Virginia Tech Mandates ‘Diversity’ for Faculty Promotion, Despite Denial

By March 26, 2009

Yesterday FIRE wrote Virginia Tech’s president, Charles Steger, calling on him to abandon proposed new guidelines for faculty assessment that would seriously violate faculty members’ academic freedom and their constitutional right to freedom of conscience. The proposal would force faculty members in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to adhere to an ideological loyalty oath to an entirely abstract concept—"diversity"—that can represent vastly different things to different people. Faculty are to be evaluated with "special attention" to the candidate’s "involvement in diversity initiatives." If adopted, this requirement will inevitably interfere with faculty members’ moral and intellectual freedom by requiring them to adhere to Virginia Tech’s current ideological perspectives on bias, race, gender, and culture.

Our letter was covered by Robin Wilson in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required). Wilson interviewed Virginia Tech Provost Mark G. McNamee about the problem:

In an e-mail message to The Chronicle on Wednesday, Mr. McNamee said he would review the new promotion and tenure guidelines in light of the letter from FIRE.

"We certainly have no interest in stepping outside the mainstream of academic freedom," he wrote. "We want to support faculty efforts in the broad area of diversity, but we would not and do not want to impede anyone’s academic privileges."

The response is encouraging so far—but don’t hold your breath. McNamee also claimed that reporting no involvement in diversity was not going to be held against faculty members:

When asked during a telephone interview what would happen to faculty members who failed to report any involvement in diversity activities, Mr. McNamee said, "Nothing."

This might one day be the case, especially now that FIRE and the National Association of Scholars (NAS) have drawn attention to the problem. But it is certainly not what the provost has intended. As the NAS reports today, a May 29, 2008 memorandum to Virginia Tech’s department heads basically demands "diversity accomplishments":

Diversity accomplishments: Diversity accomplishments are a meaningful part of the faculty review process. 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. Please use the categories developed by the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity to prompt and organize diversity-related contributions. The categories may be found at section VII. C. 1. – 8. of the promotion and tenure guidelines. They are also available at www.provost.vt.edu/documents/reporting_diversity.php. Committees are asked to develop working expectations for department members, perhaps sharing good examples, and to review diversity contributions included in the dossier with those expectations in mind. (Emphasis added.)

That seems like a requirement to us. Which is it, Provost McNamee?

Schools: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University