69

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives became an almost overnight transformational success in academia beginning one or two years ago (in the US and several other countries such as Canada and the UK). The most visible change is perhaps the introduction of Diversity Statements as a required document to be submitted by every applicant (faculty and graduate applications). See for example here for Berkeley's requirement from applicants to describe past experience or background that made them "aware of challenges faced by historically underrepresented populations". This caused concerns (justified or not) by some academics who claim that diversity statements serve as a political litmus test for new faculty, while some other groups of scholars argued that DEI as a practice and as a goal in itself (e.g., equity) is essentially unethical because it treats individuals as part of a group (i.e., group-identity) instead of individuals independent of their supposed group (e.g., women, ethnic groups, LGBT).

Question: Regardless of the arguments for or against DEI, has there been any example of initiative by academics that succeeded to revert DEI practices, and specifically in preventing the implementation of mandatory diversity statements?


Edit: I have decided to accept Ben's answer because it is the closest to a publicly known attempt (on legal basis) to tackle DEI initiatives. Other, more local and non-public successes in pushing back against DEI were mentioned by Paul Garrett, but these are as mentioned not public, and lack clear organization as it seems. Ian Sudbery also had a good example, but it seems it was unsuccessful eventually.

4
  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. I think there are some good points for discussion in the comments here, and also some that are perhaps more likely to attract aggressive counter-responses; I've tried to move the more constructive ones to chat, where I'd encourage that discussion to take place, and removed the ones that were not specifically about improving the wording of this question from the comment feed.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 12 at 22:06
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – wwarriner
    Jan 13 at 18:09
  • 8
    Indeed, for any question that brings up controversial topics it might be virtually impossible to find the right balance between tone, context and sufficient references, and there's likely no way to make everyone happy. I thus removed another series of comments, and I invite everyone to continue the discussion in one of the two above linked chats. Please read the post notice and this FAQ before posting another comment. We can only move comments to chat once, but you can use it as long as you wish keeping a respectful tone.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 13 at 19:26
  • I wonder if Jordan Peterson's opposition to some Canadian initiatives/legislations counts. Don't know enough to formulate an answer though. Jan 23 at 8:08

5 Answers 5

20

I am not aware of any major successful pushbacks against DEI initiatives, but I know where you might look for more information and some possible leads. In 2020, philosophy professor Brian Leiter wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education critiquing the requirement for diversity statements and mounting a philosophical/legal argument against it. In the US context, various other commentators have argued that the practice is illegal (due to prohibitions on political discrimination from the First Amendment and/or labour laws) and some have speculated that this might lead to a class action lawsuit against one or more universities. This is just one DEI initiative, but it is one that generates particularly severe issues.

Since Leiter's article on the subject does not mention any existing lawsuits, I assume that so far there have not been any; my own internet search on the topic also yielded no results, so if there is a present legal action on the matter I am not aware of it. Nevertheless, it might be worth contacting Leiter directly to see if he is aware of any major campaigns against mandatory diversity statements or other DEI practices. Given his past writings on the subject it is likely that he has his "finger on the pulse" on this issue.


UPDATE (18 April 2022): Shawnee State University just entered into a $400,000 legal settlement with one of its professors in relation to adverse treatment against him after he refused to use the preferred pronouns of a student (see report here). The professor previously received a favourable court ruling from the US Court of Appeals (6th Circuit) in 2021 in relation to the matter (Case No. 20-3289). The settlement apparently includes both the monetary compensation and a guarantee to the professor that he will not be required to use students' preferred pronouns in the future.

4
  • "prohibitions on political discrimination" I seriously doubt that any such prohibition applies to any university that requires a diversity statement. Jan 13 at 14:52
  • 2
    @AzorAhai: Thanks for your edit suggestion --- I have rejected the edit, since it pre-empts an aspect of the legal case/controversy at issue.
    – Ben
    Apr 19 at 21:54
  • 2
    Nevertheless, it's not the polite way to discuss pronouns, we don't have to be anti-inclusive here. Apr 19 at 22:00
  • 3
    I don't see anything impolite in referring to the pronouns at issue here as the preferred pronouns of the student (especially given that the entire legal case hinged on a disagreement between the student and academic over which pronouns were appropriate). I think it is also likely that we will disagree on what is anti-inclusive.
    – Ben
    Apr 19 at 22:05
57

For what it's worth, quite a few people in my own math department did a lot of "pushing-back" in 2019-20, while I was chair of the "Diversity Committee". The pushing-back was "successful" if the following means "success": in 2020-21 and in 2021-22, we have not required diversity statements from job candidates, and current faculty are not obliged in any way to comment on such things. For that matter, the committee itself was renamed to "Climate Committee" because "Diversity..." ... "upset people".

(Incidental to that push-back, I found myself vilified and yelled-at in various amazing-and-saddening ways by various colleagues whom I'd known for decades, had to my house for dinner, and so on. I suppose that that behavior is an indicator of their commitment to "push back"...)

Two years down the line, (happily, in my own opinion), currently it seems that quite a few people have recovered from their initial surprise and shock that human-society issues should be taken into account in faculty hiring and such, and there is a sort of quiet acknowledgement of the significance of these issues.

At the same time, I've had a few people continue to attempt to dismiss my input on department affairs by declaring it "a personal agenda". I gather that they are "successful", at least in their own minds, at finding adequate rationalizations ...

4
  • 6
    It is hard for me to guess what will happen next year... but if I had to wager, I'd wager "no", no literal "diversity statement". But, still, likely some attention to implicit awareness of the issues. Jan 12 at 23:34
  • 21
    @AnonymousPhysicist, there was also a pattern of a sort of "protest-voting", generating insane negative votes on faculty candidates who'd been "contaminated" by being mentioned as being positive contributions to diversity... In my opinion, that was really unfortunate "collateral damage", at best. But, then, hiring (and many other things) got frozen for the pandemic. Jan 13 at 0:05
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read the post notice in the OP and this FAQ before posting another comment.
    – cag51
    Jan 14 at 3:20
  • Reminder that this is a controversial post (and comments have already been moved to chat); additional arguments and discussions are being deleted without warning. If you want to argue or discuss, do it in the chat.
    – cag51
    Jan 15 at 6:35
46

I personally have had some limited success in pushing back against "DEI initiatives" with arguments such as:

  • This does not go far enough because it only helps "x minority" but doesn't help "y minority." We need to amend this to also help "y minority."
  • This "DEI initiative" actually harms members of "x minority" because it requires them to do more paperwork and serve on more committees. Unrewarded paperwork and committeework needs to be equitably distributed.
  • This "DEI initiative" is actually designed to prevent change by shifting responsibility to another organization, instead of helping people who have been harmed by discrimination.

Presumably this is not the sort of push-back intended by the asker, but diversity statements are about how you will do your job well, not who you are or what you believe in.

1
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read the post notice in the OP and this FAQ before posting another comment.
    – cag51
    Jan 14 at 3:21
18

The "decolonising the curriculum" program in a sister department to my own at our university was temporarily derailed by a campaign from a certain national newspaper not known for views friendly to the diversity agenda.

The program is back. Now as "contextualising the curriculum". This is partly a response to the newspaper campaign. But also a recognition that to believe that as a group of majority white, rich westerners at a majority white institution in a subject whose history is deeply connected to notions of "western culture" its impossible to remove colonialism from the whole field, and perhaps arrogant to propose that we can. The actual actions recommended havn't changed - recognising the cultural forces that led us to studying the subject the way we do, why certain questions are valued over others, highlighting problematic history and individuals where appropriate and highlighting the work and ideas of those often excluded from mainstream curriculums. But this is now framed as contextualising the mainstream curriculum, rather than decolonising it.

Oh, and all this is no longer available on the public facing website.

Whether you think thats a case of successful push back or not is open to debate.

1
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read the post notice in the OP and this FAQ before posting another comment.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 13 at 16:41
6

A twitter thread from someone claiming to be 'an immigrant woman of color who grew up in poverty, sleeping on a dirt floor' (run by UNH professor Craig Chapman, who has since resigned) claims to have successfully derailed DEI initiatives in their department.

The system that this person used was to:

  1. Get involved and volunteer for DEI committees.
  2. Interject in meetings to request specific definitions for any terms used.
  3. Demand specific examples of racist conduct.
  4. Insist on high standards of evidence for any claims of bad conduct, and evidence that suggested remedies will work.
  5. Continually point out the need to treat all people equally, and suggest that insinuations of privilege are themselves not treating all people equally.

I have no reason to suspect that this strategy was not successful (it bears some similarity to the tactics in the CIA guide to sabotaging meetings). So this is likely an example of successful (albeit intellectually dishonest) pushback against DEI in academia.

1
  • Yes, indeed, this is the kind of specific behavior I've seen! Some people seem to have a natural "gift" to implement such rhetorical devices... Sigh. Jan 22 at 21:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .