New Virginia Tech ‘Diversity’ Requirements for Tenure Violate Academic Freedom, Will Be Comprehensively Reviewed by Board of Visitors

By April 6, 2009

After being alerted to mandatory "diversity" requirements for faculty tenure, promotion, and personal development, the Board of Visitors at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) has agreed to fully review the school’s tenure and diversity policies, FIRE’s press release reports today.

Over the past three years, Virginia Tech’s provost, Mark McNamee, has increasingly demanded ideological conformity in the form of "diversity accomplishments" from the school’s faculty. Last year, in a memo to all department heads and promotion and tenure committees, he insisted that candidates for promotion or tenure "do a better job of participating in and documenting their involvement in diversity initiatives," noting that such participation is "especially important for candidates seeking promotion to full professor."

Last week, Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS) concluded voting on new rules for faculty merit raises, promotion, and tenure that would require faculty to demonstrate fealty to a highly politicized definition of diversity in their research, teaching, and personal enrichment activities. The results of the vote have not been made public.

CLAHS defines "diversity" as "the desirability and value of many kinds of individual differences while at the same time acknowledging and respecting that socially constructed differences based on certain characteristics exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege." The list of "diverse" characteristics ranges from race and gender to "body size and condition." Accordingly, CLAHS has pledged "to eliminate these forms of inequality, hierarchy, and privilege in our programs and practices."

As Greg states in our press release,

It boggles the mind that Virginia Tech does not seem to understand that some professors may object to the fact that they are being evaluated by how seriously they pledge to fight for the elimination of ‘inequality based on body size.’ Are they really saying that one cannot be a good literature professor without believing that fighting anti-fat-ism is worthwhile?" Lukianoff asked. "Academic freedom means the freedom to differ on issues that cut to the heart of even the most dearly held beliefs. If Virginia Tech cannot even tolerate heretical views on ‘body size,’ academic freedom is certainly in grave danger.

FIRE wrote Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger on March 25 about this ideological litmus test and demanded that the school’s policies be revised to accord with faculty members’ First Amendment right to freedom of conscience. After the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) wrote the school’s entire Board of Visitors, including FIRE’s letter and requesting a full review, the Board’s Rector, John R. Lawson, II, notified ACTA on April 1 that the Board would fully review Virginia Tech’s diversity and tenure policies university-wide.

It is clear that Virginia Tech is forcing faculty members to agree with specific political views in order to succeed in their profession. Virginia Tech is free to promote diversity, but not to mandate ideological commitments in faculty review dossiers. It is a shame that the Board of Visitors must step in to protect the faculty from these violations of their rights. We are closely monitoring the situation and staying in touch with a number of faculty members at Virginia Tech.

Let President Steger know what you think by calling 540-231-6231 or e-mailing president@vt.edu, or let the Board of Visitors know what you think by contacting John Lawson, II, at 540-231-6231 or bov@vt.edu.

Alternatively, you can use FIRE’s new activism tool to contact President Steger and Mr. Lawson with just a few simple clicks. This latest addition to FIRE’s media arsenal makes engaging in activism for liberty even easier. Try it out and let us know what you think!

Schools: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University