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Study: Diversity Statements Required for One-Fifth of Academic Jobs

Requirements as common in STEM as in social science

University of California, Berkeley / Getty Images
• November 8, 2021 4:59 am

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Nearly a fifth of university jobs require diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements that press applicants to express and expound upon their commitment to diversity, according to a new study from the American Enterprise Institute.

The study, from the Educational Freedom Institute's James D. Paul and the University of Arkansas's Robert Maranto, is the first to empirically estimate the prevalence of diversity statements in higher education, which they say may narrow the research questions that academics feel comfortable addressing.

Using a representative sample of 999 job postings, the study found that 19 percent require a diversity statement; that the statements are significantly more common at elite schools than non-elite ones; and that jobs in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—are just as likely as jobs in the social sciences to require a diversity statement from applicants.

The last finding surprised Paul, the director of research at the Educational Freedom Institute, who told the Washington Free Beacon it was a testament to the sway of DEI ideology in academia. He and Maranto had hypothesized that the more empirical a field, the less likely it would be to use "soft" criteria when evaluating applicants. But when they actually ran the data, that hypothesis collapsed.

"The most surprising finding of the paper is that these requirements are not just limited to the softer humanities," Paul said. "I would have expected these statements to be less common in math and engineering, but they're not."

DEI statements have grown more routine in recent years, especially on the West Coast. Between 2018 and 2019, most schools in the University of California system mandated DEI statements for all faculty applicants, with a system-wide task force recommending that the requirements be standardized across UC schools. Such requirements soon made their way east: In 2020, a job posting at the University of Denver asked applicants "how you plan to integrate DEI into your role as a faculty member, including new or existing initiatives you would like to be involved with."

This swift march has not gone unopposed. City Journal‘s Heather Mac Donald has blasted DEI requirements as an assault on meritocracy, quipping that Einstein’s groundbreaking research had nothing to do with diversity, equity, or inclusion. Paul agreed, saying it was "concerning" that DEI has begun to "take precedence over merit." The study notes that at the University of California, Berkeley, more than 76 percent of applicants to a life sciences post were eliminated on the basis of their DEI statements.

Others, like the American Enterprise Institute's Max Eden, see the requirements as ideological litmus tests, loyalty oaths to a "woke" worldview in which equity matters more than education and free thought.

"Universities are conditioning employment on fealty to an ideology that is inherently hostile to the university's traditional mission," Eden said. "If colleges started asking prospective faculty about their patriotism or commitment to American ideals, you can bet there would be a mass outcry about academic freedom."

Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), echoed Eden's concern.

"The idea that someone looked at the current crop of professors and said, ‘There's just not enough political homogeneity' is remarkable to me," Lukianoff told the Free Beacon. "I fear that higher education has become a conformity engine."

That conformity, Paul and Maranto note, "may also result in a narrowing of research questions, with negative consequences for intellectual pursuits."

The study, which reviewed postings on three popular online job boards, suggests that DEI litmus tests are not aberrational. They are now common at both public and private universities—especially the elite ones, which the study found were 18 percent more likely than non-elite schools to require diversity statements. The authors defined an "elite school" as any college or university in the top 100 of the 2020 U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Paul speculated that the market power of such schools lets them be extra ideological. If elite universities get more job applicants, he reasoned, they may "be able to prioritize this ideology without sacrificing anything in quality. They're in a position to pick and choose, so why not choose someone who toes the line?"

The study emphasizes that the 19 percent statistic is likely a low-ball estimate. For one thing, Paul and Maranto only used the terms "diverse" or "diversity" to identify jobs that require DEI statements; postings that eschewed that language in favor of "equity" or "antiracism" weren't counted under their coding scheme.

For another, the study only looked at job postings, not job applications. If some applications required diversity statements that weren't advertised in public postings, Paul and Maranto's results could be a significant undercount.

"I strongly suspect that if we went through the steps of applying for positions there'd be more jobs with DEI statements," Paul said. "Our estimate is conservative."

Komi German, a research fellow at FIRE, argued that the proliferation of DEI statements could ultimately backfire, constraining not just ideological but racial diversity.

"Hiring committees may actually emphasize the political and ideological components of DEI statements to make them more palatable to politically progressive white scholars," German said. "After all, being white won't count against them if they can pledge strongly enough their allegiance to DEI."

Published under: Campus Politics