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MIT becomes first elite university to ban diversity statements

President Sally Kornbluth made the decision to end diversity statements at MIT. Credit: Getty

May 5, 2024 - 4:00pm

In what’s likely to be a watershed moment, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has ended the use of diversity statements for faculty hiring, making it the first elite private university to backtrack on the practice that has been roundly criticised as a political litmus test.

On Saturday, an MIT spokesperson confirmed in an email to me that “requests for a statement on diversity will no longer be part of applications for any faculty positions at MIT”, adding that the decision was made by embattled MIT President Sally Kornbluth “with the support of the Provost, Chancellor, and all six academic deans”.

The decision marks an inflection point in the battle over diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in higher education. Since at least the late 2010s, diversity statements have been ubiquitous in faculty hiring, sometimes carrying serious weight in the selection process. As one dean at Emory University put it while describing her approach to hiring, “Diversity statement, then dossier.”

MIT embraced the diversity statement trend. In late 2023, the university’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering sought an assistant professor “in fields from fundamental nuclear science to practical applications of nuclear technology in energy, security and quantum engineering”. Applicants were required to submit “a statement regarding their views on diversity, inclusion, and belonging, including past and current contributions as well as their vision and plans for the future in these areas”.

Such requirements have long been controversial, and the basic argument against them is simple: “diversity, equity, and inclusion” has come to connote a set of controversial views about identity, power, and oppression. Universities which require scholars to “demonstrate” their “commitment” to DEI can easily invite ideological screening, as well as potentially unlawful viewpoint discrimination. Many groups thus oppose the diversity statements on the grounds of academic freedom and free expression.

At MIT, these arguments seemed to have won the day. In a statement provided to me via email, president Kornbluth notes: “We can build an inclusive environment in many ways, but compelled statements impinge on freedom of expression, and they don’t work.”

This is momentous. The pushback against diversity statements has succeeded almost exclusively at public universities in red states, encouraged or enacted by lawmakers. Conservative states such as Florida, Texas, and Utah have passed laws banning diversity statements at state universities. Some appointed state university leaders, such as the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, have also barred the practice.

The decision at MIT is different — reform from within, prompted by a university president alongside deans and provosts, at a private institution.

It’s very possible that more private universities, and state universities in blue states, will eventually follow MIT’s lead for one basic reason: a significant number of faculty from across the political spectrum simply cannot stand mandatory DEI statements. Last month, Harvard Law School’s Randall Kennedy — a self-described “scholar on the Left committed to struggles for social justice” — described the general sentiment: “It would be hard to overstate the degree to which many academics at Harvard and beyond feel intense and growing resentment against the DEI enterprise because of features that are perhaps most evident in the demand for DEI statements.”

Let’s hope Kennedy and his colleagues learn from MIT’s example and take their indignation seriously. After all, it’s more than a narrow issue of free expression and compelled speech. Diversity statements don’t merely create an orthodoxy. They create a uniquely bad orthodoxy, one that is corrosive to civic life and inimical to true higher education.

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Sophy T
Sophy T
21 days ago

DEI hasn’t been of much use to East Asian students who brought and won a court case against universities which required them to have higher entrance grades than other minorities.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
21 days ago

Meaningless as long as universities maintain huge DEI offices stacked with toadies still committed to the absurdity.

John Kang
John Kang
21 days ago

Until the DEI Commisars are fired, and the “Oppression Studies” departments are expelled from the academy, not much will change

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
21 days ago
Reply to  John Kang

Why does diversity scare you so much? Are you afraid that you can’t compete on a level playing field?

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
21 days ago

That’s the point isn’t it – DEI does not create a level playing field, it enforces the opposite.

Matt B
Matt B
21 days ago

Why do you use this ridiculous name?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
21 days ago
Reply to  Matt B

Old timer, evidently.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
21 days ago
Reply to  Matt B

Exactly.
Especially as Unherd has now has a policy of only allowing real names. I always use mine, except where sites don’t allow this for various reasons.
“As you know, UnHerd only permits the use of real names in the comment section to promote personal and constructive discussion. Should you wish to change your initials displayed, this can only be done by modifying the name we hold on file for you by contacting the team.”

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
21 days ago

Do you ever actually read an article before commenting? It’s about ENFORCED diversity, stupid.
“It’s more than a narrow issue of free expression and compelled speech. Diversity statements don’t merely create an orthodoxy. They create a uniquely bad orthodoxy, one that is corrosive to civic life and inimical to true higher education.”

AnnaMaria Minogue
AnnaMaria Minogue
18 days ago

DEI doesn’t promote diversity, or equality, and it isn’t inclusive. Especially when your employment depends on swearing allegiance – that’s scary.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
13 days ago

DIE aims to create a stifling intellectual and cultural conformism, not diversity!

Poet Tissot
Poet Tissot
21 days ago
Reply to  John Kang

Clear out DEI – excellent development.

Jason Carroll
Jason Carroll
20 days ago
Reply to  John Kang

Gone are the days when getting a degree meant having a well-paying job unless you are now in a very select set of fields (STEM). United States colleges have become an extremist liberal birthing ground. If you fail to see them as such, you’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid. The faculty and students work feverishly, convincing each other they are right and that what they do has value, upending the very original basis of this country’s creation and even the University’s origination (Harvard was a Seminary, they actually believe in God anymore?). You thought inflation was bad; these bastions of liberal indoctrination have tuition that far outstrips any hope of paying for them without extreme loans. Loans there are so horrendous that the government is now trying to appease them by canceling in every way it can. The colleges teach young people to hate the USA, hate white people, hate this and that, and charge them 10x what their parents were charged, and then they graduate with a worthless piece of paper that will not help them get a job. No Thanks.

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
21 days ago

“compelled statements impinge on freedom of expression, and they don’t work.”

“It would be hard to overstate the degree to which many academics at Harvard and beyond feel intense and growing resentment against the DEI enterprise because of features that are perhaps most evident in the demand for DEI statements.”

If only there had been someone warning left-wing academics about the dangers of compelled speech for the last 40 years.

John Howes
John Howes
21 days ago

Regrettably, Left Wing academics are not dissimilar from Left Wing politicians they exist within a Left Wing echo chamber. Voices outside these hallowed walls are dismissed as racist, white supremacist,and all the many epithets of Left Wing exclusivity.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
20 days ago
Reply to  John Howes

The iorny-> if you don’t embrace the “sanctimonious” dogma of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion you are Demonized, Excluded and Intolerable.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
21 days ago

DEI is its own special form of racism which makes it so insidious.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
20 days ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Insidious and ubiquitous…

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
21 days ago

I am generally skeptical of identifying watershed moments, but I agree with the author. MIT is a very Ivy League school and this move will eventually convince others to follow. Compelled speech is the backbone of any authoritarian movement. Simply acknowledging that DEI statements are compelled speech is a big damn deal IMO.

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
21 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

A pedant notes:

MIT is not a member of the Ivy League. Neither in the strict sense of participating in the Ivy League athletic conference nor in the general sense in which the term is often used to refer to those 8 universities which are members.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
21 days ago

Jimbo doesn’t care for facts. He’s all about his feelings and those feeling are usually rage about whatever is happening in the world.
He doesn’t know what the Ivy League is but he is very angry about it!

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
21 days ago

Triggered much?

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
21 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Not by you, sport!

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
21 days ago

Agreed, but the sentiment is correct. MIT was recently ranked #1 in the QS World rankings and regularly come in the top 5 in various others. Once the top US institutions start to reject this nonsense the others will follow.

William Fulton
William Fulton
20 days ago

Its far more destructive than nonsense. It is cultural Marxism aimed at weakening higher education by assaulting academic rigor.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
20 days ago

You saved me one pedantic post. But perhaps we can all agree that MIT is an elite and prestigious institution, which like Stanford is commonly ranked ahead of several Ivy League schools.

Bored Writer
Bored Writer
20 days ago

Many field and track competitions, sports and music genres are overwhelmingly dominated by black people. They are extremely successful in these pursuits. Why?
Many fields of mathematics, science and literature are overwhelmingly dominated by white people. They are extremely successful in these pursuits. Why?
Institutional racism?

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
21 days ago

“requests for a statement on diversity will no longer be part of applications for any faculty positions at MIT”
Faculty is great; now do staff.

Archibald Tennyson
Archibald Tennyson
21 days ago

They realise they’ve pushed it too far, too fast. But the Fabian playbook of incremental institutional takeover will continue. Two steps forward, one step back.
Let’s acknowledge this as a small victory, better than nothing, but it’s important not to kid ourselves. The biggest mistake you can make is taking a Marxist at their word.
We need to tackle this at the worldview level, and get enough people to see how much they’ve been duped by psychopathy masquerading as compassion. Then we’ll get meaningful, sweeping reforms that reclaim the institutions.
I still have hope, as we all should. Evil can only corrupt. Goodness can create, develop, and sustain. We just need to stand up for what’s right!

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
21 days ago

I fully agree: we should remain hopeful, a manifestation of our humanity since time immemorial. We owe it to the countless generations that’ve gone before to us to stand up for what sustains and enhances us all; to give ourselves a chance of a future.
We can disagree on what the source of hope might be, and even whether such things as “evil” and “goodness” exist other than their expression through human actions. The changing institutional awareness of MIT as expressed through this action is an unmitigated good, and allows science to be pursued for the greater good of all.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
19 days ago

Reassuring to see such a groundswell of support emerging at last. The counter counter-culture.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
21 days ago

So this guy claims to have an email from “an MIT spokesperson” – which only he has seen of course – and has decided that a minor policy change in hiring policy, should that actually be true, is “momentous”?
Do you people understand why everyone laughs at you when you get carried away with this junk? We know you are dumb – I mean, you guys think Trump is a genius! – but you just keep proving it to us day after day!

William Cameron
William Cameron
21 days ago

In my experience it is unwise to claim to know what other people think.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
21 days ago

Everyone? You’re displaying your nostalgia for the good old days of the Soviet Union.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
21 days ago

Thank God. I remember the story of the physics professor who applied to the University of Texas, Austin. All the university wanted was his DEI statement. There was no interest in where he was educated, his qualifications and experience, his published papers. Nothing but DEI. He withdrew his application.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
21 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Do you morons really believe this nonsense?

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
21 days ago

What price cat’s meat? 😉

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
21 days ago

Thank God. The Stalinists can be defeated.

Andrea Rudenko
Andrea Rudenko
20 days ago

No, they can’t. They just go underground, only to re-emerge with each new generation. Authoritarianism, in one form or another, from the left or from the right, will always be with us. It’s the default. It takes great and continuous effort to hold it at bay, and free societies tend to become complacent about this, providing openings for authoritarian actors to re-emerge. We’re in such a period.

Sandra Pinches
Sandra Pinches
20 days ago
Reply to  Andrea Rudenko

Wise and well expressed comment!

Stevie K
Stevie K
20 days ago
Reply to  Andrea Rudenko

That’s a bold statement Andrea. I’m going to have to think about that for some time.
I thank you for raising such a profound framing of our predicament!

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
19 days ago
Reply to  Andrea Rudenko

You’re absolutely right. It’s an eternal struggle. Much like anti-corruption. But they can be defeated in battle and contained in war, provided we are always be prepared to fight.

william langdale
william langdale
21 days ago

I’d love to know if any of the people who have been peddling this cr@p actually know how authoritarian they actually are.Perhaps they should all be made to read The Devils,Life and Fate,Darkness at Noon etc.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
21 days ago

But they think they are acting ‘virtuously’ – that’s the rub.

Poet Tissot
Poet Tissot
21 days ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Probably not – they are in thrall to a delusion created by activism and forces they have no awareness of.

Open Mind
Open Mind
21 days ago

A sigh of relief. The wait took too long. The damage done in the meantime is significant. The best faculty left, Strong candidates overlooked in searches. Almost a decade of weakened education.

J Bryant
J Bryant
21 days ago

I hope Unherd commissions someone to write a longer piece on MIT’s decision re DEI statements. Why did the MIT president make this decision and fall out of step with peer institutions? The author of the current article notes she is “beleaguered”. Is that because of her DEI stance?
I’m trying to figure out if this decision by MIT signals the start of real change in academia or if it’s just an atypical stance that will likely be reversed?

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
21 days ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Perhaps she doesn’t want to get fired – the barbarians are at the gate.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
20 days ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I searched thru the NYTimes and (surprise, surprise) found nothing about it!

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
21 days ago

“It’s very possible that more private universities, and state universities in blue states, will eventually follow MIT’s lead for one basic reason: a significant number of faculty from across the political spectrum simply cannot stand mandatory DEI statements”
IMO, that is a fair point but I wonder of the issue doesn’t go deeper. Is there any indication as to what extent DEI statements have hurt recruitment, retention and donations?

rob drummond
rob drummond
21 days ago

If I were faced with such idiotic demands to basically agree with the group think “or else” – I would simply fill paragraphs of the trite they wanted to hear in the first place.

These tests prove nothing in reality

William Cameron
William Cameron
21 days ago

Diversity Statements are silly. They are in effect an instruction that you must state you believe something to be considered.
Amazingly very few applicants make a statement that they dont hold such beliefs .
The extraordinary stupidity of demanding such statements clearly exposes those requiring the statements as very very stupid- certainly not fit to work in a University.

Stevie K
Stevie K
20 days ago

Such a great point!

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
21 days ago

Women are leading so many of these ‘woke’ institutions and it’s women largely who are supporting ‘wokeness’ in the Democratic Party. Why and when did they become so neurotic and intolerant?

Stevie K
Stevie K
20 days ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Well Cathy, this is where we tread on delicate ground. Whilst very many individual women in academia have always prioritised rationality above all else. However, the rules of women’s social discourse in the current era, even in academia, are significantly, and materially, more focussed on perceived demonstration of open ended compassion.
As universities have become progressively more female orientated, the long term effect is that even the most rationally minded of both sexes are relentlessly bullied into the full spectrum social justice compliance.
It’s a subject worthy of open and honest discussion by people who value the positive collaboration of men and women to sustain and grow society together.

Craig Yirush
Craig Yirush
18 days ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Did you not read the article. A women ended them at MIT.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
21 days ago

The scum elevation of the unwashed and incompetent thru the DEI mechanism cannot be destroyed quickly enough. DEI is a movement which enshrines the truth that specific groups (blacks, hispanics) are not able to compete without assistance.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
21 days ago

This is good news, of course, but it would be much more meaningful if MIT said not “we love diversity but will now find other ways to pursue it” but instead “diversity is irrelevant to great science and engineering research and education and we will no longer pay it any attention.”
When we get *there*, we’ll really have hit the watershed moment. As long as we maintain the polite fiction that the color of your nuclear scientist’s skin matters, we remain mired in historical lies and ideological corruption.

Rick Frey
Rick Frey
20 days ago

I’m amazed anyone thinks this is anything but having gotten caught, realizing they’ll need to be a bit more stealthy in the future. Do you really think all the admin, faculty and staff realized the error of their ways and are changing their ideological thinking?

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
20 days ago

That Congressional hearing was like the four-by-four it takes to get the attention of a mule.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
19 days ago

Good news, but this is just a very small correction. I still think the situation is hopeless.