The growing number of colleges and universities requiring faculty members or applicants to submit diversity, equity, and inclusion statements has drawn FIRE’s concern for a number of years. The use of DEI criteria in faculty evaluation and hiring can function as an ideological litmus test, penalizing those with heterodox views on issues of major public concern.
Those concerns are exactly why we commend The Ohio State University for not requiring applicants for either faculty or staff positions to submit diversity statements as a condition of hiring.
Last month, the university told us as part of its response to a public records request that its new university-wide hiring practices would not entail requiring candidates to submit diversity statements.
Mandatory DEI statements are a serious threat to the academic freedom of scholars with dissenting views or whose scholarly interests lie elsewhere.
“While Ohio State has never had a university-wide requirement to use diversity statements in hiring, individual colleges and units have used diversity statements as part of their hiring,” the university said in its response to us. “The university is in the process of developing and implementing a more consistent set of university-wide practices for the hiring of both faculty and staff. These practices will not include the use of diversity statements.”
Requiring prospective or current faculty to submit DEI statements — or to otherwise demonstrate commitment to DEI — as part of hiring review threatens prospective faculty members’ scholarly autonomy in teaching and research and their right to dissent from the prevailing consensus on issues of public or academic concern without suffering diminished career prospects. FIRE would not object to OSU simply recognizing applicants’ and faculty members’ voluntarily chosen, relevant teaching, research, and service activities and accomplishments that might be characterized as DEI contributions. But mandatory DEI statements are a serious threat to the academic freedom of scholars with dissenting views or whose scholarly interests lie elsewhere.
The university responded to our letter by acknowledging FIRE’s arguments and stating OSU was evaluating the use of such statements. OSU’s requirements later drew media attention. That’s when we submitted our public records request to get to the bottom of how the university used diversity statements to evaluate potential applicants.
“We have an unwavering commitment to free speech and freedom of expression and believe it is crucial that students learn to engage in difficult conversations while maintaining civility and respect,” OSU said as part of its response to FIRE’s request. “A central part of Ohio State’s DEI programming creates opportunities for students to engage in productive dialogue and conversation with peers holding different viewpoints from across the political spectrum and from different backgrounds.”
We are encouraged that OSU took action to prevent potential applicants or faculty members from being compelled to profess beliefs they may not hold. The values of diversity, equity, and inclusion do not have to be pitted against academic freedom and free speech. After all, any mandate that faculty endorse specific views could easily be abused by actors with differing political viewpoints or priorities, as we argued in an omnibus statement last year.
All universities should follow OSU’s example. We’ll watch closely to make sure OSU follows through.
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).