The legality of diversity statements

June 1, 2023 • 12:00 pm

This piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education discusses an issue we’ve taken up here before: is it legal to require applicants for university jobs to submit DEI statements? The piece gives both sides of the argument, although I’ve long thought that such statements should be always be illegal on two grounds: they are irrelevant for nearly all academic jobs, and they violate the First Amendment because they’re a form of compelled speech.

When I first wrote about this, I thought that someone with standing should bring a lawsuit against a public university (such schools must adhere to the First Amendment), as diversity statements are a form of compelled speech as well as viewpoint discrimination, forcing applicants to voice certain approved political beliefs.

Now that lawsuit has been brought. As the article notes:

John D. Haltigan, the plaintiff, is being represented pro bono by the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation. He is arguing that the University of California system’s use of diversity statements in hiring violates the First Amendment and represents unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. Haltigan wants to apply for a tenure-track position in the psychology department at the University of California at Santa Cruz and is asking the court, among other things, for an injunction that would allow him to apply without submitting a diversity statement. The university system has required diversity statements in applications for tenure-track positions and promotions since 2018.

As I wrote in a previous post, Haltigan didn’t actually apply for the job, because he realized that his own statement would never pass muster with the faculty. But he did write and publish the statement that he would have used had he applied. It wouldn’t have passed muster, though, because it included stuff like this:

I believe that the use of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements in evaluating candidates for positions in higher education and academia are anathema to the ideals and principles of rigorous scholarship, and the sound practice of science and teaching.

Haltigan’s own “colorblind” statement would of course have led to his being rejected for the UCSC job, but he published it on a blog, and it was on those grounds that the Pacific Legal Foundation is representing him in a lawsuit.  Whether this gives him “standing” is not clear, but what is clear is that it will be hard to find somebody who can convince a court that they didn’t get a job because their diversity statement didn’t pass muster. That is what’s required to win such a suit.

Click to read: it’s free:

The Chronicle is fair in giving the pros and cons of requiring diversity statements.  First-Amendment arguments can be used for jobs in government, which include academic jobs in public universities, but it’s not clear whether private universities can require DEI statements if they still take federal funds. And even if they can require those statements, in my view they shouldn’t, for every college, public or private, should have policies that adhere to the First Amendment.

Three professors make the argument that diversity statements aren’t legal; one (Leiter) is my colleague at the U of C law school:

Public universities have a First Amendment right to have their own values and mission statements, said Zach Greenberg, a senior program officer with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which has warned that diversity statements could be used as political litmus tests. But colleges may not force students or faculty members to adhere to values and mission statements, Greenberg said, “if they’re in political terms.”

“So, a university may say that we are antiracist, we believe in DEI, but we also welcome those with opposing views,” Greenberg said. A university can even encourage faculty to share those views, as long as it doesn’t cross the line into compelling them, he said.

While private employers are generally allowed to practice viewpoint discrimination, public universities, like other public employers, typically cannot discriminate based on political beliefs. “A public university can’t require its faculty to have certain beliefs,” said Brian Leiter, a professor of jurisprudence and director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the University of Chicago, who has been a vocal critic of diversity statements. “No matter how laudable one thinks the beliefs are, it’s not allowed. And that’s just true of any public employer. There are very narrow exceptions.” Courts have ruled that government can base hiring decisions on political viewpoints only in very limited cases, such as political appointments, Leiter added.

But do diversity statements require a particular political viewpoint? Keith E. Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton University, said that diversity statements, as they are commonly used in academe, “definitely run afoul of these kinds of viewpoint discrimination concerns.” For example, Whittington pointed to evaluation rubrics from the University of California system that downgrade applicants who say they treat every student equally. The rubric used by the University of California at Santa Cruz, for example, gives applicants less credit if they describe “only activities that are already the expectation of our faculty such as mentoring, treating all students the same regardless of background, etc.”

But giving less credit to “color blind” applicants violates the First Amendment by privileging political statements that promise a form of affirmative action in academia. While schools can have policies for mentoring ill-prepared applicants, they cannot refuse to give jobs to professors who simply promise to afford everyone equal opportunities to learn.

There’s really only one one viewpoint given that touts the legality of diversity statements, and I don’t find this very convincing:

Brian Soucek, a professor of law at the University of California at Davis, has argued that diversity statements can be constitutional, if used correctly. He previously served as chair of a systemwide committee on academic freedom for the University of California that provided input for the university system’s latest recommendations on the use of DEI statements.

Soucek recommends that in order to avoid infringing on academic freedom, faculty members, rather than administrators, should determine how to judge applicants. In order to avoid comparisons to loyalty oaths, he recommends that colleges ask what applicants “have done or plan to do, not what they believe, when it comes to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in their field.”

And regarding viewpoint discrimination, Soucek argues that the central question is not whether applicants are being judged on their viewpoints, but whether those perspectives are relevant to the position in question. An immigration-asylum clinic, for example, could legitimately ask about an applicant’s views on immigration, Soucek said, but it would appear to be constitutionally problematic if a law school asked an applicant for a bankruptcy professor position about immigration.

In Haltigan’s case, Soucek said, the University of California at Santa Cruz is hiring for an assistant professor of developmental psychology to enhance the program’s “long-established strengths in studying the lived experiences of children and youth from diverse backgrounds.” According to the job posting, the department seeks candidates whose research explores areas such as “cultural assets that promote healthy development in the contexts of inequities related to gender, ethnicity/race, social class, and/or sexuality” and “conditions and practices that leverage the psychological strengths of children from historically underserved backgrounds in the U.S. or other countries.”

For that particular position, Soucek said, “it would seem especially strange for somebody to come in and say, ‘I believe in colorblindness and refuse to see people’s race or ethnicity.’”

But I think Souchek is stretching it, for he’s giving an example that has been confected so that only those with a politically correct view of DEI could even apply for the job.  The immigration-asylum clinic isn’t as relevant simply because if the hired person does the job expected, there is no reason to deny him the job because he privately holds the “wrong” views about immigration.  There are plenty of people who can keep their political views out of their jobs.  The one requirement that holds for all job is simply is that people should be treated equally and fairly regardless of immutable characteristics like race, gender, disability status, and so on.   That’s simple adherence to civil rights law.  And even in the case of the “developmental psychology” job, what they should be looking for is people who can best deal with a variety of children. Do they really need to quiz applicants about their private views on race, gender, and sexuality?

But the worst part of this “pro-statement” argument is this. If people adopted Soucek’s rationale, it would result in job descriptions being tailored to those people holding the “proper” DEI views, or, indeed, views on any political or ideological issue that the school likes. I can imagine even biology jobs being tailored this way. But that would tilt all of academia towards the currently dominant ideology—exactly what we don’t want to do in a university, where free and open discussion is the order of the day.

The Leisure Fascists take over the American Physical Society, recommend no more booze at physics meetings

May 17, 2023 • 1:00 pm

The Pecksniffs aren’t satisfied with policing the language of science, but now want to regulate our behavior, too. And, by god, they’ve gone too far this time, for they want to put the kibosh on our BEVERAGES.

In the latest American Physical Society News (click on screenshots below), one author urges people to not drink alcohol at physics meetings. Not just that, but she seems to want alcohol banned at scientific meetings.  In this she’s bucking the tide, for, as the author notes, a Nature report last year showed that over two thirds of scientists think that alcohol should not be banned at scientific meetings.

Nearly 1,500 scientists participated in the online poll, which began on 20 December as part of a Nature story about reconsidering the role of alcohol in the scientific workplace (Nature 600, S86–S88; 2021). When asked whether alcohol should be banned at scientific conferences, 68% of those who responded to the self-selecting poll said no, 26% said yes and 6% were not sure.

That is, for every scientist who wants alcohol banned at scientific conferences, 2.6 scientists want it to stay. The democracy has spoken.

You can probably guess the reasons why Dr. Vriend wants it banned. First guess, then read the APS News article by clicking below:

Yes, you were right. I’m sure you guessed because “alcohol promotes bad behavior and harassment”, but did you know it also makes meetings less inclusive?

Here are the author’s reasons:

Many years ago, when I was a young graduate student in mechanical engineering and geophysics, I presented my first poster at an important conference. I was stationed at my poster, excited for discussion, when a colleague approached me with a beer in hand. I could smell alcohol on his breath, and he had clearly had too much to drink. For an hour, he loitered at my poster, asking inappropriate questions — and blocking my ability to talk to others, including potential collaborators or future postdoctoral advisors. I was deeply uncomfortable and uncertain what to do.

My story might feel familiar to many young scientists, and data confirms the relationship between alcohol and inappropriate behavior. Alcohol is linked to loss of inhibition, and research indicates that alcohol increases the risks of harassment, including in professional settings. A 2007 study found a significant association between the number of heavy-drinking male employees and a culture of gender harassment against women in a workplace. Of course, alcohol does not cause bad behavior on its own — any perpetrator is solely responsible for their actions — but its role as a risk factor is clear.

I’m prepared to believe all that, which is offensive behavior, and of course no woman (or person) should be subject to such harassment. But a simple conference statement that “harassment is prohibited and will be punished if it’s persistent and unwanted” (all conferences have these now), should suffice. Then someone could have gotten the guy off the scene.

Scientists are adults, adults drink, and people should be prepared to deal with drinkers.  In fact, science meetings are much safer than bars, for scientists are almost universally against harassment and there are plenty of people around to stop it, as well as ubiquitous conference policies to intervene and, if need be, show the harasser to the door.

Remember that scientific meetings are places not just to learn science, but to meet old friends and colleagues, schmooze, socialize after hours, converse and relax. Alcohol facilitates that, and not in a trivial way. It’s much easier to schmooze with someone you want to talk to by inviting them for a drink than just walking up to them. And alcohol might even facilitate scientific conversations since it lessens inhibition (people might, for example,  lose their fear of asking stupid questions!)

And, most important, you don’t have to drink if you don’t want to.

In the poll above scientists have clearly weighed the risks of drinking versus the benefits—and have voted for booze. I vote with them. (Remember, too, that many meetings are in hotels and you simply cannot stop people from drinking there. If there’s no hotel, people will repair to the bar.)  I have no beef with people who have personal reasons not to drink, nor would I stop them from trying, like Dr. Vriend, to persuade others not to drink. But taking the booze out of meetings is taking a lot of fun, as well as social lubrication, out of meetings, and it takes some chutzpah to do that.

It helps, though, if you can claim, as the author does, that banning booze helps promote diversity and a welcoming environment!

As scientists, though, it is not only our responsibility to do good research and advance our field, but to support the next generation of scientists. Science is more diverse now — in age, gender, sexual orientation, race, cultural background — than it was for millennia; we are moving away from the cliché of the cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking clique of mostly white male scientists. I am not the only person not drinking alcohol — more than a third of US adults don’t, perhaps for religious or cultural reasons, or perhaps simply because science has shown that alcohol is not healthy. Still others may be uncomfortable drinking in work settings because they are struggling with alcohol abuse; after all, nearly half of US adults who drink, drink too much, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse.

Alcohol in professional events can stymie efforts to create a welcoming community, and scientists and students of all generations deserve better. In academia, as well as in the business and nonprofit spheres, we senior scientists are responsible for inviting young, diverse people into the field and making them feel comfortable and confident. We are responsible for upholding professional conduct and setting the right example for the younger generation.

I respectfully disagree, especially about associating booze with “cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking clique of mostly white male scientists”.  (It’s always open season on white males, but of course cigars are banned at meetings and what’s on tap is usually beer and wine, not whiskey).  I know few scientists that fit that bill, and, in fact, Vriend is creating a sexist stereotype, but one that seems okay to most people, though it’s not.  The dragging in of white males here is a gratuitous slur, and has absolutely nothing to do with her argument, except that drunken males harass women more than the other way around. And what does being “white” have to do with it? Alcohol use and abuse is not a monopoly of white people.

There’s also the sly implication that “young diverse people” (read: blacks and Hispanics) won’t feel as welcome if there is booze afoot.  What evidence is there for that?

In the end, I guess, the only way to be welcoming and inclusive is to make everyone conform to a strict code of straitlaced behavior. Is that diversity? This article demonstrates, more than anything, that the woke are puritanical. Remember H. L. Mencken’s famous definition of “puritanism”: “the haunting fear that some one, somewhere, may be happy”.

And I’m curious why the APS would publish this.

h/t: Luana

The National Academies of Sciences urge affirmative action in med-school admissions

April 26, 2023 • 11:30 am

I present yet another example of a scientific organization engaged in political/ideological advocacy. In this case the organization is the august body of the National Academies of Science, an organization that admits only the most accomplished of America’s scientists. It also publishes the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS), a pretty well respected journal though not of the quality of Science or Nature.

In the latest issue, three authors from Harvard (and Mass General Hospital) argue, well, you can see the claim themselves from the title screenshot below. It’s a political argument, not a scientific one, and is a reaction to the likely dismantling this year of of race-based preferential admission (“affirmative action”) by the Supreme Court. The Justices have already heard a case that began in 2014, arguing that both Harvard and The University of North Carolina violated both the Constitution (the “equal protection clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment) and—for the private university of Harvard—the Title VI provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Private universities can also be sued for discrimination if they receive federal funding.)

There’s little doubt in my mind that PNAS agrees wholly with this op-ed, since it rarely publishes articles like this and also itself has a “progressive” ideological slant. I’m confident in arguing that this is probably the National Academies’ view as well as the authors’ view.

The issue here is that the paper takes an expressly ideological stance by favoring one political outcome (“equity” among doctors) over what is possibly a negative side of that outcome: worsening quality of medical care in America. This is because affirmative action in medical school had led to a substantial gap between the admissions credentials of whites and Asians on the one hand, and Hispanics and blacks on the other. And if admission credentials have ANYTHING to do with the quality of a doctor, then lowering the bar in the way that Aaron et al. suggest—achieving “equity,” or ethnic representation among doctors equal to the proportion of groups in the population—will inevitably result in the decline of the average quality of doctors.

You may, I suppose, suggest that if people have doctors who “look like them”, or if doctors treat patients who “look more like them” better, then increased equity might increase overall health quality. But that is a supposition only, and one with no empirical basis (there’s no need to mention the “dead baby” issue, which has substantial problems). It also doesn’t tell us how far we must lower the bar to achieve equity, and whether lowering the admissions bar that much can counteract any positive effect on healthcare caused by the supposed “looks like me” issue.

As I’ve said, I do favor some form of affirmative action for admission to colleges and medical schools, but more and more it’s taking the form of favoring minority candidates when you’re faced with deciding between candidates who are both qualified and nearly equally qualified. My thinking on this is evolving. But the difference in qualifications among ethnic groups among med-school applicants as well as those who are admitted is sufficiently large that my brand of affirmative action would never come close to producing equity.

Click to read (it’s free):

The paper begins with a flawed argument: that by forcing universities to not discriminate among races, the Supreme Court is practicing unwarranted “judicial intrusion into medicine” (my emphasis)

Given the likelihood that the Supreme Court will end affirmative action, medical institutions must plan how to further diversity without incurring liability. More broadly, the cases follow a pattern of judicial intrusion into the affairs of medicine and health. As with abortion, contraception, health insurance, and COVID-19, the Supreme Court has encroached on the field of medicine, denying expert guidance on what is required in order to achieve a healthy and equitable society. The affirmative action cases are emblematic of a high court intent on opposing racial progress and other forms of social change.

This is bogus. Yes, some Justices may “oppose racial progress”, but what they’ll do if they rule against affirmative action is simply enforce the law and the Constitution.  That is, they will interpret the law as saying that one cannot discriminate among by race, regardless of which races are at issue.  But to say that this denies doctors “expert guidance” to achieve a healthy and equitable society” is mere carping, and beside the point, for you could use the same argument to justify any sort of race-based discrimination, especially if you think feel that “equity” is an outcome more desirable than application of settled law. I find the argument for retaining “expert guidance” risible, for experts are going to differ about what societal outcome is “healthy and equitable”. What they’re really saying is that the Supreme Court is overreaching itself by disallowing discrimination on the basis of race.

Now, about the differences in qualifications of candidates. Here’s what the article says:

As of 2015, there is estimated to be a deficit of about 114,000 Black and 81,000 Hispanic doctors compared to what one would expect from proportions of the US population. This dearth is at least partially historical: Racial and ethnic minorities were excluded from attending medical school and joining medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association (AMA). In 1900, 11.6% of the US population was Black, compared with 1.3% of physicians. In 2018, 12.8% of the population was Black, but only 5.4% of physicians. Over 120 years, then, the fraction of Black physicians has increased by only 4 percentage points. This lack of representation emphasizes why the fate of affirmative action is essential to securing a racially and ethnically diverse physician body in the United States.

Affirmative action helps compensate for systemic inequities throughout childhood and young adulthood that impede the significant steps required to apply to and be admitted to medical school. The current biggest gatekeeper to medical school admission is the Medical College Admission Test® (MCAT®), whose notable racial and ethnic disparities are well documented (57). As of 2022, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native medical school applicants have an average MCAT® score of 497.4 and 498.7, respectively, which is about one standard deviation below the average score for White applicants of 507.9. Although these disparities do not mean that the test makers intentionally discriminate by race, they reflect the systematic disadvantage facing racial and ethnic minorities applying to medical school.

Note the claim that there is “systematic disadvantage”, which to many means “structural disadvantage”: something about the tests themselves that give racial and ethnic minorities a disadvantage. If it’s social circumstances: poverty, poor education, and so on, then that’s a different matter, though one that still must be considered. This is symptomatic of the whole failure of the authors to see the dimensionality of the problem.

What holds for MCAT scores (still required for nearly all med school admissions) also holds for grade-point averages. These recent data come from an admissions consulting service, Shemassian, which notes that race certainly does matter when applying for medical school: 

And data on those who matriculate among four racial groups divided by MCAT scores and grade point averages. The differential rates of acceptance among groups is striking.  Asians in particular have a hard time getting in, being accepted at only about 10% the rate of blacks in the leftmost category.

This is from the American Enterprise Institute (couldn’t they use skin-pigment neutral colors for the bars?):

Now one could argue that one standard deviation in MCAT scores doesn’t mean that, on average, a lower-scoring individual is less qualified to be a good doctor than a higher-scoring one. But if that’s the case, why use scores at all for determining who’s qualified? And if qualifications have any correlation with quality of medical care dispensed later in life, then they could have titled the article, invidiously, “Attacks on affirmative action threatens quality in medicine.”

To me, qualifications for medical school are like qualifications for being an airline pilot in one way: once you make it, you’d better be good, as you’ll have a whole lot of lives in your hands over your whole career. If you say we should lower the bar for going to med school, would you say the same thing for pilot training? If not, why not?

At any rate, the main issue with the article is that it doesn’t even discuss the possible tradeoff between the quality of American healthcare and ethnic equity among American doctors. Perhaps they feel that equity among doctors will, as I said, outweigh any bad effects of lowering the bar for med-school applicants. Or perhaps they feel that equity in a profession even outweighs the concrete benefits that the profession is supposed to confer on society. (That is, equity among doctors is more important for society than the overall quality of healthcare.) One could make both of these arguments, but the problem is the authors don’t. They simply feel that affirmative action is an affront to medical care and to American society, and that equity is a virtue that’s above American law. Indeed, opposing affirmative action is equated, throughout this article, as identical to endorsing white supremacy:

But because the Supreme Court may now deem consideration of race itself to be discrimination—even when it would benefit a racial group and society as a whole—the Supreme Court may stipulate a rule with far-reaching effects across the US healthcare industry. This would not be the first Roberts Court decision to re-interpret civil rights laws as protective of White people, as opposed to the subordinated groups these laws were meant to protect. For example, in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District (2007), the Supreme Court held that voluntary school desegregation plans in Seattle, WA, and Louisville, KY, violated the Equal Protection Clause. Although this clause was created to help remedy racial discrimination after the Civil War, the Supreme Court used it to impede efforts to address systemic racism. In this case, Chief Justice Roberts famously quipped, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” thereby imparting a “color-blind” reading on a clause aimed at racial progress. The Roberts Court’s belief that color-blindness will end racism overlooks the more structural and systemic forms of racism that are likely the biggest propagators of disadvantage today. At the same time, the color-blind approach invalidates policies aimed at racial progress like affirmative action, thus entrenching the benefits of Whiteness.

Two more points. First, the authors reply on the deeply flawed Implicit Bias Test, one that’s been rejected by most psychologists as not measuring anything meaningful and even as counterproductive in reducing bias:

Affirmative action’s loss may result in medicine and healthcare that look substantially less diverse. And any loss of diversity could be self-perpetuating. Through their presence and contributions, racial and ethnic minorities help make spaces more accommodating and inclusive to people from differing backgrounds. For example, testing of implicit bias using the well-validated Implicit Association Test has revealed that African-American physicians have far less implicit bias than White physicians  Racial and ethnic prejudice, prolific throughout medicine, impact physician–patient communication, treatment decisions, and patient outcomes. A less racially diverse pool of providers could bring heightened bias toward racial and ethnic minorities, leading to a spiral effect, in which medical spaces become less varied across the board.

That, of course, is purely speculative.  And remember that when affirmative action was first implemented in the Sixties, it was supposed to be a temporary expedient—a few decades at most. In the Grutter v. Bollinger decision in 2003, in which (by a 5-4 vote) the Supreme Court allowed some consideration of race in college admissions, liberal justice Sandra Day O’Connor said this:

“Finally, race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time. The Court takes the Law School at its word that it would like nothing better than to find a race-neutral admissions formula and will terminate its use of racial preferences as soon as practicable. The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

Note that she later clarified that she didn’t mean to set a firm deadline. But I think we know now, from the institutionalization of both affirmative action and DEI programs in colleges, that affirmative action and “racial preferences” will—are intended to—last forever. 

Finally, the authors suggest the obvious: that medical schools should start trying to find ways around the upcoming changes in law to maintain a diverse medical profession:

The affirmative action cases before the Supreme Court raise serious questions about the future of a diverse medical profession and the integrity of healthcare itself. In advance of the decision, medical programs that value diversity and accept federal funds (or are government institutions) would be wise to consider alternative paths to create a racially diverse student body without explicitly considering race. With some strategizing, they can preserve some racial diversity while keeping to the letter of the law.

I’m trying to be charitable here, but it sounds like me that they want to circumvent the law in some way by “strategizing,” but that might not be possible if the Supreme Court rules that you can’t use correlates of race as proxy data for admissions. But the authors don’t like even that strategy!:

Many medical schools will be driven to alternative metrics, or proxies, to attain racial diversity. Such proxies could include family history, experiences of discrimination, socioeconomic status, and geography. However, proxies are limited for at least two reasons. First, they may poorly approximate race. For example, experiences of discrimination may seem to correlate with race, but they have frequently been claimed by White applicants, including in the Supreme Court’s historical affirmative action cases. And, second, the upcoming decision may prohibit not only consideration of race, but also similar metrics.

So what do we do if we want the body of physicians to “look like America”? My view is not to lower standards or devalue merit, but invest in giving minorities and other disadvantaged people equal opportunities to achieve. And, as I always say, that’s a much harder task than just lowering merit bars . Sadly, throwing money at schools doesn’t seem to work. Reducing income inequality might, but we all know that Americans don’t want that. Right now I don’t know what the solution is; perhaps all we can do is call attention to the problem and hope that better minds can create equal opportunities. (Even that won’t work, of course, because so long as there is inherited wealth, there will be inherited privilege.) 

But back to the article. I conclude that it is not a contribution to solving the problem. It neglects important issues, brings up irrelevant ones, makes unstated assumptions, and, above all, injects ideology into science.

Loury and McWhorter on Diversity

April 24, 2023 • 8:30 am

Here’s a short segment from Glenn Loury’s Substack site showing him and John McWhorter discussing the claim that minorities are made uncomfortable by going to institutions, like colleges, where people “don’t look like them.” (This refers, of course, to superficial traits associated with race, though those traits are often taken to be tightly associated with ideological and political views.) If you click on the screenshot below, you’ll go to Loury’s site, which has a transcript, but you can also listen to the 13-minute video embedded below the title. The YouTube notes say this:

In this excerpt from a live event in New York sponsored by the University of Austin’s Mill Institute and moderated by Ilana Redstone, Glenn Loury and John McWhorter discuss why seeking out “people who look like you” undermines what college—and indeed the world—has to offer.

Redstone, as expected for someone who encourages this kind of discussion, does have heterodox credentials:

Ilana Redstone is a visiting fellow with the Mercatus Center’s Program on Pluralism and Civil Exchange.Dr. Redstone is also an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the founder of Diverse Perspectives Consulting and a co-founder of The Mill Center. She is the co-author of “Unassailable Ideas: How Unwritten Rules and Social Media Shape Discourse in American Higher Education” and the creator of the “Beyond Bigots and Snowflakes” video series. She is also a faculty fellow at Heterodox Academy

Voilà: the meat of the discussion. Here’s the question posed by Redstone:

One of the questions around affirmative action or one of the arguments has to do with this idea of, well, I guess two things. One is diversity being a good on its own and having a value on its own. And the other idea with representation is that there’s a benefit to people seeing other people in positions of power and authority that look like they do.

And so I’m wondering if you can speak to that idea that people need to see people who look like them in order to feel inspired or accepted or motivated or whatever. How do you think about that?

Loury first takes up the question of “what does ‘looks like me’ really mean?”  He suggests several answers: people of your ethnicity, privileged college students, Americans, and so on. But he gets what the question really means: it’s about race.  Both he and McWhorter are, frankly, baffled at the notion that to be comfortable you must be among people of your own race, or see people of your own race.  I’m baffled that they’re baffled, as this notion is so common, and later Loury tries to take it apart and explain it. But in the end both men agree that he notion is harmful to students and harmful even to racial progress.

A few excerpts:

Loury: And I think the reflexive answer [is], it’s a bean count. “I’ve seen enough black lesbian women that I know, as a black lesbian woman, that I’m in a place of belonging” trivializes the great questions of, who are we? Which is what you come to a university to learn how to explore.

McWhorter: I never understood that line. I never got it. That you need to see teachers who look like you, you need to have other students who look like you. I had to be taught that that was the way I was supposed to feel. I know what I look like. I can look in the mirror. I had parents. They were black, too. Had a family, had friends, mostly when I was a kid, black friends. I didn’t need to see black people in my books. You looked at TV and by the 70s there were enough black people. Probably not as many as now. Definitely not. But I didn’t miss it, because if I look somewhere, I don’t wanna see me. I wanna see the world. I wanna see something else. I don’t go on a walk in the woods in order to see blackness. I go in order to see a squirrel or a creek or something. I don’t look at TV thinking I want to see people doing things that I’ve seen my relatives do it. You want to see something else.

. . .Of course, it’s better to have the representation that we have now. But that idea that you’re being deprived by not seeing yourself in your education, in your popular culture.

I’m reading a book right now where there’s this wonderful chapter on Du Bois. He would’ve been horrified. He’s learning German, he’s talking about Kant, et cetera. Nobody told him that he wasn’t black enough. That didn’t come up. The only people who said that to him, frankly, were white people. And yet here in our post-1966 age, you have that line.

. . . Or if we’re that afraid of white people, we can’t be comfortable until we see one of our own? Again, nobody was told to think that way until 1966. Here, Glenn, I think it’s a pose that we’re encouraged to take. “White people make me nervous. I need to see black people.” No white people don’t make you that nervous. In 2023, you’re told that you’re supposed to say that they do, because it gives you a sense of identity. But it’s an act, and it’s a dangerous one because it stanches curiosity, and curiosity is what makes a human being human.

Loury gives one explanation for the “look like me” trope: if you’ve been a victim of mistreatment at the hands of other groups, then seeing people who belong to your group (he uses black lesbian as his example), makes you relax more, makes you more comfortable and able to enjoy college. That can’t, of course, be rejected out of hand.

McWhorter doesn’t pull any punches in his response: if you’re that freaked out by those “who don’t look like you,” , he says, you need “compassionate help”, i.e., therapy of the cognitive behavioral sort:

McWhorter: But if you really are balling up your fist, if you’re really that uncomfortable when you don’t see people like you around you—in our times, as opposed to a distant day—if you’re that uncomfortable, then there’s something dysfunctional going on, and you need to find some kind of compassionate help.

Now these days, we’re supposed to feel that when it comes to race and identity issues, I’m not supposed to say that. I’m not supposed to say that you need to be trained out of that reflexive crouch. But no, I see no exception at all in the twenty-first century, given the sorts of things that you are likely to face, or I should really say not face, I don’t see that you need to be that nervous about not seeing yourself in this setting. And given that you’re going to go out into the world and find that people like you are rare in many settings that you’re going to go into, I think you should be prepared. Life is not always comfortable, and that’s part of what college is for.

So with all compassion, I say, if you’re that nervous, then you need cognitive behavioral therapy that will make you happier. Because you’re not always gonna be surrounded by people like you.

I can imagine how well that will go down with the nervous people! “Upset by not seeing enough people of your ethnicity? You need therapy.”  But, you know, he might be right, at least in extreme cases where a person’s function is inhibited by feeling left out. This is the claim, which I most often reject, that people are “harmed” by not seeing enough people who look like them.

And Loury distills the issue to this:

In other words, bottom line, suppose your goal is to advance the wellbeing of the race of people who look like you. You inhibit yourself from realizing fully your potential to advance that goal by restricting your attention to the doings of people who look like you.

But they both agree that restricting yourself to associating with those of your race, or concentrating on reading or studying only works by those of your race, is a form of intellectual constriction. Yes, that activity might reduce your ability to “advance the wellbeing of the race of people who look like you,” but is that the main point? This kind of constriction prevents you from apprehending the whole of the human condition, reducing that experience only to the “condition” encountered by people who look like you. Even if advancing your race is your goal, don’t you want to know your enemy—your presumed enemy?

McWhorter give his distillation:

McWhorter: And so a modern black person is supposed to only read Alice Walker and Walter Mosley, even though they read Tolstoy. They were old fashioned.

That doesn’t cohere. That doesn’t make sense. The only way that would make sense is if racism is worse. Now, what is it that we know now that Ralph Ellison didn’t? I think only a serious partisan would deny racism is not as bad now as it was in 1950, so we can afford even more than them to read Joyce Carol Oates as well as Gayl Jones, et cetera, not less. And so if W.E.B. Du Bois read all over the place, we can even more. Lynching was legal in the prime of his life. We live in very different times. So we can’t reject those people because the photos are black and white. It’s better now. We have a widened opportunity.

There are those like Kendi who claim that racism now is worse than it’s ever been, but I don’t think you can find any metric showing that.

By all means we should ensure equal opportunity for all Americans, a hard task that will take decades—if it can be done at all—but in the meantime the claim that you’re “harmed” if there aren’t enough people who look like you in your environment doesn’t sit well with most, for it’s an unconvincing claim of victimhood. The harm is not palpable, and is said to be psychological—which is why McWhorter recommends therapy for those crippled by this syndrome.

And of course, the statement can also be taken to mean that you want to be around people who think like you, for people of a given group are supposed to share a homogeneous set of ideas. (McWhorter and Loury are often criticized for not thinking is the way black people are supposed to think.) But how can you learn, or grow as a person, if you surround yourself or seek out only those people who think like you?

One issue that neither man addresses, but I’d love to see addressed, is that of historically black universities (HBUs) like Howard or Spelman College.  Back in the old days, they existed because black students simply couldn’t get into white colleges. Now, however, there’s a land rush in nearly all colleges to snap up qualified minorities, and the rationale for HBUs must now be that these entities are self-segregating because they increase the comfort level of students, as nearly everyone “looks like them,” (I’m just guessing here.) But isn’t that exactly the attitude that McWhorter and Loury find harmful?

When does DEI supersede academic freedom?

March 1, 2023 • 11:45 am

This article from the new Chronicles of Higher Education (click on screenshot below) is deeply misguided. It argues that academic freedom must sometimes give way to DEI initiatives; the argument is based on a balancing of two “rights” (one of which, DEI initiatives, is arguably not a “right”); conflates a professor’s rights with a professor’s preferences, construes student “rights” largely as “the right to not be offended”; and misunderstands the nature of academic freedom. First, though let’s define academic freedom. This construal, from the University of California at Santa Cruz, is as good as any (definitions vary)

Academic freedom: is the freedom of teachers, students, and academic institutions to pursue knowledge wherever it may lead, without undue or unreasonable interference. At the minimum, academic freedom involves the freedom to engage in the entire range of activities involved in the production of knowledge, including choosing a research focus, determining what to teach in the classroom, presenting research findings to colleagues, and publishing research findings. Still, academic freedom has limits. In the United States, for example, according to the widely recognized “1940 Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure”, teachers should be careful to avoid controversial matter that is unrelated to the subject. When they speak or write in public, they are free to express their opinions without fear from institutional censorship or discipline, but they should show restraint and clearly indicate that they are not speaking for their institution. Academic tenure protects academic freedom by ensuring that teachers can be fired only for causes such as gross professional incompetence or behavior that evokes condemnation from the academic community itself.

Note that this freedom is already limited by several constraints.  Although I know of no strictures on the freedom to study what a faculty member wants, there are constraints about what one can say in class. You cannot, for example, teach creationism as factual in a biology class. You cannot insult a student or create a climate of harassment in the classroom.  And you have to generally teach as true what is accepted in your field as true, though of course you can offer your opinion, as long as it’s clear that it’s your opinion.

For students the issue of academic freedom is actually the issue of “freedom of speech,” and they are not the same thing. Both faculty and students, at least at publicly funded universities, have full First Amendment rights, but that refers to expression, not research direction. (Most private colleges and universities do claim to adhere to First Amendment standards, and all of them should.) There are limitations on free speech, too; these are well known, having been carved out by the courts over decades and decades. Those limits prohibit repeated personal harassment or threats, speech that promotes imminent and predictable harm, defamation, false advertising, and so on.

But that is not the subject of this article, which is about whether professors are allowed to say things about diversity in the classroom that “harm” students.

The article’s author is Stacy Hawkins, vice dean and a professor of law at Rutgers Law School.

First they argue in the abstract, though it would have helped to start by giving examples of these clashes. Those, however, come later.

From the piece:

Academic administrators, much like judges, need to take seriously the responsibility to weigh the competing interests involved when academic freedom and DEI efforts collide. They must measure the relative harms, evaluate facts and circumstances, and render judgments that elevate the needs of the many over the needs of the few. The First Amendment, and the principle of academic freedom which emanates from it, is not exempt from the rule that no right is absolute. The authors, in fact, acknowledge this need for balance by recognizing that “there is no academic freedom without academic responsibility.”

In particular, academic freedom may sometimes (perhaps also increasingly often) need to cede to the responsibility academic administrators have to effectuate the institutional commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Equally important, academic administrators also have an obligation to protect members of the community from discrimination and harassment on the basis of protected characteristics, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. In discharging these responsibilities, some people’s right to express themselves cannot come at the expense of other people’s right to dignity, safety, and equal participation in the academic community. More pointedly, the faculty’s academic freedom cannot always trump student well-being.

The institutional commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is not a “right” like the contractual obligations of academic freedom, but a choice. However, bigotry, unequal opportunity, and denial of rights to protected groups are already protected by civil rights law.  As you see by the last two sentences, Hawkins is not talking about two clashing rights but one (academic freedom). The other “right”, of people to be protected against bigotry and unequal opportunity, is already protected, and coexists with academic freedom.  What Hawkins is talking about is a newly confected “right”, but one that does not exist, and what’s she means is not protected by either academic freedom or the First Amendment.

Hawkins argues that this clash of “rights” is new because when the concept of academic freedom was formulated,

. . . academe was largely governed by and on behalf of a narrow set of interests (most notably white, male, and Christian). In this context, the content and the terms of the academic-freedom debate were largely ideological (references to Communism, for instance, were common). Accommodating the presence or needs of other (historically marginalized) groups was neither contemplated by nor reflected in the statements about academic freedom that were developed in these earlier periods. The focus was exclusively on promoting the free exchange of ideas among equals.

But let’s cut to the chase. What are some examples of clashes between academic right and the presumed “rights” of DEI? The latter are never really spelled out, but we can guess them as the right to not be harmed or offended by words”.

Some recent, high-profile examples reveal the nature of these conflicts. Consider, for example, a professor who refused to use a student’s preferred pronouns, or another who repeatedly requested a student use an Anglicized name in class, or another who instructed international students to speak English while on campus. In cases such as these, professors commonly defend their actions as protected, sometimes even well-intentioned, speech. A more common example are the numerous instances when a professor has defended the right to use racial epithets or other content considered highly offensive and demeaning to some students in the classroom. Intentions notwithstanding, the impact of this speech on students matters.

The first two seem to me matters of preference, and may involve academic freedom. I’m not sure that you can be fired for not using a student’s preferred pronouns (though I think Jordan Peterson quit his job in Canada because there it is required).  Asking a student to use an Anglicized name is rude and may constitute personal harassment, which would be a violation of academic freedom. As far as I know, there is no right to ask students to “speak English while on campus”, though it seems proper to request a student to use English when answering or asking questions.

As for racial epithets, you have the right to use them if they are used didactically, as Geof Stone used to do in his class on freedom of speech here at the law school (see below), or on an exam as a hypothetical example of speech that’s offensive (as in the case of Jason Kilborn at the University of Illinois at Chicago Law School). That is, the right to use epithets is protected by academic freedom if the intent is an academic one, but not if the words are meant as pejoratives.  You should not be disciplined for using them that way, but of course a professor, like Geof Stone, may decide that they’re too inflammatory to serve as examples and their use would derail the discourse. But the students have no right not to have them said didactically in the classroom. Note that in the discussion above, Hawkins implies that the “impact” of this speech matters, and it does, but only psychologically. There is no “right” not to not be impacted. In other words, in terms of academic freedom rights, intent matters and impact doesn’t.

Any well meaning professor will, of course, try to avoid insulting students if it can be avoided, but sometimes you cannot help it. Such was the case of the instructor at Hamline University who showed a picture of Muhammad’s face from an old and famous painting. This was done didactically, as part of an art history course, and the instructor issued two trigger warnings before she showed the painting. But it didn’t matter: Muslim students were offended, complained to the administration, and the instructor was fired. (She is since suing the university.) This is exactly the same kind of conflict between “rights” that Hawkins is writing about. Should the DEI “right” (not showing the picture) triumph? No, because there IS no DEI right here.

Re Geof Stone, here’s what happened at Chicago:

Balancing academic freedom with academic responsibility will sometimes require harmful and offensive speech to be condemned, especially when it serves no legitimate educational purpose. Even within the hotbed of academic freedom, Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor and an avowed defender of faculty free speech, has recently agreed to forgo use of a racial epithet that he has used in class for many years. The reason? He realized that it was causing real harm to his students (both Black and white), and their harm matters. Also, “things change,” according to Stone.

The word was the “n-word”, used to demonstrate how racial epithets should still constitute free speech. As far as I understand, Geof dropped that example not because he realized that the DEI “right” to use it trumped his academic freedom, but because he realized that it really riled up people and derailed the discussion.  His was a decision based on both civility and pedagogy, but not on adhering to one “right” that trumped his academic freedom. Had he persisted in using that word, he would not have been disciplined by the University.

Hawkins’s whole article seems to me a straw man, because it conflates too many things, construes DEI as producing a “right not to be offended”, and because many of the rights asserted aren’t “DEI rights” but simple civil rights already in force. I’m surprised that the dean of a law school would write some of this, for, as my colleague Brian Leiter, a professor at our law school, argues, Hawkins’s article is legally incoherent. Here’s what he wrote in an email and has given me permission to quote:

The article is not just “troubling,” it’s legally incompetent.  It fails to recognize that for all academics at private universities, but also for most faculty at public universities, academic freedom is a contractual right (not simply a constitutional one as the author writes).  Employers can’t breach contractual rights just because they have other objectives they want to pursue.  And while there are some very narrow exceptions to First Amendment protections, there is no DEI exception ot the First Amendment:  indeed, the U.S. does not even have a “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment.   It would be consistent with academic freedom for Rutgers to investigate what this person [JAC: author Stacy Hawkins] is teaching in the classroom, since these mistakes raise serious questions about her competence.

White House plan to foster equity and excellence in STEMM is all about equity, not excellence

January 30, 2023 • 9:35 am

In December the White House released a longish plan to “transform” STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) in the U.S. It turns out that the main goal—if not the only one—is equity, and there’s precious little mention of making science more “excellent”. Click to read:


I don’t want to go over this line by line, but I’ll give a few extracts to show you that this initiative has virtually nothing to do with improving excellence, but everything to do with improving equity: i.e., ensuring that the proportion of members of the two sexes or of diverse ethnic groups who are funded, who get jobs, or who go into the STEMM pipeline are roughly equal to their proportion in the U.S. population.

Further, the present inequities in STEMM are automatically assumed and loudly ascribe to ongoing “structural racism”, bigotry, and so on. That assumption, of course, is not only unwarranted, but anyone in science knows that graduate schools and hiring programs are doing everything they can to bring women and ethnic minorities into the field.  Sure, there may be some bigots here and there (I’ve never encountered any scientist trying to deny opportunity to someone because of their sex or ethnicity, but that’s just my lived experience); but I simply can’t discern features of the field itself that have been put in place to perpetuate inequities.

This proposal, in other words, is identical to the “progressive” editorials appearing in every science journal around. I didn’t think Biden and his administration would capitulate to the woke demands for equity (I favor equal opportunity, not proportional outcomes), but at least they have in STEMM. The administration is much more “progressive” than I thought, though had I know that I still would have voted for Biden, as there’s simply no way I’d mark a ballot for Trump. (“Progressive” is my synonym for “woke,” since every time I use the “w” word I get Pecksniffs writing me to say, “I would have read your post but then you said ‘woke’ and I stopped reading.”)

Can you increase excellence by increasing equity? That seems to be the tacit assumption of this program, but one for which there is very little evidence. (The classic paper supporting the idea that diversity itself increases net excellence is this 2004 PNAS paper, arguing that diverse groups do better at solving math problems than groups of high achievers. But this it was a mathematical model with no empirical data, and was later found to be fatally flawed.) There are no strategies in this document intended to increase excellence by itself, though plenty to increase equity by itself. Excellence is just seen as an inevitable byproduct of equity (my bolding below):

To achieve these urgent priorities, people across all sectors must meet the President’s call to confront and overcome the challenges that prevent us from having a science and technology ecosystem defined by both equity and excellence.

The national vision for STEMM equity and excellence calls for bold concerted leadership, focusing our national efforts and synchronizing cross-sector initiatives across five core action areas. Each action area proposes promising practices, sources over the course of OSTP’s national engagement, to focus interventions:

At least insofar as affirmative actions are concerned, those are predicated on the view that there is an antithesis between excellence and equity, ergo you must sacrifice excellence (at least in terms of formal scientific achievements or qualifications) to achieve equity.  Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for more diversity (although I think it’s misguided to try for “equity”), but we need to recognize that that is a social goal, in which diversity is seen as an inherent good (as in Powell’s crucial opinion in the Bakke decision) or as a form of reparations.

Here are some bits of the paper, the first one seeming to indict science in an unfair way.  And I would contest the first sentence (bolding mine):

Despite this track record of national leadership, history has shown that new investments in science and technology rarely translate to equitable results for all peoples and communities without sustained, intentional effort. Indeed, such advances have often served to deepen inequality and reinforce systemic barriers, with the benefits of science and technology not reaching all communities equally. Further, our science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine ecosystem shuts out and diverts away too many talented individuals, limiting opportunities for discovery and innovation, and our national potential for the greatest impact.

Do such inequities fall on science’s doorstep? I think not. If minority communities didn’t get their Covid vaccines equitably, that can be due to a host of other factors, though of course anyone who wanted to get vaccinated could do so.

As the paper notes (their bolding), “Bias, discrimination, and harassment plague the science and technology ecosystem, from school to workforce and beyond. Systemic barriers—including bias, racism, sexism, ableism, exclusion, discrimination, cultural disincentives, and chronic underfunding—deter people of all ages from considering, pursuing, and persisting in science and technology careers and limit participation in science and technology.

For some reason characterizing STEMM as an “ecosystem” irks me, as there’s a biological meaning for that word that doesn’t correspond to its usage above. Why not just say “STEMM”? The word “ecosystem” appears 27 times in this document, while there are 11 uses of “equity”, 5 of “excellence”, and none of “merit.”

Back to the document. Here’s an example they give imply structural racism. But it’s construed wrongly:

  • Funds and resources are unevenly available, often exacerbating existing disparities, stunting science, and building distrust of the scientific system. Many documented trends have caused these gaps to grow deeper and wider: Persistent late-career funding trends undermine the potential of early innovation, with the average age for receiving a first significant federal or equivalent grant hovering close to 45, and principal investigators (PIs) over 65 receiving twice as many RO1s as those under 36. Studies have consistently shown inequities in the allocation of research funding, including a landmark 2011 NIH study which exposed that Black PIs were funded at roughly half the rate of White PIs. These problems have early roots, with minority-serving institutions (MSIs), emerging institutions, and community colleges receiving on a small fraction of all of the science and technology research and development funds available each year. While many initiatives and programs in federal agencies and academic institutions work to advance community priorities, they are chronically underfunded.

The problem is that that 2011 study showed that the existing funding disparities were not caused by bias in grant reviewing (which a study showed did not exist), but on the fact that black investigators tended to apply for money in fields that were not well funded and also had poorer “track records” in publishing as shown on the NIH-required c.v.s  I discussed this 2011 study and the problems with the bias explanation on this website.  Didn’t the White House know of these explanations? Apparently not. They’d prefer to let people think it’s due to structural racism in the NIH.

Now the good stuff. After issuing a spate of accusations of how science is riddled with misogyny and racism, the document proposes some fixes to achieve equity. Some of these are fine, as they actually buttress opportunity, which is what I would go for. They also try to buttress good science teaching, which I’m always for.  Here are some proposals I like (you can read the document yourself to see ones that aren’t so good):

  • Offer opportunities at every stage of life, education, and career to help people enter STEMM, such as clearer pathways between early- and first-exposure science and technology experiences, those that focus on middle school girls and gender non-conforming youth, and existing scholarships and research experiences at community, vocational, and four-year colleges and universities.
  • Create opportunities for professional learning, and leadership along with the opportunity to work collaboratively within and across schools and learning communities.
  • Leverage and increase access to affordable, comprehensive, evidence-based pre-service teacher preparation programs.
  • Support teachers in earning initial, additional, or advanced certification in high-demand areas such as computer science.
  • Provide resources for experiential STEMM learning and research experiences for students and teachers in classrooms and in extra-curricular settings.
  • Support mechanisms that provide science and mathematics teachers with living wages and help to pay off forms of educational debt.
  • Fund and incentivize public participation and engagement in science and make participation in science accessible to the public in spaces that are already used.

There are others I like, but you can see that some of the proposals are designed to increase opportunity rather than ensure proportional outcome, while others want to fund and support science teachers who, like most secondary-school teachers, are grossly underpaid considering what they do and how important they are. (Many of us became scientists because we were turned on by good, passionate, and charismatic teachers.)

By concentrating its plans for the future of science on achieving equity rather than equal opportunity, and by completely ignoring merit and ways to create excellence by itself, the White House document is scuppering the future of science. And by characterizing science as a roiling hotbed of bigotry, racism, and structural features designed to hold down the oppressed, the document also insults science itself.


A thread about universty DEI statements

January 24, 2023 • 9:45 am

Since August of last year, John Sailer, who works for the National Association of Scholars (NAS), has been putting put together a long thread about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements (DEI) that are now required for many applicants for academic jobs. Indeed, in many cases they are weighed more heavily in the hiring process than are academic achievements and qualifications themselves. DEI statements can even completely override academic and scholarly merit! For academic jobs in the Life Sciences at UC Berkeley, for instance, your DEI statement is ranked on three criteria: your knowledge of DEI, your track record of DEI work, and your plans to implement DEI initiatives if hired). This is done using a point system (15 points total). If your statement doesn’t accrue enough points, your application is put in the dumpster and is not considered again. Too bad if you look like a future Nobel laureate; there is no job for you at UC Berkeley unless you have a long track record and well-considered philosophy of diversity. (We are of course talking about racial diversity, not viewpoint diversity or socioeconomic diversity.)

I’ve objected to these statements because they constitute “compelled speech”: a prospective faculty member has to adhere to certain specified ideological principles to be hired, principles having to do with social engineering rather than teaching, learning, and research. While I agree with many of the sentiments behind these initiatives, I do not favor making them compulsory, as it foists a political homogeneity on universities and stifles free discussion. How could it not? You simply can’t be hired unless you’re of the right political bent.

The NAS is an education-centered political advocacy group with a conservative bent. But I make no apologies for mentioning right-wing sources; what matters here are the assertions, which you can check for yourself. Every claim I know of below is accurate, but of course I didn’t check all of them.  Also this is Sailer’s own Twitter feed, so this isn’t an official presentation by the NAS—yet.  But one thing is for sure: you’re never going to see a “progressive” individual or organization collect examples of DEI-statement requirements. Progressive favor such statements, but flaunting them in public is not a good thing to do. Why? Figure it out for yourself.

Sailer begins his thread by noting that the governors of the University of North Carolina (UNC) have ended diversity statements, which would be a good thing to do. UNC at Chapel Hill was also the first university in the U.S. to follow the University of Chicago by mandating both the Chicago Principles of Free Expression and the Kalven Principles of institutional neutrality. That’s all pretty amazing for a school in the South!)

I can’t find anything on the web about the ending of DEI statements at UNC, so I’ll take Sailer’s word for it for the time being. I did find an NAS article he wrote in August of last year called “Mandatory DEI statements undermine academic freedom at UNC-Chapel Hill,” which lists all the jobs at UNC-CH that required diversity statements. But it doesn’t mention ending DEI statements, except as a desideratum.

At any rate, here’s Sailer long list of DEI-related requirements for schools, how they are assessed, and then at the end a bit about the burgeoning DEI bureaucracy. There are 18 further tweets that I didn’t have space to include, so look at the thread for yourself. Just regard this as data that you can check if you wish. If it’s all true, and I don’t think Sailer would make this stuff up, you should be very afraid for the future of universities, of free speech, and of academic freedom.

Cluster hires are hiring of a several faculty at once who are committed to advancing DEI initiatives. I wasn’t aware that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which uses taxpayer money, has grants for this purpose.

The first tweet is Berkeley’s infamous Life Sciences DEI initiative. If you said in your UCB DEI statement that you were committed to treating all students equally and with empathy and respect, regardless of ethnicity, your application was as good as dead. The second tweet below that, at Emory, biology puts as much weight on DEI initiatives as it does on research and teaching, presumably for both hiring and promotion.

The Oregon DEI statement is not just an add-on to a promotion package that can be ignored. Rather, it has “clear consequences and influences” on your chances of promotion. Professors: start reading your Kendi!

As noted below, the California Community Colleges system is indeed the largest such system in America, and their DEI evaluation criteria for all employees (does this include everyone employed by the system?) are very strict. Further, the school system has to develop a “pedagogy/curriculum that promotes a race-conscious and intersection lens [sic]” and an “anti-racist and inclusive environment.” This is the total racialization of the educational system, treating students as if they were members of different but individually homogeneous groups.  These initiatives comprise efforts at social engineering on a massive scale rather than as a vehicle to get students to learn, to learn to think, and to promote teaching. The “teaching and learning” here is political propaganda, and I know of no similar large-scale endeavor in American educational history.

Here’s the infamous Berkeley rubric which explicitly rejects Dr. King’s criterion for how to treat people. I’ve put it below, and it’s being copied by other schools explicitly (e.g. “see UC Berekeley’s rubric”).  Below are Cornell’s DEI criteria for hiring taken from the second tweet.  There is no stopping this juggernaut:

Finally—but remember there are 18 other tweets—we have the University of Michigan’s DEI bureaucracy: 56 employees and a salary budget alone of $10.6 million. That does not include the budget for activities. It is a huge investment in DEI, and, once in place, it will not go away.

Have a look at the other 18 tweets and see if you’re not chagrined at the change of course of universities.

In a few months, the Supreme Court will overturn affirmative action, and most likely also prohibit race-based searches for candidates along with race-based hiring. What will that do to these initiatives? It will likely constrict their activities, but—make no mistake—schools will have their DEI one way or another.  With such a bureaucracy, they will somehow have to keep banging the drum that DEI is necessary to overcome the seemingly-permanent “structural racism” of universities, and workarounds will be found. (I already know of a few.)  The social engineering will not stop, nor the deflecting of universities from their real purpose down the path of “progressive ideology”. From now on, all professors, to get hired, must profess fealty to a specified ideology, and that is compelled speech.

Enforced orthodoxy in Texas science departments

January 20, 2023 • 11:45 am

In case you’re thinking that requiring DEI statements for academic job applicants was a passing fad, well, you’re wrong. They’re only going to get more pervasive. This report from Texas, in particular Texas Tech University, shows that DEI statements are not only mandatory, but primary: they can be used (as they are at UC Berkeley) to weed out candidates who aren’t with the program—people who have Wrongthink about DEI, like saying that “they don’t discriminate at all on the basis of race.” (This is the worst thing you can say in a DEI statement, since they want to discriminate in favor of minority races.)

Click on this piece from City Journal by John Sailer to read it (it’s short, but I refuse to specify a “reading time”). The part that bothers me most is that it applies largely to science departments.

Statements from Saller’s piece are indented.

In 2020, the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech University adopted a motion on “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI), promising to “require and strongly weight a diversity statement from all candidates” during the hiring process. This amounts to a striking statement of priorities.

Many would be surprised to learn that cell biologists and immunologists might be passed up for a job because they were not sufficiently enthusiastic about DEI. But the policy illustrates a trend across Texas universities. Increasingly, a commitment to a vague and often ideologically charged notion of diversity, equity, and inclusion has become an effective job requirement for professors in Texas.

Have a look at his first link above: it goes to a Department of Biological Sciences statement, saying that the department. .

REQUIRES DBS faculty search committees to: i) require and strongly weight a diversity statement from all candidates and provide an evaluation rubric; ii) provide questions to all candidates prior to off‐campus interviews; iii) provide a report to the DBS faculty that includes diversity metrics and a report on the evaluation of the required diversity statements and strategies implemented.

Not only is your fealty required, but it is STRONGLY WEIGHTED.  Further, you have to answer questions from the department, and you better answer them in an ideologically approved way!

One more except from Saller’s piece before I pass on:

In September 2021, the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech announced that it was hiring four assistant professors. Faculty members in the department took to Twitter to advertise the new position, emphasizing a unique feature of the application: per its new resolution, the department makes DEI an explicit priority in hiring. The resolution commits to “recognizing, acknowledging, and rectifying individual conscious and unconscious biases.” To that end, it promises to weigh heavily every job candidates’ contributions to the cause, as laid out in mandatory diversity statements.

The department even released a rubric for evaluating diversity statements, which demonstrates the danger of the requirement. Biologists applying to work in Texas Tech must have a specific, well-delineated understanding of DEI, receiving a low score for “[conflating] diversity, equity, and inclusion without distinguishing among them.” They must also espouse an understanding of diversity that focuses on race, gender, and granular intersectionality. The rubric mandates a low score if a candidate shows little “expressed knowledge of, or experience with, dimensions of diversity that result from different identities (for example, intersections between experiences of women scientists and Black scientists).”

Have a look at Texas Tech’s rubric, which evaluates candidates on a 1-5 point scale in three areas: Knowledge about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Track Record in Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and Plans for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. (This is similar to Berkeley’s system.)

Your maximum possible score is 15 and your minimum is 3. And by god, you’d better have an extensive record of diversity-advancing records to get the higher score you need to get a job offer. I surely wouldn’t have gotten a job had this system been in place when I was hired. While I was active in political and anti-racist movements as an undergraduate, I had no record of DEI activities in academia.

Sailer continues:

A DEI evaluation for hiring almost inevitably weeds out candidates on the basis of their political and social views. Someone who opposes, say, racial preferences in admissions or hiring would likely run afoul of the Texas Tech rubric. This is one reason why the Academic Freedom Alliance recently announced its opposition to diversity statements.

But an even more fundamental problem remains. Prioritizing DEI in hiring means downplaying other, more important criteria—most obviously, basic academic prowess. UT–Austin recently released its “Strategic Plan for Faculty Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity,” which charges each college within the university to develop mechanisms for rewarding DEI contributions. How many highly qualified professors will ultimately lose out on promotions or tenure because they chose not to embrace the fad?

The purpose of higher education is to facilitate the pursuit of truth. By prioritizing social goals as a key feature of a professor’s job, diversity statements and evaluations detract from that mission. Alas, the policy is alive and well in Texas.

There is absolutely no doubt that such initiatives turn the traditional system of academic success on its head. You no longer have to be a great scientist to get a job; you have to have a great track record in DEI. And absent that track record, your chance of getting a job, whatever your scientific accomplishments, is nil. Those who say that DEI and merit are not in conflict at all—and those who label initiatives as “inclusive excellence”—are fooling nobody.

MIT tells prospective faculty how to write a successful diversity statement

November 26, 2022 • 11:45 am

It was inevitable that when universities began requiring diversity statements for prospective faculty, postdocs, and grad students, sites would pop up telling you how to write a good statement.  (Some places will even charge to help you!) This site, from the MIT Communication Lab (click on screenshot below) is fairly extensive, covering not only the format of your 1-2 page statement, but also the content.

Although I was a political activist in college (I’m not going to go through that again), it turns out that there’s no way I could write a statement the way MIT suggests. This means that had this been a critical criterion when I was applying for jobs, I’d be flipping burgers now. Several of my colleagues who have read these requirements have said the same. People would have more burgers, but who would have written a book on speciation?

These DEI statements are often critical. Although the MIT site says this:

A diversity statement alone is unlikely to get you an interview or a job offer, but a well-written diversity statement may enable you to stand out among a large pool of qualified candidates.

. . . in reality, in some places like Berkeley, if your diversity statement isn’t up to muster you have no chance of getting a job, no matter how good your academic qualifications are (see here and here). And since you have to talk about efforts you have made in the past to increase diversity, as well as your philosophy of diversity, you have to start doing social-justice work well before you intend to apply for jobs. Woe to those students who have immersed themselves wholly in quantum mechanics or classical literature out of the love of the field and of knowledge. Without a track record in promoting diversity, as well as a philosophy of diversity, those people are doomed.

I don’t of course object to universities encouraging diversity efforts as a way to “broaden” a candidate, but there are many ways to be broad besides fighting for equity of races and genders. These include doing general outreach to high schools, writing popular books and articles on your field, doing an internship at a newspaper or other organization,, and so on. But those don’t count nearly as much as showing your history of fighting for equity.  And is this attempt to turn universities from places of learning into instruments of specific types of social justice that bothers me. As Stanley Fish said (it’s a book title): “Save the world on your own time.”

And, in the end, DEI statements may be illegal. As my colleague Brian Leiter (a law school prof) pointed out, such required statements, if used to cull candidates, may constitute illegal “viewpoint discrimination”. As he notes:

I recommend that those applying for jobs in the University of California system say only this in the diversity statement:  “I decline to supply this statement which constitutes illegal viewpoint discrimination in violation of my constitutional rights.”   There are already lawyers gearing up to bring legal challenges; I hope they act soon.   If you have been rejected from a University of California search, and suspect it was on grounds of insufficient ideological purity about “diversity,” please get in touch with me.  I can connect you with one public interest legal organization looking for plaintiffs.

But back to the MIT recommendations from this site:


Here’s the recommended breakdown of how you should divide your diversity activities and knowledge:

This means you have to have studied DEI extensively, and have a good track record of “advancing DEI”. I’m surprised they don’t recommend a reading list.

Here’s what you need to do (all quotes are indented):

Identify your purpose:

A faculty application diversity statement is NOT a document explaining how you as a candidate are diverse. While it is fine to include personal stories if they have informed how you think about diversity, this should not be the main focus of the statement. Rather, a diversity statement is an opportunity to show that you care about the inclusion of many forms of identity in academia and in your field, including but not limited to gender, race/ethnicity, age, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, and ability status.

Note: you have to show how much you care, not about the field itself, but about mentoring and gathering in people diverse not in viewpoint but in disability status, race, gender, age, and so on.

And you better know your onions:

As such, a diversity statement should not focus on your own experience but rather your intentions as a professor. It should demonstrate that you are familiar with the importance of DEI issues, outline your experience working with diverse groups and advancing DEI, and identify ways that you will use your position as a leader in your field to have an impact within your community.

Oy! Where’s the reading list?

Demonstrate knowledge of DEI:

As such, a diversity statement should not focus on your own experience but rather your intentions as a professor. It should demonstrate that you are familiar with the importance of DEI issues, outline your experience working with diverse groups and advancing DEI, and identify ways that you will use your position as a leader in your field to have an impact within your community. . .

Demonstrate experience with DEI:

It is not sufficient to demonstrate knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion; your statement should also show experience with them. While this need not be a separate section, your statement should make it clear that you have not only thought about DEI in the abstract but have applied that knowledge and are prepared to continue doing so in the future.

There’s other stuff like “be concrete in your future plans” (you’ll have to do more than say you’ll treat all students with equal effort and respect: that’s a statement that will get your application binned). Rather, you have to be absolutely specific in what you will do to promote equity and inclusivity. This is where MIT is more or less writing the application for you:

Note that specific actions are required; you can’t just say “I’ll treat my students equally, regardless of gender, disability, ethnicity, age, and so on.” You have to go to orientation and recruitment events, and act somewhat as a psychologist to your students. Nor do I don’t understand the difference between having a lab that’s “inclusive of women” and “striving for gender parity,” but that’s how it works, so you’d better be on board.

Now the advice to be specific in what you’ll do is not so bad, it’s just that they’re prescribing what you should say. This—along with the site’s other advice—is the compelled speech (and belief) that Leiter thinks may be illegal.  Some day we shall see, but to test the legality of DEI statements you need someone to sue who didn’t get a position (presumably because of a faulty statement). And finding someone with that “standing” may be hard. But come it will, and we shall see.

By the way, you can even see a successful example of a diversity statement published on MIT Communications’ web page, with the useful parts highlighted.  It was submitted by an MIT postdoc who got a faculty position at Brown.  Here’s part of it with the good bits coded in different colors: Pink indicates the recommended subheadings.

h/t: Luana

How to write an anti-racist tenure or promotion letter

November 17, 2022 • 1:00 pm

This article is from eLife as well, and I could write reams about it, but I’ll just say a few things. (I bet John McWhorter would have a lot of things to say about this!)

This set of guidelines about how to write a letter to get tenure or promotion for a black (or, in general minority) colleague is about the most patronizing thing I’ve seen, for it assumes that black people (victims of systemic racism in academia, of course) should not be held to the same standards that “white supremacy culture” has fostered. Instead they must be judged by more “holistic” standards that emphasize other things than research quality or traditional measures of academic success. For example, “mentorship” should count a lot more in an anti-racist letter than it does for a traditional letter, though of course all academics are judged by the students they teach and produce (I’m not aware that the temporal burden of “mentorship” or “role model time” is significantly higher for minority than for white faculty, though I’d be glad to see data).

This was written by (their words) a group of “mostly non-Black academics in STEM fields, most of us women, who are learning about and working toward Black liberation in academia.”

Click to read:

A few quotes:

According to Okun, “White supremacy culture is the widespread ideology baked into the beliefs, values, norms, and standards of our groups (many if not most of them), our communities, our towns, our states, our nation, teaching us both overtly and covertly that whiteness holds value, whiteness is value” ( Whether we are aware of it or not, academic culture is steeped in the beliefs and values Okun associates with ‘white supremacy culture’, including:

  • Perfectionism: the belief that there is ‘one right way’ to do things and a false sense that we can be objective, and that mistakes are personal.

  • Quantity over quality: valuing things that can be measured – publications, grant money – more highly than processes that are harder to quantify (e.g., mentoring relationships, morale).

  • Individualism: de-emphasis of team-work and collaboration and over-emphasis on individual achievement and competition.

  • Defensiveness: a tendency to protect current systems of power at the expense of hearing new ideas; perceiving criticisms as threats.

  • Sense of urgency: an imposed sense of urgency makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive and to reflect on and learn from mistakes, and draws attention away from truly urgent work for racial justice regardless of academic field.

These values are not a necessity in academia. Most of us, having been trained in this culture for years, may not even recognize these invisible but ever-present ‘rules of the game’ despite the fact that these rules limit creativity and inclusion. Naming these values as ones we have adopted makes clear that they are not axioms of academic culture. There are alternatives. Those of us committed to disrupting this implicit and harmful culture have a right and obligation to actively promote an academic community that recognizes and benefits from the expertise of all people who participate in academia. One way to accomplish this on an individual level is to reconsider how we write letters of assessment, including tenure and promotion letters, so that they embody the cultural shift we’d like to see.

This racist and stereotypical characterization of “white culture” is the same kind of stuff that the Smithsonian once posted, but then ditched out of embarrassment.

The aim of these guidelines is to completely change the nature of what’s considered “merit” in academia so that more minority people will qualify as meritorious:

The bulk of a tenure and promotion letter rests on the accomplishments of the candidate. Here, it is vitally important that you name all of the candidate’s accomplishments (Figure 1 middle, box 3). That is, in addition to mentioning traditional scholarship (papers, books, citations, invited talks, grants), you can expand your own – and the readers’ – notion of what a scholarly accomplishment is. For example, you should call attention to: grant applications submitted (and re-submitted), symposia organized, spaces and classes created, leadership and service to the department and academic community, leadership to and education of the community outside of academia, creation of public policy and impact on public health, and participation in public relations or recruiting efforts. When possible, frame this as scholarship rather than service, because many of these achievements reflect the scholar’s standing in the field.

And you must not forget to ad your own critique of systemic racism in the letter of recommenation, just to educate the people who will be reading the letter:

We encourage you to add literature-supported encouragement for evaluators to account for systemic racism in academia (Figure 1 middle, box 6). For example, you can include “Given the known racial disparities in grant funding (Taffe and Gilpin, 2021) and publication rates (Lerback et al., 2020), and the epistemic exclusion of minoritized faculty (Settles et al., 2022),…” to provide context for your statements. It is important here to account for the many interpersonal and institutional barriers experienced by Black scholars, and to critique the devaluation of their work that provides tangible benefits to the university but is often unappreciated (Rodríguez et al., 2015). It may be helpful to explicitly state “even though the evaluation criteria do not consider [service/outreach/etc.], I include my assessment in this area given the vital importance of these contributions to the department and the field, and research on disproportionate service done by scholars of Color.” We recommend emphasizing that achievement in spite of the systemic barriers enhances the value of the scholar’s accomplishments rather than offering such barriers as a rationale for any potential perceived weaknesses.

Umm. . . . this is supposed to be providing an evaluation of a person, not the whole system of academia. It’s to help a person, not change a culture! And I doubt that readers will welcome such attempts to “educate” them.

Further, stuff like this will not help the candidate at all:

To be sure, anti-racist tenure letters may be met with resistance and even backlash by tenure committees, as many academics are (implicitly) committed to maintaining power structures that are familiar to them, and that confer them with outsized power and privilege. We suggest to directly rebut, in your letter, what might traditionally be considered ‘weaknesses’ in the applicant’s file, by explicitly addressing why you do not consider these as weaknesses. This can be done throughout your letter (and we have suggested specific ideas for how to do this in the above recommendations), as well as in an explicit rebuttal paragraph, as we are doing here. Such resistance-anticipating arguments will provide much needed ammunition for other advocates involved in the tenure process at the candidate’s home institution.

There’s nothing that raises more red flags in a letter than a statement like “While Dr. Jones might seem to be weak in his number of publications, this isn’t really a weakness because Jones has spent less time on research than other candidates, as he’s spent much time mentoring students of color and serving as a role model.”  You do NOT call attention to a candidate’s weaknesses in such a way, and then try to excuse them, if you want that candidate promoted or hired.

I can’t help feeling that the drive to drastically change academic standards to achieve “equity” is a backwards approach, and that a better one might be changing the education pipeline so that more minority applicants meet the standards of excellence honed in STEM over decades and decades.


Here’s what the Smithsonian posted on the website of Washington, D. C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. and then took down because it “did not contribute to productive discussion”. I suggest that the essay above has the same effect: