Berkeley Weeded Out Job Applicants Who Didn't Propose Specific Plans To Advance Diversity

The university's litmus test is a lawsuit waiting to happen.


The University of California has been requiring prospective faculty members to affirm that they support diversity. This was Orwellian in its own right—reminiscent of the university system's 1950s loyalty oaths, which required faculty to attest that they were not members of the Communist Party.

It now appears that at one campus, UC-Berkeley, the diversity initiative goes much further than previously understood. Whether a candidate has proposed a specific, concrete plan to advance diversity is now being used as a litmus test for some positions. No candidate who fails the test can even be considered for employment.

Abigail Thompson, a UC-Davis math professor and department chair, sounded the alarm regarding the modern-day loyalty oaths in a December Wall Street Journal piece. Thompson wrote that increasing diversity is a laudable goal but requiring prospective hires to pledge fealty to the concept seems like forcing them to subscribe "to a particular political ideology."

Sure enough, a report on Berkeley's diversity initiative—recently publicized by Jerry Coyne and John Cochrane—shows that eight different departments affiliated with the life sciences used a diversity rubric to weed out applicants for positions. This was the first step: In one example, of a pool of 894 candidates was narrowed down to 214 based solely on how convincing their plans to spread diversity were.

Berkeley's diversity rubric shows just how much specificity was expected. Three aspects of the applicants' diversity statements were graded on a five-point scale: knowledge of diversity, experience in advancing diversity, and a plan for advancing diversity in the future. The highest possible score was thus a 15. Discounting the importance of diversity, failing to specifically discuss gender and race, and making only vague statements (such as "the field of History definitely needs more women") were listed as the kinds of things that would earn the lowest possible score.

Organizing or speaking at a diversity workshop earned high marks. (Merely attending a workshop wasn't nearly enough.) Being "happy to help out" with diversity initiatives was bad—good candidates should insist on coordinating the initiatives themselves, and must demonstrate that they "intend to be a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion within the department/school/college and also their field."

UC-Davis seems to take a similar approach. The Pacific Legal Foundation's Daniel Ortner writes that search committee members first review candidates' diversity statements, and that "candidates who do not 'look outstanding with regard to their contributions to diversity'" are explicitly rejected. Think about what this means: The foremost job qualification is a sufficient commitment to spreading diversity.

According to Ortner,

Berkeley rejected 76 percent of qualified applicants without even considering their teaching skills, their publication history, their potential for academic excellence or their ability to contribute to their field. As far as the university knew, these applicants could well have been the next Albert Einstein or Jonas Salk, or they might have been outstanding and innovative educators who would make a significant difference in students' lives.

And there is reason to believe that the results at UC Davis were similar. A recent letter from the vice chancellor to the UC Davis faculty reveals that in at least some schools, more than 50 percent of the applicants were eliminated solely because of their diversity statements.

Ortner told The College Fix that the mandatory diversity plans for new faculty might be unconstitutional, and he is considering a lawsuit. But whether or not the university's initiative is permissible, it's astoundingly misguided—a striking example of the bureaucratic capture of higher education.