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From: Adrienne Lu
Subject: Race on Campus: Catch up on the roiling debate over diversity statements
Welcome to Race on Campus. Diversity statements have been in the news lately, with some states passing laws against them and some public universities dropping them, in many cases citing concerns about academic freedom. This week, our Adrienne Lu shares a reading list including The Chronicle’s recent coverage of diversity statements — what they are, how they’re used, and why they’re controversial.
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Welcome to Race on Campus. Diversity statements have been in the news lately, with some states passing laws against them and some public universities dropping them, in many cases citing concerns about academic freedom. This week, our Adrienne Lu shares a reading list including The Chronicle’s recent coverage of diversity statements — what they are, how they’re used, and why they’re controversial. If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write to me: email@example.com.
Diversity statements: a reading list
Diversity statements, which ask candidates for jobs and promotions to describe how they can contribute to an institution’s diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, are under attack around the country. Lawmakers in at least 10 states have filed legislation to ban the use of diversity statements in higher education, making them the most common target of legislation to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. With or without such laws, public universities and university systems in many states, including Idaho, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin have stopped using diversity statements. And recently, a lawsuit was filed against the University of California system challenging their legality.
Diversity statements have been around since at least the mid-2010s, but they have drawn significant criticism as they grew in popularity in recent years. Supporters argue they can help colleges assess what candidates have accomplished in their teaching, research, and service to support diversity, equity, and inclusion. But opponents argue the statements serve as political or ideological litmus tests and violate academic freedom.
Here’s a reading list if you’d like to learn more:
In The Chronicle
• Sarah Brown wrote about diversity statements in 2019, explaining the intent behind them and hinting at the controversy to come.
• Megan Zahneis wrote an explainer in March about what diversity statements are, how they’re used, and why critics don’t like them.
Critics of diversity statements
• Jeffrey Flier, former dean of Harvard Medical School, argued in The Chronicle Review that although well-intentioned, diversity statements “open the door to political influence, which should be anathema.”
• Brian Leiter, a law professor and director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the University of Chicago, argued the legal case against diversity statements in The Review in 2020 and expanded on his thoughts in 2022.
• The Academic Freedom Alliance, a group of college faculty members dedicated to upholding academic freedom, urged colleges in August to stop requiring diversity statements for hiring or promotion. The group argued that, “the growing regime of DEI testing through forced pledges of conformity threatens to impose a suffocating orthodoxy.”
• John D. Sailer, a fellow at the National Association of Scholars, wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal in February in which he described how Texas Tech University used diversity statements in the hiring process for a faculty job in biology, drawing on documents obtained through a public-records request. Shortly after, Texas Tech announced it would stop using diversity statements.
Defenders of diversity statements
• Charlotte M. Canning and Richard J. Reddick, professors at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in The Review that diversity statements are “a way to strengthen the academy’s mission to serve all of its constituencies with integrity and fairness.”
• Brian Soucek, a professor of law at the University of California at Davis, leaves it to others to decide whether diversity statements are effective at achieving their goals but argued in The Review that they can be constitutional, depending on how they are used. He explored the legal issues at greater length in the UC-Davis Law Review.
• Tabbye Chavous, who is now vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, made the case for diversity statements in a Q. & A. on its website here.
• The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression conducted a survey last year that found faculty members sharply divided on the use of diversity statements in hiring; Kate Marijolovic wrote about the survey for The Chronicle. FIRE released model legislation in February aimed at curbing the misuse of diversity statements.
• Ching-Yune C. Sylvester, Laura Sánchez-Parkinson, Matthew Yettaw, and Tabbye Chavous from the University of Michigan analyzed diversity statements from 39 job candidates for assistant-professor positions to form a framework that can be used by job applicants writing diversity statements and reviewers evaluating the statements.
• Sara P. Bombaci and Liba Pejchar from Colorado State University surveyed more than 200 diversity, equity, and inclusion experts and found that few institutions provide guidance on how to use diversity statements effectively in the hiring process. They created a framework to evaluate diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hiring process.
- Virginia Military Institute’s first chief diversity officer resigned last week, about two years after taking on the position. Jamica Love was hired shortly before then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, published an investigation that described the college’s racial climate, finding that racism and sexism were present and tolerated on campus. (The Washington Post)
- Some academics have tried to answer this question for years: What do Americans owe Black Americans after slavery and segregation? Now, the question is in the hands of Democrats who embraced reparations after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. (The New York Times)
- New America, a think tank, examined how much tuition, state, and local revenue public colleges in each state received per student during the 2019-20 academic year. The research found that underrepresented minority students got on average less funding than their non-minority peers. (New America)