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Campus Free Speech

Academic Freedom Alliance on Diversity Statements

Diversity statements have become common in university admissions and hiring, and that's a problem


Earlier this week, the Academic Freedom Alliance released a new public statement. It called for an end to mandatory diversity statements in university admissions and hiring.

In recent years, a growing number of colleges and universities have begun to require applicants for graduate school admission and for faculty jobs to write an essay explaining their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion goals and how they plan to advance those goals. In some institutions, those statements have been used as a filter for limiting the pool of applicants that would get substantive consideration for an opening. In practice, those statements become political litmus tests, requiring that scholars pledge themselves to believe and advance a set of contested political values.

The University of California at Davis mathematician Abigail Thompson was an early critic of how those statements were being used in the California system, and sparked an intense controversy by comparing them to the now-reviled loyalty oaths of the McCarthy era. The University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter has argued that they are illegal at state universities, though UC Davis law professor Brian Soucek disagrees, at least when the statements are "done the right way" (which they often aren't). The Fort Lewis College philosopher Justin McBrayer compares them to the faith statements required by some religious institutions. An interesting extended analysis of the legal issues by the Pacific Legal Foundation's Daniel Ortner can be found here. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression recently released a statement on using DEI criteria in faculty hiring and promotion as well.

The Academic Freedom Alliance statement was authored by a committee that included Harvard law school professor Randall Kennedy, former Harvard medical school dean Jeffrey Flier, and University of Southern California chemistry professor Anna Krylov. As AFA co-chair and Harvard law professor Janet Halley observes, "Academics seeking employment or promotion will almost inescapably feel pressured to say things that accommodate the perceived ideological preferences of an institution demanding a diversity statement, notwithstanding the actual beliefs or commitments of those forced to speak."

From the statement:

The Academic Freedom Alliance supports efforts to ensure that colleges and universities offer to all members of their communities staff, students, and faculty environments free of bigotry. We also support efforts by institutions of higher learning to do all that they can, consistent with their academic mission, to ensure that faculty members offer their services on an equitable basis. It is, however, our firm conviction that compelled diversity statements undermine the best of the intentions that propel DEI initiatives. It is one thing for schools to take action against wrongful discriminatory conduct; institutions are under a legal as well as moral and pedagogical obligation to do that. A very different and disturbing thing is monitoring beliefs by demanding pledges of allegiance to an array of policies that are often vague, frequently ambiguous, and invariably controversial.

Read the whole thing here.