Mark Bauerlein on Virginia Tech Diversity Requirement for Faculty Assessment

By March 27, 2009

Today CFN faculty member and Emory professor Mark Bauerlein adds his voice to that of FIRE, the National Association of Scholars, and others against Virginia Tech’s requirement of "diversity accomplishments" for faculty tenure and promotion. Bauerlein writes:

This week in The Chronicle, Robin Wilson has a story on the "diversity" factor in tenure and promition guidelines at Virginia Tech. According to the guidelines, the promotion and tenure committee "expects all dossiers to demonstrate the candidate’s active involvement in diversity." The Provost at Virginia Tech claims that the guideline does not "require" professors to join diversity activities, but only "encourages" them to do so. The diversity criterion goes back to a few years ago, he adds, when the university wanted to make sure that people who did pursue diversity activities were valued for their efforts.

This is a lesson in the academic version of "mission creep." What starts out as a benign and unobjectionable approval policy evolves into a demand that everybody do the things that will be approved. For the provost to downplay the actual wording of the guidelines is to overlook both the insecurity of tenure candidates and the obscurity of the tenure review. What else would a junior faculty think when looking at those guidelines but, "Hey, I better get a couple of diversity activities on my CV this year"?

This is why Foundation for Individual Rights has written a protest letter to the President of Virginia Tech calling the criterion a "loyalty oath." (See the NAS response here.)

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Another statement in the Provost’s report covers "Incorporating diversity-related scholarship in courses, readings, programs, service learning activities, and your own research/scholarship." Such as:

"Revising a course reading list to incorporate concepts, readings, and scholarship on issues of gender, race, and other perspectives relevant to the course material; rethinking or adapting workshops, lectures, or publications to incorporate multicultural or gender perspectives . . . securing research grants or industry funds to support diversity initiatives or research; facilitating a staff training activity on diversity, bias reduction, or celebration of diversity."

As FIRE rightly notes, such encouragements interfere with a teacher’s "moral and intellectual agency." One wonders how Virginia Tech faculty have responded to this counsel. The University wants to see these activities in dossiers and on faculty members’ annual reports, which suggests that resources and rewards will follow accordingly. It implies that commitment to diversity may form a serious element of one’s record, reaching the level of teaching and research in the evaluation of professors.

Let’s hope that Virginia Tech realizes its error and keeps its "diversity" aspirations out of the realm of overtor even subtlerequirements.

And here are some more documents that show the requirements to be ingrained at Virginia Tech, not just aspirational. At the very least, these are far from viewpoint-neutral bases for faculty assessment:

http://www.provost.vt.edu/documents/instructor_timeline_process_format.pdf — dossier section X.D.: "Contributions to diversity initiatives."

http://www.provost.vt.edu/documents/pt_guidelines_07-08.pdf — VII.C.: "Contributions to diversity."

http://www.provost.vt.edu/documents/Dossier_Guidelines.pdf — even nominations for appointments to the rank of Distinguished Professor are, in section VII, to "Highlight contributions to diversity."

http://www.minutes.governance.vt.edu/uc0506/CEOD-Resolution-2005-06A.pdf — a resolution "that diversity-related accomplishments be reported as part of the annual faculty activity reports (FAR) beginning with the next annual evaluation cycle which ends spring 2007; and [t]hat during fall 2006, colleges and vice presidential areas develop formats for the FAR that embed diversity accomplishments and goals as appropriate for the university’s mission; and [t]hat personnel committees and department heads give consistent attention to these activities in the evaluation process and provide appropriate feedback to faculty members concerning their diversity contributions and goals…"

Bauerlein is absolutely right: "What else would a junior faculty [member] think when looking at those guidelines but, "Hey, I better get a couple of diversity activities on my CV this year"?

Schools: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University