Posted on October 12, 2022

Measuring the Spread of DEI

Bruce Gilley, James G. Martin Center, September 7, 2022

A constant concern in my academic sub-field of comparative politics is how to create concepts and measurements that stand up to scrutiny when applied to several cases. When we hear someone claim that politics in Country X are “corrupt,” our first questions are “What do you mean by corruption?” and “Compared to where?”

This concern with measuring things consistently and properly motivated me, in my advocacy role with the National Association of Scholars (NAS), to develop a way to measure the spread of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) ideology in colleges and universities. The oft-heard complaint that a given institution has been “taken over” by DEI raises the question of whether such a takeover is the same and is equally extensive in all places. Surely not, and if we can compare the worst affected to the least affected, perhaps there are lessons to be learned about the conditions that cause DEI to spread or be arrested.

Last week, the Oregon Association of Scholars, which I head, released a diagnostic tool following consultations with my colleagues in the NAS. This tool conceptualizes “DEI sickness” as an institutionalization of DEI ideology within a given college or university. This includes, for instance, DEI-based policies and practices, mandatory DEI-based trainings and litmus tests, and DEI-based funding models.

The new diagnostic tool does not measure the popularity of DEI ideology on campus or the proliferation of DEI-based courses and programs, both of which may rise and fall under normal conditions of free thought. Rather, it measures the extent to which DEI ideology has been given a fixed status that both imposes it on all members of the campus community and insulates it from criticism and shrinkage.

The diagnostic tool measures DEI across four realms: administration, faculty affairs, student affairs, and the library. Of its 36 items, 15 relate to administration, 11 to faculty, and five each to students and the library. Items include whether the university maintains “bias response teams,” whether faculty members have to file “diversity statements” to get promoted, whether students must pass “diversity courses” to graduate, and whether the library coaches students on how to cite research in a way designed to boost the citations of alleged victim groups. Each item is measured on a 0 to 1 scale, from “not at all present” to “fully present.”

We also released a fillable scorecard that automatically sums the scores across all 36 items, as well as a four-stage model of DEI-spread that mimics the Stages of Disease charts often used by doctors. We are, after all, trying to heal higher education, and I make no apologies about drawing a direct parallel between DEI and cancer. DEI’s degradations of the search for truth and the vigorous contestation of ideas are akin to the way that cancer spreads from one part of the body to another and eventually kills it. Knowing whether the cancer is in remission requires that we have some way of measuring its extent and retreat.