to help increase diversity and equity. Thus, even if such statements do not directly lead to increased diversity, they can help bring about significant changes in the longer term that do lead to increases in diversity and equity.

    The second aim of diversity statements is that they may lead directly to hiring more people from underrepresented groups. This can be realized because the requirement of a diversity statement shifts the conventional job requirements towards a new standard that is more likely to enrich the applicant pool for underrepresented groups. In other words, if applicants from underrepresented groups tend to write more compelling diversity statements, then they will tend to rise higher in the applicant pool than they would otherwise, with the result that more people from those groups end up being hired. Importantly, such an approach is not based on belonging to an underrepresented group per se and would not run afoul of laws against hiring on the basis of belonging to a particular group.

    1. >”The second aim . . . “

      Ah. So, affirmative action on the sly. Thought so.

      But on reflection, why should it be true that a Black person would have a more compelling DEI statement? Imagine a Black kid grows up in a 99% Black neighbourhood—Black neighbourhoods in Toronto are much less diverse than the nice urban bourgeois neighbourhood my son is raising his family in—and our own suburban one. There are races of every hue in the rainbow, just no Black people. Anyway, the kid attends all-Black schools, goes to college and sits in class with the other Black students, lives in segregated affinity housing and avails herself of Black-only student services. How much diversity has she been exposed to and what has she done to foster diversity? How could this person’s diversity statement be “compelling” except as a catalogue of grievances she’s had to suffer at the hands of white people, few of whom she’s ever met? If “diversity” is just argot for “Black”, OK, call a spade a bloody shovel and out with it.

  5. Proponents of inserting DEI into all scholarship are descendants of an earlier school of thought which dominated a galaxy far away. In that galaxy, it was asserted that scientific knowledge depended on the scientist’s playing a progressive role in the dialectic of History. Here is an example, from one of many expositions of this philosophy.

    “The dialectic of nature is inseparable from the dialectic of history with which it is connected by a unity of method, as two sides of a single teaching on a single, objective reality, as inseparable parts of the complete world outlook of Marx. This means that a real knowledge of nature and a conception of it as a developing whole is only possible with the knowledge of the laws and history of the development of human society which forms a specific part of nature. This means, further, that for the dialectical materialist science puts a stop to its pseudo-independent existence divorced from every aspect of social practice. The Marxian scientific investigator is consciously included in a single and inseparable complex of the theoretical and practical activity of a class which is the agent and motive force of historical progress. Science then finds its true ground and obtains a powerful impulse for its infinite development. It becomes a real weapon of struggle for changing the world and for the emancipation of the proletariat, and is transformed into a progressive and historically revolutionary force for the rapid construction of communist society.”

  6. Thanks to all those who have commented so far. For the record, I’m opposed to mandatory diversity statements/required DEI activity reporting. But I might soon have to argue against them in a real world situation and I want to be able to make a compelling argument to folks who are still on the fence.

    If I had to argue the other side, here is the strongest case I can make for requiring DEI statements at a hypothetical UofX:

    1) In the past, many people have faced barriers to success at UofX purely because of their identity (ethnicity, gender, skin color, sexuality, etc).

    2) This represents a serious breach of our ethical duty to treat individuals as individuals.

    3) We have a collective responsibility to remove any such barriers that remain.

    4) Let’s define any work that dismantles barriers as “DEI work”.

    5) Historically faculty who have taken on DEI work have not been rewarded. To the contrary, they have been penalized because time spent on DEI work means less time spent on the activities that *are* rewarded like research.

    6) This is bad because a) it is unfair to the faculty who do DEI work and b) it creates a perverse incentive to leave identity-based barriers in place.

    Therefore, to incentivize and reward DEI work, UofX will require reporting of DEI work in faculty evaluations. Just as everyone must list the number of curses taught, papers published, and grad students supervised, everyone must list their DEI work. We recognize that not everyone will be a superstar in each category.

    To me, #5 is the most compelling part of this argument.

    1. This is an interesting excercise.I haven’t much to say except that I see the main problem with DEI right here in the bolded part of one of your statements;

      “Therefore, to incentivize and reward DEI work, UofX will require reporting of DEI work in faculty evaluations.”

      Change the bolded to “encourage” or “enable” or “promote” and I think you would find a whole lot more would sign on to the idea.

  7. The most recent issue of Skeptic has an article that outlines, I think, the best argument for DEI. While I am anti-DEI statements, this article makes the best outline for the continued existence of Racism in the USA. It focuses upon real estate. While this issue has improved there are still a lot of legacy ongoing real estate issues unfavorable for African Americans in our society..The issue of Skeptic has about 6 or 7 articles focusing on Racism and it covers a wide variety of topics. I bought it for about $5.
    The article and authors are:

    SYSTEMIC RACISM — EXPLAINED
    BY MAHZARIN R. BANAJI, SUSAN T. FISKE & DOUGLAS S. MASSEY

  8. Brainstorming here – it might be tangential :

    I think the country that the DEI is being applied in matters.

    If the prospective faculty has been hiring people for their work, then how the chaff and wheat of the applicant pool was separated needs to be brought up. If certain “races” were chosen while different “races” were discarded, that would be used to show how “diversity” was increased.

    Then there are things besides race – physical ability, socioeconomic background.

    … aren’t these things the job of human resources?

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