Arizona's Public Universities Drop Controversial DEI Statements for Job Applicants

It may be part of a larger reassessment of subjecting all areas of life to ideological tests.


Have we hit the high-water mark of social-justice loyalty pledges? The signs are encouraging for those of us who prefer to move through life without declaring fealty to political ideologies. Mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion statements (DEI), which have become increasingly de rigueur political litmus tests for hiring at academic institutions, suffered a significant setback last week when Arizona's public universities unceremoniously dumped their use going forward.

"The Arizona Board of Regents said Tuesday the state's public universities have dropped the use of diversity, equity and inclusion statements in job applications," Ray Stern of The Arizona Republic reported on August 8. "In statements to The Arizona Republic, spokespeople from the Board of Regents, which oversees the university system, and Arizona State University said that 'DEI statements' were 'never' required. However, examples of job postings shows this is not true."

"Not true" nicely summarizes matters. Arizona's Goldwater Institute issued a report earlier this year which found extensive use of DEI statements at the state's universities.

DEI Requirements—Widespread and Controversial

"As of fall 2022, Arizona's public universities now mandate diversity statements from applicants in over a quarter (28%) of job postings at the University of Arizona, nearly three-quarters (73%) of job postings at Northern Arizona University, and in more than four of five (81%) job postings at Arizona State University," according to Goldwater's The New Loyalty Oaths: How Arizona's Public Universities Compel Job Applicants to Endorse Progressive Politics, published in January. The report added that "Arizona's universities appear to be using DEI statements in an attempt to circumvent the state's constitutional prohibition against political litmus tests in public educational institutions."

DEI statements are controversial because they're widely seen as intended to screen out those not committed to progressive politics. "Vague or ideologically motivated DEI statement policies can too easily function as litmus tests for adherence to prevailing ideological views on DEI, penalize faculty for holding dissenting opinions on matters of public concern, and 'cast a pall of orthodoxy' over the campus," cautions the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

For example, the University of California, Berkeley's DEI scoring "punishes any candidate who expresses a dislike for race-conscious policies," according to John Sailer of the National Association of Scholars. Western Oregon University looks for an explicit commitment to "advancing racial equity and eliminating systemic racism."

By contrast, maintaining a culture that encourages open discussion and a range of ideas played a center role on July 31 at the annual meeting of the Arizona Board of Regents' Committee on Free Expression.

"All three of Arizona's public universities maintain the highest green light rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), recognizing the commitment of the board and the universities to free speech," the committee's draft report boasts. "Furthermore, all three universities have adopted the Chicago Statement, the free speech policy statement produced by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago."

The report detailed free speech activities (and a few controversies) on the campuses of Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona. All three institutions committed themselves to diversity of thought and institutional neutrality regarding speech.

Within the next week, the Board of Regents dropped requirements for DEI statements in hiring.

"The use of DEI statements has never been required by ABOR or Arizona public university policy but some university departments have requested statements in job postings," Sarah Harper, vice president of communications for the Arizona Board of Regents, told me by email. "After reviewing the Goldwater report, the Regents and the university presidents discussed ways to improve our human resource practices in this area and the presidents are taking steps to make those improvements."

"This is a huge victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment," Goldwater Institute President Victor Riches said as the organization took an earned victory lap. "The Goldwater Institute is continuing to show the nation how to defeat the destructive ideologies that are crippling colleges and universities."

Arizona Is in Good Company

Goldwater points to similar pushback against DEI policies at state universities in Missouri, North Carolina, and Texas where DEI statements have been dropped and related bureaucracies dismantled. Florida, unfortunately, has swung the pendulum too far in the other direction: State law doesn't just ban loyalty oaths but interferes in what professors can teach.

"The Florida Act abridges the First Amendment rights of a vast range of speakers—'woke' and otherwise—by interfering with university professors' ability to have honest and thorough classroom discussions with their students," argues UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh and several of his students in an amicus brief opposing Florida's Stop W.O.K.E. Act. "It chills discussions on speech that is directly related to course content. And the illusory supposed safe harbor for 'objective' speech cannot provide constitutionally adequate protection."

Still, ideological neutrality and Florida's overreaction taken together mark quite a change from what had become a growing tide of required DEI statements at the nation's institutions of higher education. A 2022 American Association of University Professors survey found that DEI criteria are included in consideration for tenure at 21.5 percent of colleges and universities and at 45.6 percent of large institutions of higher education. Even if some of that represents sincere efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion rather than impose litmus tests, high-profile misuse of DEI statements creates an expectation on the part of academic job seekers that they must proclaim loyalty to a specific ideology in order to gain employment. Dropping DEI statements removes that pressure from the job market.

Ideological Litmus Tests Lose Favor Everywhere

As further evidence that ideological screening is losing favor, the ratings agency Standard & Poors is stepping back from similar considerations in the assessment of corporate creditworthiness.

"S&P Global will stop using alphanumeric ESG scores when assessing credit quality, an about-turn that comes amid a backlash against environmental, social, and governance investing," reports Barron's. "ESG investing has been under increasing scrutiny since last year, as conservative lawmakers and attorneys general claim that non-pecuniary considerations such as environmental and social issues would hurt investor returns."

And corporations are shedding their own DEI bureaucracies as they prove to be anything but the political insulation executives had sought, but instead become lightning rods for controversy.

"Companies including Netflix, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery have recently said that high-profile diversity, equity and inclusion executives will be leaving their jobs," notes The Wall Street Journal. "Thousands of diversity-focused workers have been laid off since last year, and some companies are scaling back racial justice commitments."

Universities retreating from DEI statements appear to be part of a larger reassessment of the wisdom of subjecting all areas of life to one ideological group's view of how society should be viewed and reshaped.