Bit by Bit, Virginia Tech Softens Ideological ‘Diversity’ Requirements for Faculty; Much More To Be Done for Freedom of Conscience

By July 8, 2009

After Virginia Tech rescinded its ideological litmus test for faculty (pending further review) in its liberal arts college under pressure from FIRE, the school has recently removed a long, ominous explanation of "diversity accomplishments" from its university-wide tenure and promotion guidelines. A separate document still contains the diversity guidelines, however. The university also has yet to retract its demands that faculty demonstrate such "diversity accomplishments" when seeking raises, tenure, or promotion. These demands violate faculty members’ freedom of conscience and academic freedom by politicizing the consideration of their teaching, scholarship, and personal development activities, forcing them to demonstrate allegiance to ideological views (however vaguely they might be stated) with which they do not necessarily agree.

The 20072008 and 20082009 university-wide guidelines for promotion and tenure dossiers stated that the "University Service" requirement "requests documentation of contributions to achieving the university’s diversity goals." The new 2009–2010 guidelines now state that "Contributions to diversity are also included in this section," which is equally binding but just a little less demanding in language.

Indeed, while last year the guidelines included about 750 words (18 percent of the whole) on the demand for "Contributions to Diversity," this year there are only about 60 words:

Broad categories and examples of diversity contributions developed by the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity are available at the following website:

www.provost.vt.edu/documents/reporting_diversity.php.

Candidates whose responsibilities include significant diversity-related program leadership, research, teaching, or advocacy, should describe such activities and accomplishments in the appropriate categories above and only make a brief cross reference in this section to previously cited accomplishments.

The same 750 words are available at the link given above, so it’s not like Virginia Tech is hiding its demands. (Virginia Tech is merely arguing that it has "streamlined the document by not restating policies or procedures that are included elsewhere.") Putting them in a separate location, however, means that Virginia Tech will be able to change the official tenure and promotion guidelines later, just by changing the language of the diversity requirement itself. At present, the options for demonstrating "diversity accomplishments" include "[s]elf-education," altering one’s syllabus to conform to the university’s diversity agenda, and altering one’s own "research/scholarship" to conform.

And if there was any question whether these are mandatory demands, read these excerpts from this recent presentation by Provost Mark McNamee regarding the university’s demands:

We’re also, as a university, very interested in advancing the interests of the entire university, and so in our strategic thinking, our Strategic Plan, we are very committed to advancing diversity, engaging the faculty in international programs, and our commitment to outreach, serving others in many different ways. And so when we look at the accomplishments of our faculty, particularly at the level of professor, we are looking for faculty members to be making contributions to areas of strategic importance to the university. There is no specific requirement that it has to be in any particular form in a particular area, but when we talk about diversity, international programs, and so on, we’re encouraging and supporting and giving credit to faculty members who are in fact demonstrating real accomplishments in these areas, because at the level of professor, you do have the time and the opportunity to make contributions to university goals, university strategic directions, in addition to your own personal research and service. So all of these things weigh in our evaluation of what constitutes a strong file. (00:10:41)

[W]e do expect the record to be robust. And we’re seeing great contributions in areas of diversity, international programs, with people really doing important, significant work. And we’re taking the time as a committee to look at what we talk about-examples of great contributions in diversity and trying to hold those up as examples of kinds of things faculty members do, and where they can make a difference, and so we’re going to continue to do that. (1:00:02)

See also this university-wide statement from McNamee and President Charles Steger, defending the university’s efforts.

Virginia Tech still has a long way to go. Virginia Tech must find a way to promote its well-intentioned goals without forcing the faculty to demonstrate "diversity accomplishments." This means retracting the parts of the 2006 policy memo that violate academic freedom and freedom of conscience, perhaps most of all the requirement "that diversity-related accomplishments be reported as part of the annual faculty activity reports (FAR)." It also means retracting the parts of the 2008 memo that violate academic freedom and freedom of conscience, namely these sentences:

Candidates must do a better job of participating in and documenting their involvement in diversity initiatives. Diversity accomplishments are especially important for candidates seeking promotion to full professor.

On April 30 of this year, the dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS), Sue Ott Rowlands, promised that at her college, the requirements would at least be clarified:

some have mischaracterized our college’s commitment to diversity as a rigid requirement for promotion and tenure. That has never been our intention and we will make sure that our P&T document makes that clear.

But if the university-wide guidelines for promotion and tenure are any sign, the CLAHS guidelines are going to look a little less scary but have just as much mandatory bite as they did before. The rest of Rowlands’ statement makes clear that she in fact seeks mandatory views and values among her faculty:

At the same time, please know that our commitment to equity and inclusive excellence has never been stronger. One of our greatest strengths is in our commitment to embrace cultural differences, varied talents, and multiple ways of thinking and being. I particularly resonate with one of the paragraphs from the "core values" section of our soon-to-be-unveiled strategic plan. Here it is: "In the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences we strive to promote an environment in which learning, discovery, and engagement are created and sustained by a diverse body of students, faculty, and staff. The value we place upon equity obliges us to challenge systems of oppression and privilege…(Moreover) in CLAHS, service is not just a path we choose but a perspective we consciously adopt – one that enables us to discover and critique ourselves, our world, and others." (Emphasis added here.)

Indeed, Virginia Tech has a very long way to go to preserve the rights of its own faculty as it tries to achieve its institutional goals. FIRE will be paying very close attention to Virginia Tech’s next steps.

Schools: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Cases: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: “Diversity” Requirement for Faculty Assessment Violates Academic Freedom and Freedom of Conscience