Posted on September 15, 2023

D.E.I. Statements Stir Debate on College Campuses

Michael Powell, New York Times, September 8, 2023

Yoel Inbar, a noted psychology professor at the University of Toronto, figured he might be teaching this fall at U.C.L.A.

Last year, the university’s psychology department offered his female partner a faculty appointment. Now the department was interested in recruiting him as a so-called partner hire, a common practice in academia.

The university asked him to fill out the requisite papers, including a statement that affirmed his belief and work in diversity, equity and inclusion. He flew out and met with, among others, a faculty diversity committee and a group of graduate students.

Dr. Inbar figured all had gone well, that his work and liberal politics fit well with the university. Some faculty members, he said, had even advised him on house hunting.

But a few days later, the department chair emailed and told him that more than 50 graduate students had signed a letter strongly denouncing his candidacy. Why? In part, because on his podcast years earlier, he had opposed diversity statements — like the one he had just written.

Not long after, the chair told Dr. Inbar that, with regret, U.C.L.A. could not offer him a job.

Diversity statements are a new flashpoint on campus, just as the Supreme Court has driven a stake through race-conscious admissions. Nearly half the large universities in America require that job applicants write such statements, part of the rapid growth in D.E.I. programs. Many University of California departments now require that faculty members seeking promotions and tenure also write such statements.

Diversity statements tend to run about a page or so long and ask candidates to describe how they would contribute to campus diversity, often seeking examples of how the faculty member has fostered an inclusive or antiracist learning environment.

To supporters, such statements are both skill assessment and business strategy. Given the ban on race-conscious admissions, and the need to attract applicants from a shrinking pool of potential students, many colleges are looking to create a more welcoming environment.

But critics say these statements are thinly veiled attempts at enforcing ideological orthodoxy. Politically savvy applicants, they say, learn to touch on the right ideological buzzwords. And the championing of diversity can overshadow strengths seen as central to academia, not least professional expertise.

“Professions of fealty to D.E.I. ideology are so ubiquitous as to be meaningless,” said Daniel Sargent, a professor of history and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. “We are institutionalizing a performative dishonesty.”


The debate occurs as D.E.I. officials and programs of all kinds have become a powerful presence on campuses. Universities have hired hundreds of administrators, who monitor compliance with hiring goals and curricular changes, and many departments write a variation on a D.E.I. policy.

The faculty senate at the University of California, San Francisco, urged professors to apply “anti-oppression and antiracism” lenses to courses. The public affairs school at the University of California, Los Angeles, pledged on its website to “decolonize the curriculum and pedagogy,” and the medical school vowed to dismantle systematic racism in its coursework.

The faculty senate of the California Community Colleges, the largest higher-education system in the country, has instructed its teachers on their obligation “to lift the veil of white supremacy” and “colonialism.”


Seven states, including North Dakota and Florida, have made requiring diversity statements illegal, according to a tracker by The Chronicle of Higher Education. And dissenting faculty members have filed several lawsuits. {snip}


A decade ago, California university officials faced a conundrum.

A majority of its students were nonwhite, and officials wanted to recruit more Black and Latino professors. But California’s voters had banned affirmative action in 1996. So in 2016, at least five campuses — Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Riverside and Santa Cruz — decided their hiring committees could perform an initial screening of candidates based only on diversity statements.

Candidates who did not “look outstanding” on diversity, the vice provost at U.C. Davis instructed search committees, could not advance, no matter the quality of their academic research. Credentials and experience would be examined in a later round.

The championing of diversity at the University of California resulted in many campuses rejecting disproportionate numbers of white and Asian and Asian American applicants. In this way, the battle over diversity statements and faculty hiring carries echoes of the battle over affirmative action in admissions, which opponents said discriminated against Asians.

At Berkeley, a faculty committee rejected 75 percent of applicants in life sciences and environmental sciences and management purely on diversity statements, according to a new academic paper by Steven Brint, a professor of public policy at U.C. Riverside, and Komi Frey, a researcher for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which has opposed diversity statements.

Candidates who made the first cut were repeatedly asked about diversity in later rounds. “At every stage,” the study noted, “candidates were evaluated on their commitments to D.E.I.”

According to a report by Berkeley, Latino candidates constituted 13 percent of applicants and 59 percent of finalists. Asian and Asian American applicants constituted 26 percent of applicants and 19 percent of finalists. Fifty-four percent of applicants were white and 14 percent made it to the final stage. Black candidates made up 3 percent of applicants and 9 percent of finalists.

Brian Soucek, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, and a leading academic defender of D.E.I. policies, sat on a hiring committee during this time and described the searches as “a partially successful experiment.”


Professor Soucek, at Davis law school, said ideological diversity is not the point.

“It’s our job to make sure people of all identities flourish here,” he said. “It’s not our job to make sure that all viewpoints flourish.”