As diversity initiatives have proliferated on campuses in recent years, FIRE has expressed repeated concern that mandatory diversity statements — in which a faculty member must pledge allegiance to prevailing views about diversity, equity, and inclusion to get hired or promoted — impose an illiberal campus orthodoxy. This week, a Wall Street Journal piece shed light on Texas Tech University’s use of these statements to weed out candidates with dissenting views, exposing the dark underbelly of a practice that FIRE has long criticized. It also prompted the university to take the unprecedented, and welcome, step of rescinding the policy and reviewing hiring practices across all departments.
On Monday night, National Association of Scholars Senior Fellow John D. Sailer announced in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece the release of 99 pages of internal documents revealing how faculty applicant statements discussing contributions to DEI served as a political litmus test for hiring at Texas Tech University.
The records, obtained from the public university via public records requests, cast a bright light on the ideological conformity demanded of candidates for Texas Tech faculty positions. FIRE has long argued that these statements are intended to reward adherence to highly specific views on diversity and punish those who hold different views. The Texas Tech records show that’s exactly what’s happening, with rubrics describing with particularity which views professors are expected to express and which views were unacceptable:
Don’t know the difference between “equity” and “equality”? You’ll get dinged for that. Might you have forgotten to acknowledge that the land on which you hope to teach was once occupied by Native Americans? You’ll be knocked for that, too.
The search committee flagged one candidate for espousing “race neutrality” in teaching. He expressed that respecting students and treating them equally regardless of race was best practice, but this raised the school’s alarm for reflecting “a lack of understanding of equity and inclusion issues.” Conversely, an immunology candidate received high marks for mentioning “inclusivity in lab” and referencing their “unconscious bias.”
Required DEI statements are becoming the norm
Last June, FIRE released our statement on the “Use of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Criteria in Faculty Hiring and Evaluation.” The concern, we argued, is that vague or ideologically motivated statements can too easily serve as fealty tests for adherence to prevailing and popular notions surrounding highly debated topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
A 2022 survey conducted by the American Association of University Professors revealed that almost half (45.6%) of large institutions (schools with over 5,000 students) include DEI criteria in tenure standards. Half of those without a requirement say they are considering adding one. Since the start of 2020 alone, FIRE has reviewed almost 50 different DEI requirements at public and private institutions and has often written letters expressing our concerns.
Colleges and universities would be wise to heed FIRE’s warnings when we raise these constitutional issues. While we’ve had some positive outcomes, too many institutions ignore FIRE when we sound the alarm. The University of Oregon, for example, has so far ignored our warning about its DEI requirements. Indiana University School of Medicine did the same. While putting fingers in their ears to drown out our criticism may seem prudent in the short term, playing with FIRE might leave you burned.
Universities can prioritize an inclusive and enriching campus environment, and can provide additional resources for students and faculty from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in academia. But at Texas Tech and other public universities across the country, prospective students or faculty cannot legally be required to endorse or apply specific positions on race, gender, and related issues. This is little different than asking “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Such requirements are an affront to the freedom of speech, conscience, and academic freedom that the First Amendment guarantees to students and faculty at public universities.
Sailer’s reporting makes clear: We have more work to do
Though FIRE has been monitoring developments in DEI requirements for several years, Sailer’s reporting makes it abundantly clear that we still have our work cut out for us. While backlash at Texas Tech forced the institution to walk back these requirements, one can’t help but wonder how long these stipulations might have continued to proliferate across other departments if not for Sailer’s record requests.
FIRE also is using public records requests to seek information from colleges about their DEI requirements. For example, in November we issued a public records request to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, concerning its “diversity action plans,” which threaten faculty members’ academic freedom in various ways. We expect to receive those records soon. We plan to keep using this tool to suss out how DEI statement policies operate in practice, and we’re prepared to hold colleges accountable for failing to comply with our requests.
Unquestionably, colleges and universities have both the authority and legal obligation to ensure their campuses are free from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and other protected characteristics. And, of course, a university department may create a position for faculty with teaching or research interests involving DEI scholarship or research. But the typical mandatory DEI statement policy is not concerned merely with a faculty member’s relevant scholarship, with ensuring that faculty are not discriminated against, or with working toward the success of all students at a given university, regardless of identity. Instead, universities are using mandatory DEI statements to eliminate certain views from their campuses.
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).
We're joined by First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza and British journalist Brendan O'Neill to discuss the state of free speech in the United States and Europe. Randazza is a First Amendment attorney and the managing partner at Randazza...