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Indiana University School of Medicine approves ideological litmus test for faculty seeking tenure and promotion 

FIRE warned the medical school that “even if the new DEI requirement gives faculty some leeway in choosing activities to fulfill it, the requirement still threatens their academic freedom.”
Students in class

Indiana University School of Medicine will require faculty seeking tenure and promotion to embrace and advance the school’s politicized framework of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Like similar policies at many other colleges and universities, this DEI mandate threatens faculty members’ academic freedom and First Amendment right to dissent from prevailing campus opinions on social and political issues. 

On Monday, FIRE wrote IUSM explaining that it must not force faculty to choose between demonstrating their commitment to prescribed ideological views and suffering diminished career prospects.

Earlier this year, IUSM proposed modifying its promotion and tenure criteria to require faculty to “show effort toward advancing DEI in at least one mission area for which they are evaluated by including a short narrative DEI summary in their personal statement and by listing DEI-related activities on their CVs.” On June 16, the Faculty Steering Committee approved the proposal, which IUSM will phase in over the next three years.

Examples of DEI activities include:

  • Scholarship/research/creative activity focused on historically marginalized and diverse communities
  • Inclusive teaching practices (e.g., pedagogy, DEI content, multicultural courses, global perspectives)
  • Community-based outreach to historically marginalized communities (e.g., programming for K-12 students, community organizations, religious institutions, workshops for high school students to address LGBTQ+ awareness and resources)
  • Faculty development toward increasing one’s self-awareness and knowledge, e.g., engaging in CME and/or professional development events, programs, modules, or workshops on DEI topics such as microaggressions, unconscious bias, upstander training; culturally relevant mentoring; inclusive teaching; DEI reading groups

IUSM’s definition of diversity focuses on “intersectional identities formed around ideas and experiences related to race, ethnicity, class, color, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation,” and other group identity characteristics. The medical school also contrasts “equity” with “equality,” stating that while the latter “recognizes a common humanity, ‘equity’ recognizes the distinct needs of individuals and groups, which cannot be addressed with generalized solutions that fail to acknowledge structural inequities.” 

These definitions carry ideological assumptions and policy preferences with which some faculty may disagree. That is their right under the First Amendment, which does not tolerate compelled endorsement of ideas. The First Amendment likewise protects academic freedom in teaching and research. 

As we told IUSM:

FIRE would not object to IUSM recognizing faculty members’ voluntarily chosen, relevant teaching, research, and service activities and accomplishments that might happen to be characterized as DEI contributions. But even if the new DEI requirement gives faculty some leeway in choosing activities to fulfill it, the requirement still threatens their academic freedom. It coerces faculty whose academic interests may lie elsewhere — but who wish to maximize their chances of obtaining tenure or promotion — to substantially reorient their scholarly pursuits or administrative service to conform with IUSM’s ideological preferences. The requirement even reaches beyond the classroom and laboratory, selectively rewarding faculty who engage in DEI-related activism.

Further details on how IUSM will evaluate DEI statements are sparse — the medical school says it will provide more information during the phase-in period — but what IUSM has said so far is not encouraging. 

These types of mandates should worry anyone who believes in academic freedom, regardless of their political bent.

IUSM intends the requirement to “align IUSM more closely” with the school’s honor code values and with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ new DEI-focused tenure option — both of which expressly call for strong DEI commitments. IUPUI’s criteria, for example, require that a candidate presents “a philosophy of diversity, equity and inclusion” and “articulates their personal role as an essential and generative actor within diversity initiatives.”

As FIRE’s letter states, this “only amplifies our concern that IUSM will impermissibly penalize faculty who fail to enthusiastically affirm their devotion to these values in their narrative DEI statements and to demonstrate that commitment across a range of activities.” 

These types of mandates should worry anyone who believes in academic freedom, regardless of their political bent. As FIRE explains in our recent statement on the use of DEI criteria in faculty hiring and evaluation:

Just as universities cannot require faculty to endorse a certain conception of DEI, they cannot require faculty to affirm the importance of “colorblindness,” “patriotism,” or “individualism,” or to demonstrate involvement in organizations or activities that promote such values. At a university dedicated to freedom of thought, none of these ideas should be immune from scrutiny and disagreement. Proponents of DEI statement mandates should consider how they would react to being compelled, on pain of career impairment or even job loss, to write a statement expressing support for ideas or values they oppose.

FIRE asked IUSM for a response to our letter by July 25. We will keep readers updated.

FIRE defends the rights of students and faculty members — no matter their views — at public and private universities and colleges in the United States. If you are a student or a faculty member facing investigation or punishment for your speech, submit your case to FIRE today. If you’re faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533).

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