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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Universities talk 'diversity,' demand conformity

Requiring would-be professors to swear allegiance to a political ideology is a free-speech violation, charges a lawsuit filed in May. John D. Haltigan applied to teach psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He had to submit a "diversity, equity and inclusion " (DEI) statement, which the suit compares to loyalty oaths required of faculty members during the Red Scare of the '50s.

Haltigan posted his DEI statement online. It started:

I am committed to colorblind inclusivity, viewpoint diversity, merit-based evaluation, and value outreach to underrepresented groups in higher education. Across all of my teaching and mentorship, I have endeavored to treat students and mentees equally, without regard to identity-based characteristics.

UC Santa Cruz's rubric for applicants warns them they must agree with "the view that treating individuals differently based on their race or sex is desirable,” the lawsuit states.

The University of California at Santa Cruz is a group of colleges in a forest. Photo: James Clifford

It's the first major free-speech challenge to a public institution that requires DEI statements, Conor Friedersdorf writes in The Atlantic. The practice is spreading rapidly.

So far it's the left imposing its ideas, but the populist right could jump in, he warns. "Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute, who was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis to help overhaul higher education in Florida, advocates replacing diversity, equity, and inclusion with equality, merit, and colorblindness." Red-state legislatures could make allegiance to EMC a job requirement for professors.

In 2005, the UC system began to give credit to job candidates who showed that they promoted “diversity and equal opportunity” in teaching, research, or service, he writes. By 2018, it went from an option to a mandate.

Furthermore, "equal opportunity," a widely shared value, was replaced by "equity (a contested and controversial concept with no widely agreed-upon meaning) and inclusion," Friedersdorf writes.

On the Davis, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and Riverside campuses, a pilot program lets only job candidates with high DEI scores make it to the next round, he writes. "The others would never be evaluated on their research, teaching, or service. This is a revolutionary change in how to evaluate professors."

UC Berkeley rejected 76 percent of qualified candidates for a life-sciences job based on their DEI statements alone, according Daniel M. Ortner of the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Half of candidates in some searches were disqualified due to DEI scores at UC Davis, writes Abigail Thompson, then chair of the mathematics department, in a 2019 column for the American Mathematics Society newsletter. “Requiring candidates to believe that people should be treated differently according to their identity is indeed a political test,” she argued.

"Mandatory DEI statements send the message that viewpoint diversity and dissent are neither valuable nor necessary — that if you’ve identified the right values, a monoculture in support of them is preferable," writes Friedersdorf. In that sense, they're "anti-diversity." That's "an especially perilous hypocrisy for academics to indulge at a time of falling popular support for higher education."

Professors can't claim the freedom to challenge social orthodoxies -- "God, the nuclear family, America, motherhood, capitalism, Christianity," etc. -- if "academics are effectively prohibited from criticizing progressivism’s sacred values," he concludes.

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