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FAQ: Diversity, equity, and inclusion statements

Students raising hands in class

What are diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statement policies?

University DEI statement policies require or invite current or prospective faculty to demonstrate their commitment to DEI, often through a written statement that factors into hiring, reappointment, evaluation, promotion, or tenure decisions.

Why do DEI policies threaten free expression and academic freedom?

Many DEI statement policies can too easily function as ideological litmus tests that threaten employment or advancement for faculty holding dissenting views. Although faculty are ordinarily the primary judges of their disciplinary peers’ academic competence, administrators or ideologically motivated committees typically develop and administer these policies.

I support diversity. Why shouldn’t I support DEI statements?

FIRE’s concerns about DEI statements rest not on opposition to diversity but to any mandate that faculty endorse specific views. It would be equally unacceptable to require faculty to affirm the importance of values like “patriotism,” “individualism,” or “capitalism,” or to demonstrate involvement in activities that promote them. Universities can promote DEI without infringing individual rights. They can release institutional statements, hold community events, conduct administrative outreach, provide support services, and engage in other non-mandatory initiatives.

But can’t universities require faculty to help create welcoming learning environments and support the success of all of their students, regardless of identity?

Absolutely. But DEI statement policies often go further, compelling faculty to affirm contested views or incorporate them into teaching, research, and service activities. The phrase “diversity, equity, and inclusion” sounds uncontroversial, but is laden with political connotations that make it a matter of lively debate. It is not the university’s role to close debate, hardening a select set of beliefs into incontrovertible dogmas. With scholars increasingly facing administrative consequences for voicing minority or simply unpopular opinions, the last thing universities need is another tool for enforcing ideological conformity.

What are some examples of bad policies?

One example of a bad policy is the University of California, Santa Cruz’s DEI statement requirement, which gives low scores to faculty applicants who, for example, suggest affinity groups for underrepresented students are counterproductive because they separate students by identity and make them feel less valued. Another example is the California Community Colleges system’s proposal to modify evaluation and tenure criteria to compel all faculty to embed “anti-racist principles” in their curricula and to accept and apply ideas like “intersectionality” and “axes of oppression.”

What about optional DEI statements?

Mandatory statements are more concerning, but even optional ones leave room to reward participation or penalize non-participation and risk abuse as litmus tests.

How common are DEI statements?

DEI statements are a growing trend. A recent AAUP survey of hundreds of colleges and universities found that more than one-fifth of them include DEI criteria in tenure standards, including 45.6% of large institutions. Nearly half of the institutions that do not consider DEI in tenure review indicated they are considering adding such criteria in the future. A 2021 American Enterprise Institute survey of academic job postings found that 19% required DEI statements, and elite institutions were more likely to require them.

Do the ideals of free speech and diversity/inclusion necessarily live in tension?

No. In fact, the latter depends on the former. When universities uphold expressive freedom, they allow diverse perspectives and create space for dialogue across lines of identity and ideology. It is preferable to have a robust conception of diversity and inclusivity that encompasses values underlying a university’s mission to produce and disseminate knowledge, such as diversity of perspective, intellectual freedom, critical thinking, inquisitiveness, open-mindedness, and epistemic humility.

What can be done?

FIRE has vigorously combated efforts to leverage DEI to purge campuses of dissenting views on issues of public and academic interest, and will continue to do so. If you are concerned that your institution’s DEI statement policy restricts free speech or academic freedom, contact FIRE. For more on this topic, see FIRE’s full statement on the use of DEI statements in faculty hiring and evaluation.