Virginia

University Uses Ideological Litmus Test for Professor Tenure

Sign of things to come?

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If you were asked to name a university that bears a disturbing relationship to an ideological re-education camp, Virginia Tech probably would not be the first to come to mind. The land-grant college has an enrollment of more than 31,000 and accepts almost three-fourths of applicants, and it is nestled in bucolic Blacksburg, far from left-wing redoubts. Yet it seems to have a chronic case of political correctness — which apparently has flared up yet again.

Seven years ago the office of the provost sent out a memo imposing an ideological litmus test for faculty members seeking promotion or tenure. It stressed that faculty should "do a better job of participating in and documenting their involvement in diversity initatives." A draft of new guidelines for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences reiterated the demand that faculty demonstrate their commitment to diversity by, e.g., "participating in diversity awareness workshops," and even suggested they revise course curricula to incorporate "issues of gender, race, and other perspectives."

And "diversity" was not merely the anodyne sentiment that demographic variation is nice to have. As Virginia Tech defined it, diversity entailed the belief "that socially constructed differences based on certain characteristics exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege…"  In short, faculty members were expected to sign on to an entire weltanschauung.

Under public pressure, the university backed away from that policy. Or at least seemed to. But the school soon found itself embroiled in controversy again when anonymous, bigoted comments posted on the website of the student newspaper elicited calls for censorship. The university's Commission on Student Affairs wanted to sever ties with The Collegiate Times and threatened to block its advertising. Vice president for student affairs Edward Spencer insisted, apparently with a straight face, that the dispute "isn't about free speech."

Yes it is, explained the Virginia ACLU: The 4th Circuit had ruled quite clearly in a similar 1973 student-paper case that "censorship of constitutionally protected expression cannot be imposed by… excising repugnant material, withdrawing financial support, or asserting any other form of censorial oversight based on the institution's power of the purse."

Once again, Virginia Tech backed off. But the school maintains a bias-reporting system enabling members of the university community to inform on those who commit thoughtcrimes: Virginia Tech defines bias incidents as "expressions against a person or group" based on age, color or similar markers of demographic classification. Note: "expressions," not "acts." What sort of expressions might constitute bias incidents? Among others, "hosting a culturally themed party" and "jokes that are demeaning to a particular group of people."

So if you see something, say something.

Some forms of bias are more equal than others, however. Two years ago Steven Salaita, then an English professor at Virginia Tech, wrote a piece for Salon explaining why he didn't "support the troops": Asking people to support the troops is asking them "not to think," he wrote. Besides, "troop worship is trite and tiresome," and anyway "I don't consider patriotism a beneficent force."

Whether you agree or disagree with those sentiments, Salaita certainly did what good professors should: He provoked thought. He also provoked calls by some for Virginia Tech to give him the boot. Although many people found his comments terribly offensive, the university did not treat him the way it treated the student newspaper. Rather, the university stood by him — as it very well should have.

But what would Virginia Tech have done if Salaita had written a much different piece — one denouncing the ideals of diversity and inclusion? Based on new guidelines for promotion and tenure, it might have derailed his career.

A recent article in the newsletter of the National Academy of Scholars, a conservative group, points out that the latest version of the guidelines (issued only a month ago) now requires that candidates repeatedly demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Among other things, candidates should "include a list of activities that promote or contribute to inclusive teaching, research, outreach, and service"; they should report information about their "contributions to an inclusive campus"; they should write about their "active involvement in diversity and inclusion"; demonstrate that they have pursued "training in inclusive pedagogy" and incorporated "the Principles of Community into course development"; and so on. A spokesman for the university says providing such information is purely voluntary — but who applying for promotion or tenure is likely to see it that way?

("Inclusive pedagogy" goes well beyond, say, making sure professors engage with female students as often as male students, or include slave diaries in a course on the American South. It extends to incorporating different "learning styles" and "varied means of assessment" to promote student success. Does a student have trouble writing essays? Perhaps allowing him to present a portfolio instead would suffice. And if a professor objects? The Association of American Colleges and Universities says "academic freedom is another barrier" to inclusive pedagogy.)

Perhaps this all sounds perfectly appropriate. After all, diversity and inclusion are valid — and, nowadays, nearly universal — ideals. If that is how the preceding strikes you, then try substituting another valid, nearly universal ideal: patriotism.

Should a university condition promotion and tenure on whether professors can show their active involvement in patriotic organizations?  Should they be made to document their "contributions to a patriotic campus"? Should instructors be expected to "incorporate a belief in America's inherent goodness into course development"?

Most people would say, sensibly, of course not. Professors should be promoted based on their ability, not their beliefs. Yet having tried and failed once to impose ideological conformity across the faculty, Virginia Tech apparently intends to try again.

Believe it or not, this just scratches the surface of Virginia Tech's obsession with the issue. The school has launched a university-wide "InclusiveVT" effort, under which senior leaders were told to produce three inclusion  initiatives — each. They came up with 86, and in May the school rolled out a 343-page progress report on how those are coming along.

That might not be so unusual; just about any college with a dormitory has at least one diversity initiative, and usually several. At least in Virginia, however, Virginia Tech stands apart by seeking to make diversity and inclusion an ideological litmus test for career advancement. The University of Virginia, William and Mary, George Mason University — none of those schools has similar requirements.

Virginia Tech shouldn't, either. If the university will not protect the academic freedom of its faculty, then the General Assembly should step in and do so for it.

This article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. I’ve never been to VT. But, I believe it is a polytech.

    Besides teaching, what do STEM profs do? Research. How do they fund it? Grants.

    One might think that a grant was 100% based on scientific merit (although many within the commentariat would know better than to assume anything in government is merit-based). It’s not. A major make-or-break chunk of a grant is the “broader impacts” section for the NSF and NIH and other federal science agencies/endowments. This is exactly what VT is trying to ensure in its profs. The department gets a cut of the grant the prof gets; this is just a way of ensuring that a prof gets as many grants as possible to help fund the school.

    That is obviously not an excuse. To me, it’s actually worse because we can easily see in action how a silly, not merit-based approach to academic research at the federal level leads to “unforeseen” results like the policies outlined herein for a “state school.”

    1. Why it sounds almost as if government could use a system like that to build a scientific consensus, if it were so inclined.

      1. Astute observation indeed, however, our infallible and pious leadership would never think to abuse this capability or use it to advocate for some form of an agenda. Nothing to worry about here.

      2. And indeed the government should help build scholarly consensus, especially in controversial areas like the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York prosecutors have taken an excellent step in this direction by helping to establish that excessively deadpan mockery of distinguished academics, or what the American Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has foolishly called “speech with academic value,” crosses the line into criminality. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal satire case at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        1. Any square hole for your peg, eh? Look, maybe if you participated without plugging your cause every damn time people would actually click on your link.

          1. I initially though to have at ye with my spear, and then considered that your comment must be… satirical, for there is no “square hole” here, only my delight in seeing censorship established in American universities and collections of criminal statutes in a small, but growing number of states. For, my fellow Americans, censorship is what we need in this nation today, and the best place to start is the list of inappropriate forms of Internet trigger speech at:

            http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpr…..rsonation/

    2. So, if one wants a quality STEM education, they should avoid Research Universities?

      My own experience (of thirty years ago) in engineering was that the professors who did the most research were some of the worst teachers. Many of them had their TAs doing the teaching. For undergraduate work, I’d rather go to a school devoted to teaching rather than grant writing.

      1. This is exactly right and I wish I would have known this a couple years ago. Every calc and physics class I took at my school consisted of a main class in a lecture hall filled with a couple hundred people, and a breakaway session taught by a Chinese TA who often had literally almost zero english. On the other hand, the social sciences were dominated by idiot academics, as expected. Luckily my my education was cheap (instate at UF), so I didn’t go into debt for a worthless education. At least the party scene was good.

        1. Obviously, you are mistaken – only the best and brightest international students are accepted to US universities. Native English speakers may “appear” to communicate better, but only to racist parents/students.

          1. Of course, thanks for pointing this out. I forget to check my privilege as often as I should these days.

            In all seriousness those Chinese TAs are definitely bright, and I have no doubt the research they are involved in is way over my head. Doesn’t change the fact they can’t teach.

            1. I was going to check my privilege, but I had to go to work.

        2. “and a breakaway session taught by a Chinese TA who often had literally almost zero english. ”

          This was true 25 years ago when I went to school. And even then, complaints that the TA couldn’t speak coherent English or understand it went on death ears. I can’t imagine the situation has gotten better.

          1. About 20 years ago, I had a Statistics class taught by an Asian national. He was brilliant, but had a horribly thick accent. I was the only person in the class who understood him (and the material) well enough to truly follow the lectures.

            It was even worse because the class was a prerequisite for a business degree at that particular school (Indiana University), so a large portion of the class weren’t really students of that discipline.

            I actually made more money tutoring during that semester than I spent in tutition for the class (heh heh).

          2. On the first day of my first programming class as an undergrad (44 years ago–we still had to keep an eye out for low-flying pterodactyls on the arts quad), the TA started off, in and Indian accent, with, “In my country it is the custom to speak very, very, rapidly.” Nice guy, but hard to understand.

            Then, later, in an Econ 301 (macroeconomics) class, the prof starts off in a strong Chinese accent asking if we wanted the course taught with the math or without it. Most of the people taking the course were from the engineering school satisfying what were called “distribution” requirements. We all voted for with-math, the real econ majors all promptly dropped the course, and I don’t think there were more than nine more words English spoken for the rest of the semester, that more or less exhausting the prof’s English vocabulary.

      2. In the real world, nobody prepared knowledge for you in easily digestible bites. If you can’t figure out how to learn for yourself and utilize smart colleagues to help you, a research university isn’t the place for you. Good for you that you figured that out.

    3. Who reviews and scores grant proposals? University professors, and the circle closes. Political correctness, I am afraid, is already deeply rooted in the academic mentality.

      By the way, merit-based approach is an extinct animal. Review panels first satisfy their various biases, and only then check (more or less) if the science makes sense.

  2. Vice president for student affairs Edward Spencer insisted, apparently with a straight face, that the dispute “isn’t about free speech.”

    Censors are usually experts at defining protected speech.

  3. ideological litmus test

    I mouth these words as I please my wife.

    1. By doing the dishes.

      1. Bravo, sir!

      2. Double-plus lucky woman.

    2. Lucky woman.

  4. All mandatory diversity/inclusion policies necessarily violate their own terms. True diversity requires inclusion of those who favor uniformity and exclusion. How can you be considered diverse and inclusive if you actively exclude those who are different from you? It is only by tolerating the intolerable that we will finally be able to tare down that veil of intolerance that impedes progress.

    1. Diversity seems to be the opposite of inclusion. Diversity seeks to embrace the differences for the sake of difference instead of celebrating that which people have in common.

  5. In other words, if white professors want tenure or a promotion, they must prostrate themselves before the nearest brownish person, confess their social injustices and pretend that “diversity”, (white capitulation) for it’s own sake is a tremendous benefit to one’s academic education.

    1. ” if white professors want tenure or a promotion, they must prostrate themselves before the nearest brownish person”

      Must?

      It’s not a chore, it’s a *privilege*. White privilege.

  6. Fortunately, students with a focus on academics have a myriad of superior choices to VT.

  7. But the school maintains a bias-reporting system enabling members of the university community to inform on those who commit thoughtcrimes.

    Everyone knows you are only biased if you do not toe the progressive line. I mean, you might watch fauxnews, or something.

    university-wide “InclusiveVT” effort

    To include everyone except those who harbor unfavorable opinions or ideas.

  8. So, Universities, in spite of all their pious blather about Academic Freedom, are hotbeds of carefully fostered groupthink.

    This is not news. This is pretty much the ground-state for institutions of Higher Learning. Much of the best scientific thinking of the 18th century was done by “dissenters”; people who had not been able to go to the big British Universities because they would not publicly pledge to the Anglican Church.

    So, I don’t act all surprised when some idiot academic defends censorship. I just tell them “But of COURSE you are in favor of stifling dissent. You and all your fellow faculty drones are Liberal Intellectual Fascists. THAT’S a given.”

    I love the way their egoes crumple up when you do that…..

  9. Individuals with an across-the-board predisposition, inclination, and political ideology favoring genuine individual freedom are a clearly small and distinct minority. I assume, then, that Virginia Tech will bend over backwards to allow such voices to be heard, loud and clear. I also have some prime real estate in Florida to sell to you!

  10. When, exactly, did “diversity” and “multiculturalism” become unquestioned goods? They’re scientifically fuzzy, yet they’re used as justifications for matters of “compelling state interest.” I feel like the little kid watching the naked Emperor, “Um, excuse me, sir. Why is diversity a good thing?”

    1. It became doubleplusgood when failing became acceptable. It became useful when progressives were allowed to be completely hypocritical and it was seen as moral insofar as it pushed the Agenda and was seen as a “good intentions”.
      Just keep watching those campus courts and Title IX hearings, they are a portent of what the future of US law will look like. The proglodytes and SJWs have united to destroy all things West and White.

  11. I stopped going to AAC&U conferences about 12 years ago when it became obvious they were dedicating themselves to beating the diversity drum to the exclusion of all else. Nothing has changed. It’s too bad because I learned a lot of good stuff and made several good contacts, back when it was about liberal arts in general.

  12. It doesn’t get much more serious than this, people. This is the formal end of a higher education system intended for a free people. Within the realm of academia, everything that has come before this, is mere aberration. This is the institution of a new system, in which concepts like “freedom of speech” and “academic freedom,” lose all saliency once and forever. This is a return to Medieval-style education, but with Christianity replaced by the whims of Andrea Dworkin, and whatever coterie of amoral, mentally defective, vindictive liars, that manages to pick up the Social Justice banner at your local college or university.

  13. Salita is openly an antisemite, Jew hating race-baiter and ultimately had to take a job at the American University of Beirut under Hezbollah’s watchful eye so even the liberals themselves have SOME limits.

  14. The Progressive Theocracy has had unwritten ideological litmus tests for tenure in academia for decades.

  15. A key tactic of various leftist philosophies (including Fabian socialism) has been to infiltrate various key institutions, especially the communications media and education. The corollary is that once they’ve taken over an institution, they make sure only they can get in, thus preventing any counter-infiltration.

  16. Does Va Tech now have Diversity (ALL HAIL DIVERSITY!) Commissars in the various departments?

  17. As Virginia Tech defined it, diversity entailed the belief “that socially constructed differences based on certain characteristics exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege…”

    Give credit where it’s due. That’s textbook critical theory and neo-Marxism.

  18. Universities don’t need a memo to get their message to employees regarding politically correct activities, teachings, speech, or writing.

    It is built into the language and social pressure from their colleagues and department heads. “You don’t need a weatherman to see how the wind blows.”

  19. “Diversity,” like “affirmative action,” is just another way of saying blacks can’t compete on their own and need help from whites in order to get anywhere. How demeaning.

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