Virginia Tech to Demand ‘Diversity’ Conformity by Vote

March 30, 2009

Suppose the provost at your college started a new "patriotism" initiative. In the first year, he would permit faculty members to self-report their "patriotism accomplishments." In the second year, faculty members would be strongly encouraged to report their "patriotism accomplishments" on their annual reports of their activities. In the third year, faculty members would be told that "patriotism accomplishments are especially important for faculty seeking tenure and promotion," and dossiers for tenure and promotion would include a multi-part section on "patriotism." There would be a list of kinds of activities that would count as sufficiently "patriotic." Faculty assessment in the area of "patriotism" would include attention to patriotism in one’s publications and one’s syllabus, and faculty members would be encouraged to further educate themselves about "patriotism" by going to patriotic events.

Or put the word "Christianity" in place of "patriotism." Suppose the provost tells all faculty, graduate students, and tenure and review committees that Christian activities are something they can choose to report in their self-assessments. After three years, there is a "Christian accomplishments" section in the tenure dossier, a list of approved activities, and strong pressure to incorporate Christian themes into faculty members’ research, teaching, and professional development.

Do you think this kind of thing couldn’t happen at a public university? It’s been happening at Virginia Tech. Just change "patriotism" or "Christianity" to a different matter of individual conscience: dedication to "diversity." FIRE, the National Association of Scholars, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the student newspaper, and others have all come out strongly against Virginia Tech’s coercive policy of pressuring faculty to show their commitment to "diversity" in their research, teaching, and professional development.

In Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, the latest changes to the "diversity" requirements for faculty assessment are the subject of a vote that ends tomorrow. But this kind of policy is coercive, in violation of basic principles of academic freedom and freedom of conscience, and not at all the kind of thing that can or should be voted on. Minority views must be protected, and faculty members should not be asked to vote away their rights and freedoms.

Case in point: in 1998, Virginia Tech surveyed 2,648 full-time and part-time faculty about the "campus climate." The data for white, heterosexual males were analyzed and reported separately, as were data for certain other groups. The survey revealed these facts:

  • 40 percent of the faculty members agreed that "Virginia Tech is placing too much emphasis on diversity";
  • 56 percent agreed that "diversity may lead to admission of underprepared students";
  • 44 percent agreed that "affirmative action leads to hiring less qualified faculty and staff";
  • "White males hold these opinions in significantly higher proportions than women or faculty of color"; and
  • "Only 31 percent of white men expressed interest in attending workshops or programs on learning to work with or teach women, minorities, non-heterosexuals, or those with disabilities."

In addition, 94 percent agreed that "diversity was good for Virginia Tech and should be actively promoted," leaving a significant minority of 6 percent who either disagreed or didn’t answer.

That was ten years ago, but let’s say a lot of those faculty members are still on campus and haven’t changed their minds. Now in 2009, they are being told that merit raises, tenure, and promotion shall be based partly on their "diversity accomplishments," including things like "attending workshops," even if they strongly disagree that certain kinds of "diversity" initiatives are as good as their colleagues think. And Virginia Tech already knows, because of the survey, that the policy is having a disparate impact by race and gender. That means that Virginia Tech knows that this policy is more likely to violate the academic freedom and freedom of conscience of white males than of members of other groups.

Suppose the vote in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences comes out in a way similar to the 1998 survey. Is a 6040 vote really enough to mandate "diversity accomplishments" for all faculty? What about 946? Should even a single conscientious objector (we already know of several) be told what he or she must believe in order to teach at a public university? The answer is clear: No. This should never have been put to a vote in the first place. Even if the vote were unanimous, it would not change the fact that the diversity policy is fatally flawed. Virginia Tech is essentially saying to all potential applicants to Virginia Tech, "don’t even think about coming here unless you already agree with our views about diversity."

If you wouldn’t stand for a mandatory "patriotism" or "Christianity" assessment for faculty merit raises, promotion, and tenure, you can’t stand for a mandatory "diversity" assessment either. And neither can the First Amendment.

Schools:  Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Cases:  Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: “Diversity” Requirement for Faculty Assessment Violates Academic Freedom and Freedom of Conscience