Berkeley, DEI, and FIRE

June 20, 2023 • 10:45 am

A while back (I’m too lazy to look this up), I reported on the University of California at Berkeley’s requirement for all job applicants to submit a DEI statement with their application. The statement was to cover three areas: the applicant’s knowledge of about DEI, track record in advancing DEI, and plans to advance DEI at UCB were they hired.  I also recall that the statements were given numerical scores on these areas, and if the total number was below a certain cutoff, the application was ditched without being further considered.

I am opposed to mandatory DEI statements because I think they’re illegal: a form of compelled speech that, at least in state schools like Berkeley, violates the First Amendment. There are other reasons to oppose them, including the possibility that really good candidates might have spent their time doing other non-DEI but useful activities like writing books, giving lectures to the public, and so on. (Or, just doing good science, which doesn’t seem enough these days.)  Further, candidates often have worked so hard during their postdocs and Ph.D.s (jobs are hard to get, and you need a good record), that even if you’re sympathetic to the aims of DEI, you have no time to compile a record. I think it’s sufficient for the university to post a statement that they do not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, disability, or other protected characteristics. In other words, they should simply say that there is no discrimination in hiring (or in student applications)

Moreover, there is ample opportunity to game the system: you can copy statements of successful candidates, make stuff up, and even pay someone to write your diversity statement for you! This, perhaps, is why Berkeley didn’t want its scoring system revealed, but, under law, it had to do so. Now all candidates can use it to write high-scoring statements.

Finally, the use of these statements is designed to turn universities into ideological juggernauts, with professors conforming to the preferred narrative of the university (there are many ways to be in favor of diversity and inclusion). The job of a professor is to teach, promote learning, and advance knowledge by doing research. If you want to save the world, that’s fine, but, as Stanley Fish said (it’s a book title), save the world on your own time.

Required statements are particularly invidious when, like the ones used at UC Berkeley (see below), they are given scores, and candidates are rejected right off the bat if their DEI scores are too low.  Think of all the famous and accomplished professors that wouldn’t make the cut today! If you answer, “well, Einstein should have been doing diversity work,” then I don’t know what to say.

While we knew that Berkeley was requiring DEI statements for its science faculty, and that they scored them numerically as the first cutoff for applicants, we didn’t know what the scoring rubric was.  Now we know, thanks to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which filed a request for Berkeley’s records (it’s a public school and must disclose these) and for its scoring rubric.

Berkeley sat on its hands for more than TWO YEARS before complying. And it’s no wonder, because the rubric and scoring system really is embarrassing. It’s also embarrassing because candidates are rejected if their statements aren’t up to snuff, no matter how great their scientific work has been. (These statements will probably also become illegal after the Supreme Court bans affirmative action.) Only a diehard DEI proponent would not cringe at seeing how the three areas are scored.

First, see FIRE’s new report by clicking on this screenshot:

Below: some stuff from FIRE.  Note that the rubric that Berkeley sent is from 2018-2019, but I suspect they’re still using it, as are other UC campuses (though I don’t know whether they use cutoff DEI ratings).

The University of California, Berkeley used diversity statements to weed out candidates for faculty positions, according to public records the university finally released more than two years after FIRE requested them.

Many universities now require or invite current or prospective faculty to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion — often through written statements that factor into hiring, research, evaluation, promotion, or tenure decisions.

As FIRE explained in a public statement last year, these diversity statement requirements can too easily function as ideological litmus tests and cast a pall of orthodoxy over campuses.

Berkeley is no exception. The university expects all new faculty hires to “be committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging[.]” During the 2018-19 academic year, Berkeley’s life sciences departments launched an initiative to advance faculty diversity. As part of the initiative, applicants for full-time faculty positions were required to submit statements on their “contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion,” including information about their “understanding of these topics,” “record of activities to date,” and “specific plans and goals for advancing equity and inclusion.”

These statements informed the hiring committee’s first round of review: If applicants’ contributions to DEI did not meet a high standard, they were eliminated from consideration.

On Berkeley’s dilatory behavior:

FIRE wanted to know more. So in March 2021, we filed a public records request seeking information related to how, exactly, the university was using and evaluating these diversity statements.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited.

Two years later, Berkeley still hadn’t handed over the records.

California’s Public Records Act requires that public agencies make records “promptly available.” Berkeley finally produced the records in May 2023 after FIRE sent a demand letter threatening legal action. It took Berkeley 795 days to comply with its duty under the act. Hardly prompt.

I have no explanation for a delay of nearly 800 days save that Berkeley was doing everything it could to NOT turn over its records, and, given that it had to under the law, delayed and delayed and delayed.

And now the rubric, which was required for all five life science departments at the University. Click below to see how each of the three areas was scored.

Here’s FIRE’s summary:

According to the rubric the hiring committee used to evaluate the statements, candidates who “discount the importance of diversity,” or who don’t feel personally responsible for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, received lower scores. As would anyone who “[d]efines diversity only in terms of different areas of study or different nationalities, but doesn’t discuss gender or ethnicity/race.” The rubric even penalizes candidates who “state that it’s better not to have outreach or affinity groups aimed at underrepresented individuals because it keeps them separate from everyone else, or will make them feel less valued.”

But read for yourself. Each of the three areas—knowledge, track record, and plans to advance DEI—are scored on a scale from 1 to 5, so the minimum score is 3 and the maximum 15.  No cutoff point is given here.

I’ll quote the rubric from only one of the three areas: the candidate’s track record:


These will get you the low scores of 1-2:

• Participated in no specific activities, or only one or two limited activities (limited in terms of time, investment, or role).

• Only mentions activities that are already the expectation of faculty as evidence of commitment and involvement (for example, “I always invite and welcome students from all backgrounds to participate in my research lab, and in fact have mentored several women.” Mentoring women scientists may be an important part of an established track record but it would be less significant if it were one of the only activities undertaken and it wasn’t clear that the candidate actively conducted outreach to encourage women to join the lab.

• Descriptions of activities are brief, vague, or describe being involved only peripherally. Or the only activities were oriented toward informing oneself (for example, attended a workshop at a conference)

This will get you a bit higher score: a 3

• May have participated extensively in a single activity. Less clear that there is an established track record.

• Limited participation at the periphery in numerous activities, or participation in only one area, such as their
research to the exclusion of teaching and service.

• In describing mentoring of underrepresented students, mentions specific strategies used for effective
mentoring, or awareness of the barriers underrepresented students face and how to incorporate the ideas into
their mentoring,

• Membership in a student or professional organization that supports underrepresented individuals

And if you want the highest score, between 4 and 5, you have to have done these things. 

• Describes multiple activities in depth, with detailed information about both their role in the activities and the
outcomes. Activities may span research, teaching and service, and could include applying their research skills or
expertise to investigating diversity, equity and inclusion.

• Consistent track record that spans multiple years (for example, applicants for assistant professor positions can
describe activites undertaken or partcipated in as an undergraduate, graduate student and postdoctoral scholar)

• Roles taken were significant and appropriate for career stage (e.g., a candidate who is already an assistant
professor may have developed and tested pedagogy for an inclusive classroom and learning environment, while a
current graduate student may have volunteered for an extended period of time for an organization or group that
seeks to increase the representation of underrepresented groups in science).

• Organized or spoken at workshops or other events (depending on career stage) aimed at increasing others’
understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion as one aspect of their track record.

• Served as a leader in a student or professional organization that supports underrepresented individuals. 

In other words, to get a high score you must have a record in DEI activity showing that it was a major priority during your doctoral or postdoctoral work, and must have spent a lot of tim—over multiple years— engaged in such activities. Merely saying that you treated all students fairly and equally regardless of their ethnicity, gender, disability status, and so on will get your application rejected.

It’s no surprise that Berkeley wanted to sit on these requirements. If they were proud of them, or even not ashamed of them, why the long delay?

10 thoughts on “Berkeley, DEI, and FIRE

  1. The Berkeley DEI scoring rubric makes plain its creators’ intent: to make the Biology faculty talk and think like an issue of Komsomolskaya Pravda in the USSR galaxy far away. This is worse than embarrassing: it carries the strong implication that the USSR’s police state culture was not a bug but a feature of the principles of the Left. As for Berkeley’s unconscionable 2 year delay in making this public record public—that calls for firing the flunkeys responsible. Their dismissal is essential in order to deter other bureaucrats from similarly illegal obstruction. Is there some legal course of action to force Berkeley to fire the obstructors?

  2. I am a bit confused by the FIRE FOI request because the campus has posted its model DEI rubric online for some time:

    There has been a concern that this is too political, and our systemwide (UC-wide) senate put out this statement last year:

    TLDR: departments, not the office of equity and welfare, are supposed to develop DEI rubric and evaluate candidates, and “Questions put to applicants and faculty members about their contributions to diversity should not embed “the right answer” in the question or focus on the applicant’s or faculty member’s beliefs, as opposed to their actions, experiences, or plans”

    1. Sorry, but FIRE implied that the DEI rubric was new; I stand corrected. That said, it’s still unconscionable to ask candidates to produce diversity statements and, if the University wants a uniform way of assessing candidates, why is each department responsible for its own statement?

      Finally, I never said, nor did FIRE, that the right answer was embedded in the questions previously. The rubric gives the “right answers”, but those were assessed post facto.

      The new scenario is an improvement, but it’s still illegal compelled speech. And they’re still doing it. Some day there will be a lawsuit against practices like this, and schools will have to stop it.

  3. You know who doesn’t have the time to do all of that stuff and will therefore get a low score? People who actually come from poor and middle-class socioeconomic backgrounds; people who are the first in their family to go to college; people who need to have a job while they go to school! They’re ensuring that, whomever they hire, that person will still be “one of them” when it comes to that most important decider of life outcomes. The upper crust continues to protect and hire its own, only now with the additional demand of fealty to an ideology that ensures only the well-off can get through the gate. Diversity in skin color and gender only, with all other categories (socioeconomic background, politics, internal thoughts of any note, previous work, etc.) completely homogeneous.

    1. Also people applying from overseas. New faculty lines routinely field candidates from the Middle East, parts of Asia, etc, and they are for one thing really really good, and for another they do not come from a background where this sort of nonsense is even on the radar.

      1. I imagine those countries will soon have what one might call “diversity mills,” if they don’t already. Organizations constructed solely with the goal of having “programs” that academics can pay to “volunteer” for so they can put them on their resumes, and which consist of entirely Americanized ideas of “furthering DEI” that have no relevance to that country or its culture whatsoever. And hiring universities are/will be completely aware of this, but pretend that the candidates they really want have ticked all the boxes and are thus fit to have their applications considered.

  4. ‘If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or an other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act of faith therein.’ Supreme Court Justice Robt. H. Jackson in ‘West Va. Brd. Ed. vs Barnette, 1943

  5. Now German universities are being “wokified” by gender theory and DEIdeology such as the Goethe Universität in Frankfurt:

    “Ten points for more diversity in science and research:
    Whether it concerns biased Artificial Intelligence or misattributed graves of Viking women – gender, sex and diversity can have very differing and sometimes unexpected impacts on research. To integrate reflections on gender, sex and diversity even more strongly in its research activities, Goethe University has now published a ten-point paper.”


    Here’s the download link to (the English version of) the ten-point paper:

    There is one good thing, viz. sex-differential medical research recognizing medically relevant objective physiological differences between men and women: “If medications are not tested in a manner that is both equal and differentiated on women and men alike, they will be difficult to apply correctly. Dr. Lena Marie Seegers and Prof. David Leistner from Frankfurt University Hospital’s Department of Cardiology see a lot of potential in better positioning medical research to account for the diversity of people. “We will soon establish a women’s heart center [Women’s Heart Health Center Frankfurt] at Goethe University, which will conduct gender-sensitive medical research.”

    The ungood thing: “Starting now, the complexity of gender/sex & diversity must be considered in research and teaching. To avoid reducing the topic to singular characteristics, gender should not be viewed as binary and the intersection between sex, gender and other diversity dimensions need to be considered.”

    The original German sentence: “Die Reduktion auf einzelne Merkmale soll vermieden werden, indem /Geschlecht bei Menschen nicht binär betrachtet wird/ und Sex, Gender und weitere Diversitätsdimensionen in ihrer Überschneidung reflektiert werden.”

    Being a native speaker of German, I translate what stands between /…/ as “…human sex is not viewed as binary…”. So the Goethe Universität has thereby officially adopted the central dogma of gender/queer theory.

  6. @J. Coyne: You’ve mentioned Stanley Fish’s recommendable book “Save the World on Your Own Time”:

    “Pick up the mission statement of almost any college or university, and you will find claims and ambitions that will lead you to think that it is the job of an institution of higher learning to cure every ill the world has ever known: not only illiteracy and cultural ignorance, which are at least in the ball-park, but poverty, war, racism, gender bias, bad character, discrimination, intolerance, environmental pollution, rampant capitalism, American imperialism, and the hegemony of Wal-Mart; and of course the list could be much longer.” (p. 10)

    “So what is it that institutions of higher learning are supposed to do? My answer is simple. College and university teachers can (legitimately) do two things: (1) introduce students to bodies of knowledge and traditions of inquiry that had not previously been part of their experience; and (2) equip those same students with the analytical skills—of argument, statistical modeling, laboratory procedure—that will enable them to move confidently within those traditions and to engage in independent research after a course is over. If you think about it, that’s a lot to ask. It’s at least a full-time job and it wouldn’t seem to leave much room for taking on a bunch of other jobs. …Anyone who asks for more has enlisted in the “we-are-going-to-save-the world” army…” (pp. 12-3)

    “Does this mean that questions of value and discussion of current issues must be banished from the classroom? Not at all. No question, issue, or topic is off limits to classroom discussion so long as it is the object of academic rather than political or ideological attention.” (p. 15)

    [“A]cademic freedom has nothing to do with the expression of ideas. It is not a subset of the general freedom of Americans to say anything they like. Rather, academic freedom is the freedom of academics to /study/ anything they like; the freedom, that is, to subject any body of material, however unpromising it might seem, to academic interrogation and analysis, to what I have called academicization. Any idea can be brought into a classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence, etc. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit students for or against a political agenda.” (p. 87)

    “Once you start preaching or urging a political agenda or engaging your students in discussions designed to produce action in the world, you are surely doing something, but it is not academic, even if you give it that name.
    You know you are being academic (rather than therapeutic or political or hortatory) when the questions raised in your classroom have the goal of achieving a more accurate description or of testing a thesis; you know that you are being (or trying to be) something else when the descriptions you put forward are really stepping stones to an ideological conclusion (even one so apparently innocuous as “we should respect the voices of others”). The academic enterprise excludes no topic from its purview, but it regards any and every topic as a basis for analysis rather than as a stimulus to some moral, political, or existential commitment. Not to practice politics, but to study it; not to proselytize for or against religious doctrines, but to describe them; not to affirm or reject affirmative action, but to explore its history and lay out the arguments that have been made for and against it.” (p. 169)

    (Fish, Stanley. /Save the World on Your Own Time./ New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.)

  7. I contemplate Berkeley actively (desperately) seeking to bring on board a Nobel laureate who declines to answer any DEI-related questions.

Leave a Reply