In 2020, the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech University adopted a motion on “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI), promising to “require and strongly weight a diversity statement from all candidates” during the hiring process. This amounts to a striking statement of priorities.
Many would be surprised to learn that cell biologists and immunologists might be passed up for a job because they were not sufficiently enthusiastic about DEI. But the policy illustrates a trend across Texas universities. Increasingly, a commitment to a vague and often ideologically charged notion of diversity, equity, and inclusion has become an effective job requirement for professors in Texas.
Diversity statements—short essays describing a job candidate’s past contributions to DEI and future plans for furthering the cause—have been controversial since they were introduced in the University of California system around a decade ago, drawing comparisons with loyalty oaths. Nevertheless, as I’ve explained, the requirement has become ubiquitous in higher education.
Texas is no exception. Developments there make clear how universities in traditionally conservative states are just as invested in expansive DEI policies. UT–Austin requires diversity statements for faculty jobs in disciplines such as data science, earth science, and even flute. UT–Dallas recommends them for jobs in engineering, geography, statistics, and many more disciplines. The Texas A&M School of Medicine recently sought a Department Head of Primary Care & Population Health. To apply, candidates had to write a statement “addressing aspirations and contributions to promoting equity, inclusion, and diversity in their professional careers.”
It’s easy to see how such policies could punish qualified academics for heterodoxy. The terms “diversity, equity, and inclusion” often imply a set of controversial views, especially regarding race and gender. As I explain in a forthcoming National Association of Scholars report, UT–Austin’s DEI efforts have involved training students and faculty on such topics as critical race theory. Other common themes that show up in DEI programming include systemic racism, microaggressions, and intersectionality.
This is why diversity statements have been criticized as ideological litmus tests. They require faculty to demonstrate their commitment to a cause that is ideologically charged. But perhaps more importantly, the use of diversity statements represents a massive shift in the priorities of universities away from the pursuit of truth and toward the pursuit of social justice.
In September 2021, the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech announced that it was hiring four assistant professors. Faculty members in the department took to Twitter to advertise the new position, emphasizing a unique feature of the application: per its new resolution, the department makes DEI an explicit priority in hiring. The resolution commits to “recognizing, acknowledging, and rectifying individual conscious and unconscious biases.” To that end, it promises to weigh heavily every job candidates’ contributions to the cause, as laid out in mandatory diversity statements.
The department even released a rubric for evaluating diversity statements, which demonstrates the danger of the requirement. Biologists applying to work in Texas Tech must have a specific, well-delineated understanding of DEI, receiving a low score for “[conflating] diversity, equity, and inclusion without distinguishing among them.” They must also espouse an understanding of diversity that focuses on race, gender, and granular intersectionality. The rubric mandates a low score if a candidate shows little “expressed knowledge of, or experience with, dimensions of diversity that result from different identities (for example, intersections between experiences of women scientists and Black scientists).”
A DEI evaluation for hiring almost inevitably weeds out candidates on the basis of their political and social views. Someone who opposes, say, racial preferences in admissions or hiring would likely run afoul of the Texas Tech rubric. This is one reason why the Academic Freedom Alliance recently announced its opposition to diversity statements.
But an even more fundamental problem remains. Prioritizing DEI in hiring means downplaying other, more important criteria—most obviously, basic academic prowess. UT–Austin recently released its “Strategic Plan for Faculty Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity,” which charges each college within the university to develop mechanisms for rewarding DEI contributions. How many highly qualified professors will ultimately lose out on promotions or tenure because they chose not to embrace the fad?
The purpose of higher education is to facilitate the pursuit of truth. By prioritizing social goals as a key feature of a professor’s job, diversity statements and evaluations detract from that mission. Alas, the policy is alive and well in Texas.
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