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Proposed DEI policy at CSU Dominguez Hills unconstitutionally compels faculty to prioritize diversity values in teaching

Sign reading California State University Dominguez Hills

Steve Cukrov via Shutterstock

California State University Dominguez Hills

California State University, Dominguez Hills appears to be getting on board with a popular, unconstitutional trend at universities across the country.

Even as employees of a university, faculty maintain their First Amendment rights.

The university’s business and public policy school has proposed a policy that requires faculty to include diversity, equity, and inclusion language and materials in their teaching and syllabi. The proposed policy would specifically require faculty to include “evidence of equity-minded language” in their syllabi and to “draw on gender, racial, and ethnic minority scholars’ work as well as the lived experiences of Indigenous, and People of Color populations” in class discussions. 

As we explained to CSUDH last week, if implemented, this policy would violate the faculty’s right to academic freedom and freedom of conscience. Even as employees of a university, faculty maintain their First Amendment rights. This means as a public institution, CSUDH cannot compel faculty to affirm views as a condition of employment.

The proposed policy also contains subjective and vaguely defined criteria — such as “belonging,” “diversity,” “equity,” “inclusion,” “inclusive climate,” and “social justice” — that CSUDH evaluators could easily abuse to punish faculty with minority, dissenting, or even nuanced views on DEI-related issues that may not mirror evaluators’ views. Faculty will reasonably believe that they will be penalized if they do not affirm the political ideologies bound up in the aforementioned terms and implement them in their courses. While CSUDH has not required faculty to engage in specific DEI-supportive actions as a condition of employment or promotion, explicitly rewarding such participation — and penalizing its absence — is not permissible under the First Amendment.

CSUDH’s policy also unconstitutionally intrudes on faculty’s academic freedom to determine what to teach and how to teach it. As we wrote to CSUDH:

All modern conceptions of academic freedom require affording faculty full freedom in the classroom to teach pedagogically relevant material, as well as substantial breathing room to determine what and how to teach or research. CSUDH’s proposed policy requires faculty to prioritize certain values and materials to receive a favorable review—values and materials they may not otherwise elect to use.

We recognize that CSUDH can implement and seek to uphold its own values as an institution. However, in doing so, the university may not infringe faculty rights, including by forcing faculty to promote or teach DEI in courses or express ideological perspectives with which they may disagree.

We urge CSUDH to reject the proposed policy and affirm to its faculty that it will protect their right to academic freedom and freedom of conscience. We hope to receive a favorable response from the university and will keep readers updated about the state of faculty rights at CSUDH.

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 a faculty member at a public college or university, call the Faculty Legal Defense Fund 24-hour hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533). If you’re a college journalist facing censorship or a media law question, call the Student Press Freedom Initiative 24-hour hotline at 717-734-SPFI (7734).

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