Diversity statements are finally on their way out at ASU. Good riddance

Every revolution has its excesses that must be dialed back, otherwise they poison society.

The 2020 cultural upheaval that followed the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd created a moral panic that caused universities to sometimes lose their minds and classical liberal values.

Yes, the revolt raised awareness of the unique hardships that confront African Americans, but it was coupled with some bad ideas.

This week the Arizona Board of Regents announced that Arizona’s public universities have begun dialing back one of those bad ideas — the diversity, equity and inclusion statement.

The problem with the ‘E’ in DEI

The DEI statement is a McCarthyesque loyalty oath that requires applicants for faculty positions to assert their fealty to a political philosophy built upon the identity politics of the progressive left. 

The name alone — “diversity, equity and inclusion” — sounds harmless, but is a highly disputed political construct that has aroused criticism on both the left and right. 

Critics argue that “equity” is a commitment to the equality of outcomes rather than the “equality” of opportunity that is central to the American Creed.

It is a philosophy that has led universities to impose diversity through top-down racial quotas and set-asides.

Such devices put skin tone before merit in university decision-making. While they may serve well-intentioned objectives to build greater diversity on campus, they are ultimately unsustainable in a multiethnic, multicultural society that is rapidly intermarrying and blurring the lines of race

They’ve also proven politically unsustainable even in the most liberal state in the nation — California — which overwhelmingly voted down affirmative action in government hiring and university admissions in 2020.

ASU denies it, but it required statements

DEI statements first began to appear about five years ago, the Chronicle for Higher Education reports. They really gained traction after the summer protests and riots provoked by the police murder of George Floyd. 

Leading the charge against DEI statements in Arizona, the Goldwater Institute reported how often Arizona’s public universities required DEI statements in job postings:

  • 81% at Arizona State University.
  • 28% at the University of Arizona.
  • 73% at Northern Arizona University.

ASU officials denied this week they had required DEI statements, but their own job postings contradict them, wrote Arizona Republic reporter Ray Stern:

“For instance, a current posting for a postdoctoral research scholar in ASU’s Institute of Human Origins states that ‘required’ materials to be submitted by applicants includes ‘a statement addressing how your past and/or present potential contributions to diversity and inclusion will advance ASU’s commitment to inclusive excellence.’ ”

Another view:Arizona universities are right to require DEI

In a Republic op-ed, Karrin Taylor Robson, a former Arizona Regent and GOP gubernatorial candidate, wrote with co-author Steven McGuire that “Mandating faculty applicants to profess certain political and ideological views in seeking employment may eventually be deemed unconstitutional: At a minimum, such practices violate the spirit of the First Amendment and are incompatible with academic freedom.” 

Taylor Robson has been an important voice championing free expression on campus. As a member of the Board of Regents she created the “Regents’ Cup” to promote free speech at all of Arizona’s public universities.

Michael Crow diversified ASU the right way

Universities were not the only institutions to lose their minds in the moral panic of 2022. This was a national phenomenon, not an academic one.

The mainstream media was similarly struck. So, too, the federal bureaucracy and corporate boardrooms.

ASU never needed DEI statements. Nor did ASU President Michael Crow need a cultural revolution to diversify his student body and faculty. 

Long ago, he became an exemplar of the American Creed by creating a university that would build its reputation not on the students it rejected (as the Ivys do) but on the ones it accepted and educated.

Crow swung open the doors at ASU to provide “equality” or greater opportunity to young people who came from families with little or no college background. 

By 2020, ASU could report it had some 25,000 first-generation graduates, quadrupling the number it had in 2002. 

Crow will be remembered for many things, but when you think about the compounding interest of that achievement, of all the children and grandchildren who will go on to college because the first in their family earned a diploma, this may be his greatest legacy.

And it was all set in motion long before DEI.

By dropping DEI statements, the universities have taken one step away from identity politics and toward free expression that will be essential in ending the rancor that plagues American society. 

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic. Email him at phil.boas@arizonarepublic.com.

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