August 10, 2022 - 11:00am

Ideological litmus tests are becoming the norm in American academia. Already, many universities require faculty job candidates to submit “diversity statements” — 19% of the faculty job listings in one recent survey. Now, similar requirements increasingly apply to sitting faculty members, as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements and criteria have become standard components of the promotion and tenure process.

To give one example: last year, the highly-ranked Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine released its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Strategic Action Plan, listing dozens of “tactics” for advancing social justice. Here is an example:

“Include a section in promotion packages where faculty members report on the ways they are contributing to improving DEI, anti-racism and social justice. Reinforce the importance of these efforts by establishing clear consequences and influences on promotion packages.”

The reference to “consequences” reads like a warning to dissenters, especially given that concepts such as “equity”, “anti-racism”, and “social justice” often simply connote adherence to progressive political views. Thanks to the ubiquity of Ibram X. Kendi’s work, many American professionals are primed to point out that anti-racism, far from merely being “not racist”, entails embracing “race conscious” policies, coupled with the belief that any disparity is by definition racism.

With official DEI requirements for promotion and tenure on the rise, Kendian “anti-racism” has come closer to a formal requirement for many in academia. In its 2022 survey of tenure practices, the American Association of University Professors found that 21.5% of the institutions it surveyed had DEI criteria in their tenure standards. For larger institutions, it was 45.6%.As diversity officers increase, so too will their preferred policies.

Unfortunately, the diversity statements can easily stamp out dissenting viewpoints. At UC Berkeley, for example, job candidates will receive a low scores on their diversity statements for “explicitly state[ing] the intention to ignore the varying backgrounds of their students and ‘treat everyone the same’”, and a high score for “Discuss[ing] diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging as core values that every faculty member should actively contribute to.” Institutions from Emory University to the Texas Tech University Department of Biological Sciences have adapted the UC rubric, proudly policing the core values of faculty.

DEI requirements for promotion and tenure often come in the form of evaluation criteria, rather than required statements. The California Community Colleges (CCC) system — the largest system of higher education in America, serving almost two million students — recently mandated that all faculty, staff, and administrator evaluations “include DEIA [diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility] competencies and criteria as a minimum standard for evaluating the performance of all employees.”

The resolution mandating these competencies employs unmistakably ideological language. It defines “cultural competency” as “the practice of acquiring and utilizing knowledge of the intersectionality of social identities and the multiple axes of oppression that people from different racial, ethnic, and other minoritized groups face”.

A college that codified these “competencies” would certainly dissuade faculty from expressing many widely-held political opinions — most obviously, opposition to affirmative action. Thus, the policy is likely illegal, running afoul of First Amendment law, which treats academic freedom as sacrosanct. Yet, from Arizona, to Utah, to North Carolina, such policies continue to be adopted and implemented.

Indeed, far from any course correction, all signs suggest that DEI statements are breaking into uncharted territory. The Society for Personality and Social Psychology now requires DEI statements for submissions to its annual convention, asking reviewers to “Evaluate the extent to which the submission advances SPSP’s goal of promoting equity, inclusion and anti-racism”, while some academic journals are trying out diversity statements for paper submission. Soon, it seems, American academics can expect a choice: demonstrate a commitment to the “successor ideology” or start looking for another job.