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San Diego State faculty members turn backs on colleagues, vote to impose DEI criteria in tenure review

San Diego State University sign - CREDIT Ken Wolter Shutterstock

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The San Diego State University university senate voted to adopt new criteria for faculty reappointment, tenure, and promotion that require faculty to write about their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion requirements are increasingly common in university policies regarding faculty tenure and promotion. More often than not, these policies are put in place by administrators. However, at San Diego State University, this pressure comes in part from an unlikely source — other faculty members themselves.

SDSU’s university senate — composed primarily of faculty members — voted Sept. 6 to adopt new criteria for faculty reappointment, tenure, and promotion. The changes require faculty to write about their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion during the RTP process and for reviewers to judge these commitments when making decisions on faculty advancement. 

Before the changes, SDSU gave faculty the option to write about their DEI contributions in the review process and allowed reviewers to consider these contributions when appropriate. But now, faculty must prove they have participated in activities that align with SDSU’s particular ideological views on DEI as a condition of career advancement. 

Guidance from the university senate suggests faculty participate in activities like “[d]eveloping courses, materials or curricula . . . that foster inclusivity and/or focus on themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion or the incorporation of underrepresented groups,” and become meaningfully involved “with professional . . . or community organizations that support and/or advance underrepresented populations” to help satisfy the requirement. 

On Nov. 11, FIRE wrote SDSU explaining the new criteria threaten faculty’s academic freedom and calling on the university to reconsider the changes. As a public university, SDSU cannot punish faculty who disagree with or whose values do not align with the university’s particular set of ideological views by withholding career opportunities like tenure and promotion. Further, SDSU bears responsibility for the changes despite the fact that it handed the university senate the role of deciding whether to implement them. 

As we wrote in our letter:

The fact that the University Senate, rather than SDSU administrators, voted on and approved the changes to the criteria does not mitigate our concerns. Counter-majoritarian individual rights like free speech and academic freedom are not subject to popular vote.  Their very purpose is to protect speakers against retribution for voicing unpopular views or conducting unpopular research. Faculty cannot simply vote away the academic freedom rights of their peers.

This is not the first time we’ve seen this kind of policy brought to a vote by a faculty-led body. On June 6, the University of Washington faculty senate voted on an amendment requiring faculty candidates for reappointment and tenure to reflect on their DEI contributions. In a win for academic freedom and for FIRE, that amendment failed. We are disappointed to see the SDSU university senate did not vote the same way. 

Colleges and universities cannot skirt responsibility for the threats these kinds of policies pose to academic freedom and intellectual diversity by giving a limited group of faculty the power to decide whether to adopt them. FIRE will continue to monitor and oppose these policies whenever and wherever they arise.  

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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