Professors React to Diversity Statement Requirements

January 14, 2020 Updated: January 14, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

The requirement to submit Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) statements in the hiring process at U.S. universities has recently attracted both praise and criticism. 

DEI statements are now mandatory at eight University of California campuses, as well as other universities across the country.

To be considered for a faculty position, applicants must submit a statement wherein they profess their commitment to redressing the historic exclusion of underrepresented people. They must outline their past, present, and future contributions to these social goals.

The Epoch Times contacted dozens of professors in California for comment and received only two replies. Both were positive toward the DEI statement mandate as a way to create an inclusive academic environment. 

Some professors in other regions voiced concerns. Blake Winter, an assistant professor of mathematics at Medaille College in New York state, said DEI statements “serve as a political test.” 

They tend to be “disqualifying unless they conform to a view of diversity stemming from critical theory,” he said. 

Critical theory is a Marxist-inspired movement in social philosophy that seeks to understand and overcome “the social structures through which people are dominated and oppressed,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. 

“Study after study shows that university faculty are disproportionately left-leaning in their politics, and that far-left thought is vastly over-represented,” Winter said.

“Now, mostly in mathematics, political views are irrelevant, because 2+2 is always 4. But in some cases, they can matter.”

Scoring System 

The UC–Berkeley website outlines the rubric by which its DEI statements are scored. 

For example, an applicant who subscribes to “treating all students the same regardless of background” would score poorly, earning 1–2 out of 5 possible points.

In order to achieve a higher score (4–5 points), the applicant would need to present “clear and detailed ideas … for advancing equity and inclusion.” Examples listed in the rubric include making an effort to “hire a diverse group of students to work in their lab” and seeking “to mentor several underrepresented students.”

Epoch Times Photo
Students on the UC–Berkeley campus on Dec. 2, 2009. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Raquel Aldana, a law professor at UC–Davis, said the rubric represents “a more nuanced understanding of equal protection principles that acknowledges that formal equality—treating everyone the same—is hardly neutral and seldom equal as applied.”

Aldana is also the associate vice chancellor for academic diversity at UC–Davis. For her, the DEI statements are part of promoting an inclusive teaching environment. “[That] requires intentionality around such factors as the content of courses, approaches to teaching, and navigating hard conversations with sensibility, empathy, and wisdom,” she said. 

Abigail Thompson, chair of the Department of Mathematics at UC–Davis, disagrees. She found herself at the center of the DEI controversy last year when she wrote two editorials on the topic. 

A ‘Politicized Issue’

“To score well, candidates must subscribe to a particular political ideology, one based on treating people not as unique individuals but as representatives of their gender and ethnic identities,” she wrote in a Dec. 19, 2019, editorial for the Wall Street Journal.

She suggested in an earlier editorial published in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society that DEI statements violate the university’s Standing Orders of the Regents, which state that “No political test shall ever be considered in the appointment and promotion of any faculty member or employee.”

“The idea of using a political test as a screen for job applicants should send a shiver down our collective spine,” she wrote. “Mathematics must be open and welcoming to everyone, to those who have traditionally been excluded, and to those holding unpopular viewpoints. Imposing a political litmus test is not the way to achieve excellence in mathematics or in the university.”

The appearance of her essay “provoked an intense controversy—confirming that this has become a dangerously politicized issue,” she wrote in the Wall Street Journal. Social media posts used words like “disgusting” to describe her views. Her most ardent critics insisted she should be publicly shamed.

The American Mathematical Society (AMS) was condemned for publishing the editorial. In one of many letters to the editor in response to Thompson’s piece, a professor who was “appalled and greatly disappointed” by the essay accused AMS of damaging its credibility and supporting “fear-mongering.”

Other letters to the editor, including one by the former AMS President George E. Andrews, expressed agreement with her. Erica Flapan, the editor in chief of the AMS journal, declined to comment for this article, but directed The Epoch Times to a statement she posted acknowledging the controversy.

“We encourage diverse viewpoints,” the statement said. “As always we require civility and accuracy in the content that we publish.”

Herbert Lee, vice provost for Academic Affairs and Campus Diversity at UC–Santa Cruz, told The Epoch Times he disagreed with Thompson’s characterization of the DEI statements. She had compared it to the loyalty oath of the 1950s, in which university applicants had to state whether or not they supported the Communist Party.

“There are many very different ways to write a strong ‘contributions to’ diversity, equity, and inclusion statement, there isn’t just one right answer,” he said.

“Because of the well-documented structures that have historically discriminated against certain under-represented groups, it is important that all university community members become more aware of these structural issues and work to change behaviors and practices that have unfairly disadvantaged certain groups.”

“Faculty who are best able to teach to their whole class are those who understand the systemic barriers faced by under-represented groups.”

Abhishek Saha, a number theorist at Queen Mary University of London, said he would refuse to apply for a position in a mathematics department that required DEI statements because he views them as compelled political speech.

“Someone—say a classical liberal—who believes in promoting individuals regardless of background would score lowly on the rubric,” he said via email.

“These mandatory diversity statements reduce viewpoint diversity by pushing out applicants with certain viewpoints, and ultimately lead to ideological conformity at universities. This is bad for mathematicians, bad for mathematics, and bad for society.”