Diversity, equity, and inclusion campus regimes grow in unexpected places. Both the University of Alabama and Auburn University—schools popularly associated with traditional cultural values—have been slowly building DEI infrastructures for nearly a decade (see my recent report). Both universities emphasize the recruitment of students, faculty, and staff, with race as a central consideration. If the overt goal of these initiatives has been to boost minority enrollment, the programs have been failures: each university actually has fewer black students on campus than it did before instituting the programs. Instead, the schools have created an ideological and administrative superstructure that infuses DEI into every aspect of university life.
The University of Alabama emerged from under federal desegregation orders only in 2000, when courts allowed that Alabama had made “serious progress” to remedy its past injustices. The university almost immediately announced aggressive minority recruitment programs and institutionalized them under its 2008 strategic plan. Stuart Bell, who became president of Alabama in 2015, unveiled the “Advancing the Flagship” Strategic Plan, emphasizing DEI in recruitment, the following year. In 2017, Alabama hired an associate provost for DEI, G. Christine Taylor. Efforts redoubled after the 2020 urban riots around the United States, when Bell’s special DEI committee issued a “Path Forward Diversity Report.”
Minority student recruitment is of utmost importance at Alabama. The university’s DEI office schedules visits specifically from majority-black high schools under a program called Our Bama. The Multicultural Visitation Program also brings minorities to campus for special visits. Alabama funds a “return to high school” program, where black graduates visit their alma maters to sing the glories of the Alabama experience. The Black Alumni Association holds several events each year, including college prep workshops for minority junior high school students across the state. The provost funds special minority-focused scholarships. Other programs like BRIDGE and Lucy’s Legacy are designed to retain minority students at the university. SAT and ACT scores are now optional in the university’s Honors College, since such tests have a disparate racial impact.
Yet all these efforts have coincided with declines in the percentages of black students at Alabama. In 2011, 12.4 percent of Alabama students were black, 78.1 percent were white, and 2.5 percent were Hispanic. In 2016, 10.8 percent were black, 76.5 percent were white, and 4.2 percent were Hispanic. In 2021, the last year with good numbers, those percentages were 11.2, 74.3, and 5.3.
Auburn tells a similar story. Its modern DEI regime was built in 2016, when it conducted a campus climate survey that yielded 17 recommendations for transforming the university. The survey is presented on one page, while the recommendations take up the rest of the 20-page document. No one asked students if they liked the campus or felt that there were any problems; instead, students were asked whether they strongly agree, agree, were neutral to, disagree, or strongly disagree with three statements about valuing diversity, such as “diversity is good for Auburn” and “Auburn places too much emphasis on diversity.” The results were not significantly different from the results of a similar climate survey conducted in 2003, but the survey committee drew conclusions that justified a revolution on campus.
Taffye Benson Clayton became Auburn’s first Associate Provost and Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity in the fall of 2017. Student-recruitment efforts like the Together We Will Scholarship and the Tiger Excellence Scholars Program provide money and experiences to encourage minority students to attend Auburn.
Auburn deems its programs successful, though they also coincide with decreases in minority presence on campus. As DEI efforts have intensified, the percentage of black students at Auburn has declined, as have the absolute numbers of blacks at Auburn. The percentage of black students has shrunk from a high point of 8.2 percent in 2006 to under 5 percent in 2022.
Percentage of Auburn Student Body by Race/Ethnicity
Such incongruence between promise and result is common in DEI programs. At Texas A&M, efforts to encourage a more inclusive and welcoming culture have soured whites, blacks, and Hispanics on being Aggies. At the University of Texas, efforts to raise the share of minority faculty have coincided with declines in the number of minority faculty. At Alabama and Auburn, initiatives to boost the number of blacks have coincided with actual declines in the number of blacks. Yet no one calls such DEI efforts failures. In fact, no administrators question the efficacy of such programs, even when the programs produce the opposite of the promised results.
None of these programs is actually designed to produce diversity or equity. As Auburn’s College of Education Dean Peter Hlebowitsh puts it, diversity is “deeply embedded in the telos of the university,” and “diversity is better expressed as the essence of life.” Rather than increasing the African American presence on campus, these programs serve to deepen the power of the DEI perspective and tighten the grip of administrative power over the life of the university. It’s about indoctrination, not minority representation.
Photos: wellesenterprises (left), sshepard(right)/iStock