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An Overt Political Litmus Test

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An Overt Political Litmus Test

The California Community Colleges system proposes a diversity, equity, and inclusion system unique for its ideological aggressiveness. May 16, 2022
Education
The Social Order

On May 5, the Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges (CCC) system amended its proposed diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) competencies. Issued in March, the original proposal sought to establish “diversity” and “anti-racism” evaluations for every employee of the 116-college system—a political litmus test. The newly issued changes are merely cosmetic, indicating that, despite notable pushback to the proposal, it will likely become policy.

While DEI requirements are quickly becoming common, CCC’s proposal stands out for its thoroughness and ideological aggressiveness. It defines “cultural competency” as “the practice of acquiring and utilizing knowledge of the intersectionality of social identities and the multiple axes of oppression that people from different racial, ethnic, and other minoritized groups face.” It calls for all community college districts to “include DEIA competencies and criteria as a minimum standard for evaluating the performance of all employees” and “place significant emphasis on DEIA competencies in employee evaluation and tenure review processes to support employee growth, development, and career advancement.”

The Chancellor’s Office also provides a list of competencies. Some of them: “Includes a DEI and race-conscious pedagogy,” “Contributes to DEI and anti-racism research and scholarship,” and “Engages in self-assessment of one’s own commitment to DEI and internal biases, and seeks opportunities for growth to acknowledge and address the harm caused by internal biases and behavior.”

Requiring faculty to embrace the politically-charged concepts of “intersectionality” and “multiple axes of oppression” clearly violates academic freedom—but the CCC system seems unperturbed by that prospect. Last year, a workgroup for the system’s curriculum committee created guidelines called “DEI in Curriculum: Model Principles and Practices,” which explain what “DEI and race-conscious” pedagogy looks like in practice. One of the document’s recommended “culturally responsive classroom practices” reads: “Protect the cultural integrity of an academic discipline to support equity by no longer weaponizing ‘academic integrity’ and ‘academic freedom’ that impedes equity and inflicts curricular trauma on our students, especially historically marginalized students.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the proposal has gained significant pushback. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education referred to the policy as “unacceptable and unconstitutional.” The Pacific Legal Foundation condemned it in equally strong terms: “The proposed regulation will entrench a political orthodoxy, reduce intellectual diversity on college campuses, threaten First Amendment freedoms, and impair the education of students who deserve exposure to a rich and robust range of viewpoints on the critical issues facing our country.” Even Brian Leiter, law professor at University of Chicago and certainly no conservative, agreed with the Pacific Legal Foundation’s First Amendment argument, noting on his blog that the “letter gets it right on the constitutional infirmities.”

But the criticism seems to have fallen on deaf ears, as the new amendments are trivial. Per the changes, evaluators should have a “consistent,” rather than “uniform,” understanding of the DEIA evaluation process. Cultural competency involves “developing cultural knowledge” rather than “learning specific bodies of cultural knowledge.” The key thrust of the policy—most notably, that every employee in America’s largest system of higher education will be evaluated for his or her political beliefs—remains unchanged.

Those concerned with higher education should pay close attention. After all, DEI competencies for promotion and tenure are the next big thing. Recently, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced that it will require diversity statements of all faculty members seeking promotion or tenure. The Diversity Strategic Plan at Northern Arizona University promises to embed diversity “as an important component of learning outcomes, professional development, performance expectations, and performance evaluations at all levels.”

Even disciplines that seem apolitical, such as medicine, have followed the trend. The UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine’s new promotion and tenure guidelines require every candidate to submit a diversity statement and include diversity contributions in their CV. (The guidelines provide a list of sample activities.) Oregon Health and Science University’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism Strategic Action Plan establishes a similar promotion and tenure policy, promising to “include a section in promotion packages where faculty members report on the ways they are contributing to improving DEI, anti-racism and social justice. Reinforce the importance of these efforts by establishing clear consequences and influences on promotion packages.”

California often functions as a testing ground for the rest of the nation. What happens in California rarely stays in California—especially if it’s an “innovation” in progressive politics. We should hope that this overt political litmus test will be unequivocally rejected. Unfortunately, that does not look likely.

Photo: rarrarorro/iStock

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