Truth vs. equity: a piece by John Sailer

January 10, 2023 • 9:30 am

While I believe there are ways to increase equal opportunity for groups  that havehistorically been held back in America, requiring DEI statements (diversity, equity, and inclusion) for admission to graduate schools or hiring and promotion of professor is not such a way.  While those initiatives may increase representation or “equity” if used as criteria of “merit”, but they won’t solve the problem of constricted opportunity, which, after all, is the goal—or is supposed to be. The goal of those who promote DEI is simply “equity,” or proportional representation, and without equal opportunity, the goal may be misguided if different groups have the different preferences and desires. And, at any rate, the obsession with DEI will lead to a perpetual focus on ethnicity, which I don’t think anyone wants—except the many people who hold DEI-related jobs.

The piece below by John Sailer appeared yesterday on Bari Weiss’s new Substack site, The Free Press, and its point is made in the title and subtitle. The piece will appeal to those who think the mission of universities is seeking the truth, providing education, and promoting critical thought, but not to those who feel that the purpose of a university is to foster “progressive” (i.e., illiberal Left) politics.

I’ve already argued at length about the proliferation and dangers of DEI, so I’ll simply give a few pieces of information from the article that show how DEI is burrowing deeper into the American academia. I find some of these data frightening, but am glad that I’m retired and don’t, for example, have to rank grad students or job candidates according to their adherence to an “approved” version of DEI.

Indented words come from Sailer’s piece:

a.) The treatment of a “colorblind” instructor at UCLA. As we know, Dr. King’s statement about judging people by their character—or, for me, by their merit when merit is important for deciding who to choose—is now in bad odor, and the color of one’s skin has become vitally important. Here’s one case:

In June 2020, Gordon Klein, a longtime accounting lecturer at UCLA, made the news after a student emailed him asking him to grade black students more leniently in the wake of the “unjust murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.”

Klein’s response was blunt. It stated in part:

Thanks for your suggestion in your email below that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota. Do you know the names of the classmates that are black? How can I identify them since we’ve been having online classes only? Are there any students that may be of mixed parentage, such as half black-half Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half? 

He went on:

Remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the “color of their skin.” Do you think that your request would run afoul of MLK’s admonition?

Thanks, G. Klein

Klein’s response enraged students. They organized a petition to remove him that quickly gained nearly 20,000 signatures, resulting in the professor being placed on leave and banned from campus. But the story got national attention, and a counter-petition signed by more than 76,000 people demanded his reinstatement. In less than three weeks, Klein was allowed to return to the classroom.

Yet his encounters with what UCLA calls Equity, Diversity and Inclusion were far from over.

Just under a year later, Klein, the author of a textbook on ethics in accounting, was up for a merit raise. For the first time in his 40 years at UCLA, Klein told me he had to submit a statement on equity, diversity, and inclusion. UCLA had adopted this as a promotion requirement in 2019, and now demands that all faculty members express how they will advance these principles in their work, and how their mentoring and advising helps those “from underrepresented and underserved populations.”

. . . Although his previous teaching evaluations were sterling, and he had received prior merit raises, this one was declined. Klein has brought suit against UCLA.

b.) The change in academic priorities. Equity has now become as important as, or even more important than, merit. The two are somewhat in conflict, for if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be DEI initiatives. Remember that it was Hamline Universities “Office of Inclusive Excellence” (a namely clearly confected to obscure the conflict) which was driving the effort to oust the professor who showed ancient Muslim paintings depicting Muhammad’s face. That office clearly places “lack of offense” above education.

. . .the concepts of DEI have become guiding principles in higher education, valued as equal to or even more important than the basic function of the university: the rigorous pursuit of truth. Summarizing its hiring practices, for example, UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering declared that “excellence in advancing equity and inclusion must be considered on par with excellence in research and teaching.” Likewise, in an article describing their “cultural change initiative,” several deans at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine declared: “There is no priority in medical education that is more important than addressing and eliminating racism and bias.”

DEI has also become a priority for many of the organizations that accredit universities. Last year, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, along with several other university accrediting bodies, adopted its own DEI statement, proclaiming that “the rich values of diversity, equity and inclusion are inextricably linked to quality assurance in higher education.” These accreditors, in turn, pressure universities and schools into adopting DEI measures.

c.) DEI becomes an undergrad course requirement and even a college major.

Many American college students are now required to take DEI, anti-racism, or social justice courses. At Georgetown, all undergraduates must take two Engaging Diversity courses. At Davidson College, the requirement goes under the title of Justice, Equality, and Community, which students can fulfill by taking courses like Racial Capitalism & Reproduction and Queer(ing) Performance. Northern Arizona University recently updated its general education curriculum to require nine credit hours of “diversity perspectives” courses, including a unit on “intersectional identities.”

DEI is also becoming a de facto academic discipline. In 2021, Bentley University in Massachusetts created a DEI major. Last year, the Wharton School announced its introduction of a DEI concentration for undergraduates and a DEI major for MBA students.

d.) The infusion of DEI into the sciences.

The federal government also is doing its part to infuse DEI into the sciences. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the nation’s largest sponsor of the physical sciences. It recently announced that all new research proposals must include its Promoting Inclusive and Equitable Research (PIER) Plan. To get a grant, scientists must describe how equity and inclusion are “an intrinsic element to advancing scientific excellence in the research project.”

One medical researcher at an elite institution who requested anonymity told me that grants for medical research increasingly use veiled ideological language that focuses on issues such as health equity and racial disparities. “The answer is preordained: The cause of disparities is racism,” he told me. “If you find some other explanation, even if it’s technically correct, that’s problematic.”

e.) “Cluster hiring”.  This is one method that universities may employ more widely when the Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action next year. Race-based hiring is, of course, already illegal, but this is a model of how to circumvent legal strictures.

To boost faculty diversity (explicit racial preferences in hiring are illegal), many universities are resorting to a practice known as “cluster hiring”—that is, hiring multiple professors at once, across multiple departments. To increase the likelihood of hiring minority faculty members, cluster hiring initiatives often assess candidates’ contributions to DEI as the first criterion.

In 2018, UC Berkeley launched a cluster hire across several life sciences departments. Of 893 qualified applicants, the hiring committee narrowed the pool to 214 based solely on the candidates’ diversity statements. Finalists then were asked to describe their DEI efforts during their interviews. The initiative yielded eyebrow-raising results: The initial applicant pool was 53.7 percent white and 13.2 percent Hispanic. The shortlist was 13.6 white and 59.1 percent Hispanic.

In 2020, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began a $241 million cluster hiring grant program—specifying that the faculty hired must have “a demonstrated commitment to promoting diversity and inclusive excellence.” So far, it has awarded grants for hires at twelve institutions, including the University of South Carolina, Cornell University, and Florida State University.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with hiring groups of faculty all at once, even with the hope that multiple hires will increase diversity, but what is wrong is to use that process by judging with “hireability” with adherence to DEI standards, as Berkeley is doing.

As the article points out, and as many already know, these initiatives, often promoted by a small group of people who manage to get power by intimidating others (to oppose DEI requirements is to open yourself up to accusations of racism and bigotry), have led to self-censorship of faculty and students. Below are the results of a 2020 FIRE survey summarized in Inside Higher Ed. It shows the proportion of undergrads at 55 American colleges and universities who would feel “very comfortable” expression controversial opinions. All the numbers are at 25% or below. (For a critique of this survey, though, see here.)

This figures will never approach 100% because some students are simply too shy or introverted to risk an argument, but who could deny that this shows that speech on campus is being chilled? And that is in part because of the authoritarianism evinced in DEI initiatives: there’s only one way to think, and if you express Wrongthink, your chances of getting into grad school, getting a good job, or getting tenure are reduced.

I’m not aware of any formal surveys of faculty self-censorship (if you know of any, report in the comments), but I suspect, based on the increasing number of reports of faculty getting fired after being reported for saying the “wrong thing”, and on my “lived experience” talking to colleagues, it’s a serious and increasing problem.  Although I can use this website to promulgate some of my own opinions that may be unpopular, I can tell you that I, too, self-censor in my University and my department, simply because I don’t want to be ostracized. That doesn’t mean I hold Nazi or white supremacist views, of course, but if I didn’t fear ostracism, there are some initiatives I would criticize more strongly if I felt more free. This are mostly issues of free speech.

18 thoughts on “Truth vs. equity: a piece by John Sailer

  1. “… but not to those who feel that the purpose of a university is to foster “progressive” (i.e., illiberal Left) politics.”

    … or serve as a “home” – from the latest anti-statue post :

    George Will : “[ the Princetonians for Free Speech ] notes that the anti-Witherspoon cohort says Princeton is a “home,” therefore everyone should be protected from feeling “less at home” because of, say, unhappy thoughts occasioned by a statue. But a university is not a “home.” ”

    https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2023/01/07/george-will-excoriates-the-proposed-removal-of-a-statue-at-princeton/

    … I found that a telling admission.

  2. Sometimes just asking questions that make others (especially administrators) uncomfortable can have dire consequences. The study below was all the evidence Berea College needed to terminate my tenure and dismiss me despite 17 years of stellar performance as a classroom teacher and researcher:

    Porter, D.B. (2022). How Hostile Environment Perceptions Imperil Academic Freedom: The Effects of Identity & Beliefs on Perceptions & Judgments. Researchers.One, Peerless Review: https://researchers.one/articles/22.11.00007v1

    1. Wow! And I am so sorry. The passage “Once respondents categorized a situation as being “a hostile environment,” they concluded it would not be protected by academic freedom. ” is loaded with bitter irony.

      1. Thank you, Mark. I hope you’ve been able to access the article. I believe its results may apply to many campus communities. All 20 survey scenarios were derived from actual events (including a few relating to discomfort caused by teaching about evolution (items 13, 14, & 15)). Across the 20 scenarios, the relationship between academic freedom protection and hostile environment perception was nearly -.9.

  3. Call me Mr Cynical but I can’t help wondering if all the new senior DEI positions are generated by the extra opportunities for the elite to prosper rather than the impact of those positions on the opportunities for disadvantaged.

    Call me Mr Even More Cynical but I can’t help wondering if the DEI positions will nurture the continuance of the disadvantaged to maintain ‘feedstock’ for those posh jobs.

    How will anyone know when those DEI jobs are no longer needed?

    1. That’s why my first question in this area is always

      “how does this _empower__everyone_?”

      As distinct from “give power to only these, and take it from only those”

    2. Never, I think. I was going to respond “When there is equity”, but that won’t work for two reasons. First, given that members of different groups often differ on average in preferences and career choices, there is unlikely to BE equity (Remember, there are STEM inequities, and those are the greatest in countries that are the least biased against women!) Further, the “stakeholders” can say that even if there is equity, implicit bias will always be lurking around, looking for chances to overthrow it, and the DEI people are needed as gatekeepers.

  4. A decade ago, in The Fall of the Faculty, Benjamin Ginsberg warned that affirmative action was being weaponized by deans and ‘deanlets’ in their battle to establish dominance over faculty. So, this DEI stuff isn’t really new; it’s the same old same old, but on steroids.

    IIRC, Ginsberg didn’t utter the dreaded word ‘neoliberalism’, but I think this development is just another episode in the neoliberal takeover of universities, a development that leftists (real leftists, not ‘woke’ pseudo-radicals) have been talking about for years.

  5. “Cluster hiring” is new to me. We must never underestimate the creativity of DEI zealots to achieve what they want to achieve. The boundaries of truth are not boundaries to them.

    I’ve been thinking long and hard about this for a while and am coming to the following conclusion. Academic institutions have abandoned what we thought to be their mission, namely, the production and dissemination of knowledge. This is why is seems so disorienting to observe how they so readily—and unapologetically—dismantle so much of what used to be regarded as essential requirements in executing that mission: facts, reason, merit, and more. Do they not see what they are doing, that they are making it impossible to continue to carry out their mission to produce and disseminate knowledge?

    They see exactly what they are doing. For the mission of higher education has changed. The new mission is that of Equity. Given the new mission, universities are doing exactly what they should be doing—they are putting infrastructures into place that, over time, will advance their new mission.

    The reason why the rest of us are so discombobulated, is that we still believe that the mission is to produce and disseminate knowledge. It’s no wonder we don’t like what we see and that we feel both anger and sadness at what is happening. We have yet to accept that the mission has changed.

    That realization doesn’t make me feel better about this. But it does help me to understand what is happening and why.

    1. I agree with your analysis, but it seems to me that there is an implicit assumption in the DEI cadres’ new mission that will be undermined by that mission, namely that once they have destroyed the quality safeguards in university research and education, the product that undergraduates go to university for, i.e. their degrees, will be correspondingly undermined in quality. Once everyone knows this, everyone — undergraduates, employers, wider society — will cease to value a university education, whether for its intellectual, vocational, or wider cultural and personal benefits, and the motivation to go to university will no longer be sufficient to be willing to take on the burden of debt involved. Enrolment will fall, universities will wither financially as they already are doing intellectually, and the DEI cadres will only have succeeded in knocking the bottom out of their own market. Ultimately, then, the drive will be self-limiting — but not before they have destroyed higher education.

      1. Yes, I guess when you need a bridge or a nuclear power plant or 100,000 windmills built, you can always import an engineering firm from somewhere else. Ironically it will be the welders and crane operators and riggers and steamfitters and masons and heavy-equipment operators and electricians and caterers who will be local, the ones who went into those trades that their betters sneered at as deplorable jobs in flyover country.

  6. I keep waiting to see which institution(s) of higher ed will be the first to recognize the market opportunity in enrollment and positions itself as a classical college/university which eschews DEI. It’d be gutsy in this political climate but might really pay off in terms of student recruitment.

    Of course you’d still need to offer some courses in DEI, if only to prepare students for the world they’re entering.

    1. The one place I have heard things suggesting such a move is Clemson University (no academic powerhouse but has been moving up the rankings in recent years). Their long term plan submitted to the state legislature includes things like focusing on expanding biology and other hard science departments. For departments like sociology, women’s studies, and black studies, they plan to stop offering any post graduate degrees, and will make no new hires.

      The DEI office seems to be fairly minimalist as well. At least according to my nephew, who is an undergraduate there (biology major). His only contact has been when a representative came during freshman orientation to say the DEI department was there if a student needed them.

      I have no first hand knowledge so take all this with a big grain of salt (and please correct me if I am misinformed). But if true, quietly ignoring all the DEI silliness seems to be working for them.

      1. Yes, Tom B. For a couple of years now, young relatives have been telling me that many of their Mid-Atlantic classmates want to go to schools well below the Mason-Dixon Line precisely because the Deep South is perceived to be less absorbed in DEI. If there is in fact any swing towards Southern schools, that could obviate the gutsy move JB describes with schools explicitly positioning themselves as ‘classical’. Clemson has always been able to attract very good Southern students and it’s a name I am suddenly hearing mentioned more widely. Will be interesting to watch.
        What about places like St John’s with the Great Books? Anything happening there?

  7. I am currently reading a book of great interest in regard to the epidemiology of wokeness: “The Language Police” by Diane Ravitch published in 2003. It reports how the education establishment was policing textbooks and test materials in fully DEI style (much like the notorious current lists of forbidden words) twenty or more years ago. The whole woke package was evidently transmitted from the grievance studies departments to the Schools of Ed before the 21st century began, with the result that educrats were coddling American minds a decade or more before Lukianoff and Haidt noticed what was happening.

    So much for the culture of the DEIshchina. The machinery was set up mostly after “student” demonstrations and demands in 2015 called explicitly for a DEI bureaucracy, using exactly the words we now abbreviate as DEI. The student groups were no doubt coached by activists of the Diversity consultancy business, which had already been in operation for many years (for example the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, see https://kjcg.com/ ).

    The outcome of our DEIshchina is perfectly predictable, as a similar experiment was performed 75 years ago elsewhere. All the activities of the academic world will come to enjoy the same qualities that the science of Genetics came to enjoy in the USSR.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, I’m adding that book to my Amazon list.

      From the Amazon description, it appears that $$$ is the issue; textbook publishers cater to ‘Left’ and Right alike (e.g., no mention of fossil fuels causing AGW, because there goes the Texas market).

  8. A detailed article by Steven Pinker on the reasons he sees for the “pandemic of poppycock”, which I believe is relevant to most (not all) DEI programs.

    https://www.persuasion.community/p/steven-pinker-reason-to-believe?r=17uk7&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email

    “Perhaps most important, the gratuitous politicization of our truth-seeking institutions should be halted, since it stokes the cognitively crippling myside bias. Universities, scientific societies, scholarly journals, and public-interest nonprofits have increasingly been branding themselves with woke boilerplate and left-wing shibboleths. The institutions should not be surprised when they are then blown off by the center and right which make up the majority of the population. The results have been disastrous, including resistance to climate action and vaccination.”

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