February 8, 2024 - 9:25pm

Abolishing DEI may be the only way out of the Leftist ideological capture of American campuses, Jonathan Haidt told an audience at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, on Wednesday. 

Those words mark a dramatic departure for Haidt, who has been known as a restrained, moderate voice on the subject of cancel culture, identity politics and what he calls the obsession with “safetyism” that has gripped Gen Z in the past decade. Haidt, a professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, is the author of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” and founder of the Heterodox Academy, an academic organisation committed to the ideals of viewpoint diversity and academic freedom. 

On Wednesday the professor said that he no longer has confidence that universities can reform themselves. The reason for his volte-face: the unwillingness of university administrators who diligently police speech codes and pronoun usage to stop students and professors from chanting genocidal slogans against Jews. Indeed, the antisemitic eruptions on campus, and subsequent Congressional testimony of three elite university presidents who waffled on genocide, was “probably the most important turning point in the history of American higher education,” Haidt stated. 

Haidt characterised those events as the logical consequence of DEI, or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which emphasises one’s identity and encourages people to think in terms of power dynamics between the privileged and the oppressed. The professor described people who see the world exclusively through the lens of power dynamics as “monomaniacs,” and said they are the ones who run the campus DEI apparatus. 

He said he used to think that some parts of DEI might make sense, but now it’s clear that DEI does not work, and often makes things worse by exacerbating racial hostilities. He continued:

Privileged people have power. Power is evil. They use their power to oppress the good people. What a sick thing to teach 18-year-olds coming into college in a multi-ethnic democracy. But that’s what we’ve been doing, especially at elite college campuses since 2014-2015, since the DEI revolution… The inevitable outcome in terms of antisemitism is Jews are white, Jews are oppressors, it’s okay to kill Jews because that’s just resistance.
- Jonathan Haidt

Haidt argued that things have gotten so bad they are beyond repair and need to be jettisoned. Since many universities are not likely to take those steps on their own, they may have to be pressured to do so. Haidt even suggested that Republican legislatures should intervene in running public US universities as a means of “counter-pressure” against universities.

“I think we’ve dug ourselves in a hole, especially with the studies departments, where there is no way to reform them [but] from the outside,” Haidt said.

As an example of one possible approach, Haidt mentioned UNC’s newly created School for Civic Life and Leadership, which was promoted by UNC’s GOP-dominated board of trustees. “Boy, does America need that,” Haidt said. “Imagine if you’re an employer and you can employ either someone who’s an Anthro major, who majored in protest, versus someone who went to this school. Who’re you gonna employ? So I think some of the moves have been very positive.”

However, Haidt warned that creating such programmes to promote pluralism and the pursuit of truth must not be done in a ham-fisted way that will create faculty opposition and foment bitterness. “Now, in a culture war, if you do it in a heavy-handed way, you’re going to cause a strong reaction from the faculty,” he said. “You need procedural fairness: that is the importance of people seeing that whatever’s happening is done by a legitimate process”.

John Murawski is a journalist based in Raleigh, NC. His work has appeared in RealClearInvestigations, WSJ Pro AI and Religion News Service, among other outlets.