MIT president Sally Kornbluth announced on Wednesday that the university would soon reveal its inaugural Vice President for Equity and Inclusion (VPEI). If one wanted evidence of the disconnect between university culture and the outside world, Kornbluth’s announcement provides it.
Since October 7, universities have been the focus of nearly unprecedented public attention, triggered by student and faculty support for the Hamas terror attacks on Israel. Alumni from schools like Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania charged their universities with complicity in anti-Semitism and demanded that Jews be included in the roster of “marginalized” groups protected by the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) bureaucracy.
Eventually, however, it dawned on the rebellious donors that the DEI complex was not the solution to perceived anti-Semitism but part of the problem, since the DEI apparatus enforces the progressive world view that the West (now embodied by Israel) is unremittingly racist, colonialist, and oppressive. The alumni demand for adding “anti-Semitism training” to the DEI portfolio of “anti-hate trainings” turned into its opposite: a demand that the DEI apparatus be shut down entirely. (Harvard donor Bill Ackman’s conversion in this regard has been unusually public.)
It’s been hard to miss this new consensus among university critics. National and state legislators, governors, and other public figures have called for the elimination of DEI administrations. Denunciation of the equity and inclusion bureaucracy is now part of every call to reform of the post–October 7 university—to the point that left-wing defenders of the university are railing against what they view as conservatives’ exploitation of the Hamas campus crisis to defund essential diversity initiatives.
And yet here was Sally Kornbluth on January 3, blithely trumpeting the imminent arrival of MIT’s latest diversity sinecure, the VPEI. The university already has an Institute Community and Equity Officer (ICEO) charged with being a “thought leader on the subjects of community, equity, inclusion, and diversity,” according to the ICEO’s official description. This equity officer oversees MIT’s Strategic Action Plan for Belonging, Achievement, and Composition, which requires each academic program to improve the “representation” of “underrepresented” graduate students, faculty, postdocs, and undergraduates. The Strategic Action Plan for Belonging, Achievement, and Composition posits that the “composition of our community, and of our leadership, should reflect a commitment to diversity.” It provides no argument for why MIT’s “composition” should “reflect a commitment to diversity,” nor evidence for why such a commitment is compatible with colorblind academic excellence.
The new VPEI will be certain to take the ICEO’s work into unimagined dimensions of identity-based enforcement.
Kornbluth has heretofore avoided the intense heat directed at the now-ousted presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard, despite having given a similarly robotic (and similarly hypocritical) defense of campus free speech at the now-infamous December 5 House hearing on anti-Semitism. The best that could be said of Kornbluth’s congressional performance was that she avoided the condescending hauteur and sense of aristocratic weariness with GOP yokels that characterized then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony. MIT’s Jewish alumni started organizing after what they viewed as the administration’s inadequate response to student lawlessness during a pro-Palestinian occupation of MIT’s main campus building on November 9, 2023. But the MIT alumni have yet to reach the critical mass or clout of alumni from the Penn and Harvard business schools. Kornbluth’s seeming blindness to DEI’s loss of legitimacy raises further questions about her fitness to lead MIT, however, at the very least on grounds of sheer political cluelessness.
MIT is a science school. Its faculty and graduates have furthered mankind’s conquest of disease, catastrophe, and ignorance by prying loose the secrets of the universe, the atom, and the cell. Nowhere in that triumph of knowledge and discovery did a conscious engineering of “representation” and “diversity” play a role. MIT recognized scientific excellence and pursued it, in whatever color, shape, or sex it came.
Now, however, MIT, too, has succumbed to the ideology of color-consciousness, as the 2020 cancellation of a speech on planetary science by geophysicist Dorian Abbot made clear. (Abbot had co-written an unrelated article supporting meritocratic excellence in college admissions and faculty hiring.) An MIT computer scientist, Mauricio Karchmer, has just resigned, citing the priority put on “promoting a particular world view” in “many of MIT’s departments and programs.”
Kornbluth exemplifies a rule of thumb: anyone in a university leadership position not affirmatively opposed to race politics supports antimeritocratic ideas. She also demonstrates just how blinding campus ideology is: her first instincts are to parrot local received wisdom about MIT’s being insufficiently “welcoming” to diversity and not yet being a place where “all feel that we belong,” in Kornbluth’s words. Kornbluth is proceeding with initiatives called “Standing Together Against Hate” and “Unity Across Differences”—all invitations for further interventions from diversity ideologues.
Campus reformers need to find leaders, faculty, and boards, like the board of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who explicitly repudiate DEI. Everyone else is a trojan horse.