Joy Casino Ап Икс Are DEI Mandates for University Faculties a Bad Idea? - Open to Debate
November 3, 2023
November 3, 2023

In recent years, America’s colleges and universities have begun to adopt Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or DEI, as a core value. As part of this push, colleges include criteria of DEI expectations in tenure standards, and getting hired or promoted requires personal, detailed statements. Are these statements, created with good intentions, devaluing merit-based evaluation and replacing viewpoint diversity with a “loyalty oath”? Those who agree say the evaluation rubrics demerit professors who may not embrace a specific agenda, which can harm freedom of speech and academic freedom. Those who disagree argue it’s fair for faculty to be asked about DEI when those values are embedded in a school’s mission. They insist that these statements are not intended to push an ideological viewpoint, but to focus on and reward actions. 

With this background, we debate the question: Are DEI Mandates for University Faculties a Bad Idea?

  • 00:00:02

    John Donvan

    This is Open to Debate. I’m John Donvan, and here’s a flashback relevant to the topic we’re taking on today. About 75 years ago, American universities went through what was considered a very bad patch in terms of academic freedom. It was the early days of the Cold War. There was a hunt on for communists in the United States to expose them and oust them from positions of influence. And in the arena of higher education, this led to requiring faculty and aspiring faculty to sign what were called loyalty oaths. These were documents in which they would forswear any association with the Communist Party, passed or future, and also pledge allegiance to the Constitution and the United States. Take the oath or lose your job. That was the deal.

  • 00:00:43

    Well, today we are hearing accusations that loyalty oaths are making a comeback, but communism is not part of this conversation. Instead, it is DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion, a trio of goals that are framed as a way to create more supportive campus environments for those who come from groups seen as previously marginalized by American academia. To move toward this goal, hiring practices at a growing number of colleges and universities is set to be about 20% of schools right now are requiring job applicants to complete what is called ADEI statement, where they are asked to detail the ways in which in the past and in the future, they plan to exercise DEI values in educating students and teaching and mentoring them.

  • 00:01:26

    It is the mandate part that is causing the most controversy, the fact that this is required, but it’s also the fact that some regard, DEI as fulfilling a political agenda, which circles back to the idea that DEI mandates corrode academic freedom. But is that really a fair picture of how these mandates work? Are they, in fact, functionally political litmus tests with effects not unlike those of the old loyalty oaths? Or is there harm actual and potential being distorted and overstated? And can one support the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but be opposed to mandating that commitment in good faith? All this is what we’re taking on when we go Open to Debate on this question, are DEI mandates for university faculties a bad idea? Let’s get into it and meet our debaters.

  • 00:02:12

    Answering yes to that question, we have Randall Kennedy. Randall teaches at Harvard Law School. He’s one of the foremost legal thinkers on the intersection of race and the law. He’s written several books, his most recent, a series of essays titled Say It Loud. He’s also a previous debater with us, so I’m happy to say Welcome back, Randall Kennedy. It’s great to have you.

  • 00:00:02

    Randall L. Kennedy

    Thank you very much.

  • 00:02:31

    John Donvan

    And answering no to the same question, are DEI mandates for university faculties a bad idea? We have Brian Soucek, who is a law professor at the University of California Davis, where his focus is gender constitutional and anti-discrimination law. He has researched and written about the legal questions that surround diversity, equity, and inclusion statement mandates, and he also helped to shape the UC system’s guidelines for these statements. Brian, it’s such a great pleasure to have you on Open to Debate.

  • 00:02:31

    Brian Soucek

    I’m honored to be here with you and Randall.

  • 00:02:31

    John Donvan

    So, um, before we get started, I would just wanted to get a sense from each of you about why this topic even matters to you. For example, why would you take part in a debate on this issue? And Brian, uh, why don’t you go first and I, I, I note that both of you come out of academia, so this is, to some degree, close to home for each of you.

  • 00:02:31

    Brian Soucek

    Sure. I actually came to this as a defender of academic freedom. Uh, five years or so ago, I was chairing the Faculty Academic Freedom Committee at UC Davis, where I teach, and then ended up chairing the system-wide committee for all 10 of the University of California’s campuses at a time when UC was expanding its use of DEI statements and criticism of our use of them was really blowing up. So I felt like it was my job to try to understand to what extent the critics were getting it right, uh, especially from a legal perspective. I ended up researching it. I ended up submitting dozens of public records act requests, getting hundreds of pages of records from my own university about our DEI programs, and eventually, I started to decide that the critic’s worries were absolutely real, but that they were avoidable. So that’s where I come to this from. I’m a defender of-

  • 00:04:09

    John Donvan

    All right.

  • 00:04:09

    Brian Soucek

    … diversity statements, but only as long as they’re done the right way.

  • 00:04:13

    John Donvan

    All right, that gives us great context to know where you’re coming from. And, and Randall Kennedy, same question to you. Um, again, as I mentioned before, it’s your second time debating with us, but it’s been a while. We’re glad to have you back in on this topic. But why this topic? Why did it pique your interest?

  • 00:04:13

    Randall L. Kennedy

    This topic, uh, is very important to me because I’m an academic. I’ve spent the last 39 years in an institution of higher education, and this, uh, this device that we’re talking about is, uh, quite crucial insofar as people, uh, as it’s a device that affects, uh, who’s hired and who’s promoted. Um, I’m also a student of race relations. I’m also a student of controversies involving freedom of expression. So this topic really hits me in a lot of different ways, and I’m very glad to be here. Thank you.

  • 00:04:13

    John Donvan

    We can see how it matters to both of you, so thank you for that. And let’s get onto our opening statements. We want to give each of you a few minutes to explain your answer to the question, yes or no. And Randall, once again, the question is, are DEI mandates for university faculties a bad idea? You’re saying yes, please tell us why.

  • 00:05:19

    Randall L. Kennedy

    Yes, they are a bad idea. They are a very bad idea. Remember, these are mandated statements, uh, that are put to people who are seeking to enter, um, uh, institutions of higher education as professors, or they are seeking promotion based on their work. What DEI statements are, they are pledges of allegiance. What’s happening is that, uh, institutions are asking people to pledge allegiance to the DEI, uh, agenda. Um, they are basically saying to people, “Listen, check a box. Tell us what we want to hear. And if you do that, you have a chance of getting hired or you have a chance of getting promoted.” Uh, it seems to me that, uh, this device, uh, this procedure is going to have all sorts of bad consequences in higher education. For people who really don’t care a whole lot, it’s going to lead to bad faith, it’s gonna lead to cynicism, it’s gonna lead to people just saying what they think people want to hear.

  • 00:06:29

    Uh, for people who are more, who are earnest and might say, “Well, fr- you know, frankly, I have some problems with the DEI project, it’s gonna lead to the exclusion of such people. It’s going to lead to resentment, um, and it’s gonna lead to something else. It’s gonna lead to imitation.” After all, we are talking about, uh, mandates requiring people to, you know, say, “Well, what do you think of, uh, DEI, and how will you use it? How will you advance it in your scholarship?” Let’s imagine a somewhat different, uh, slogan. Let’s imagine the slogan, uh, uh, making America great again. So let’s imagine that we have institutions of higher education that ask people, “Well, uh, how do you plan to make America great again? How do you plan to, uh, uh, uh, use this slogan, uh, in the advancement of your research or in the advancement of your teaching?” I think that people would react very much against that, at least I hope they would. I hope that they would see the coercive power of making people bow to that sort of, um, uh, uh, uh, request. And I hope that people will see the coercive power of these, uh, mandatory, uh, DEI statements.

  • 00:07:57

    John Donvan

    Thanks very much, Randall Kennedy. And now, uh, we have a response in the form of the question being answered no, by Brian Soucek. Brian, it’s your turn, why are you a no on this question?

  • 00:08:08

    Brian Soucek

    Well, if the question is, are diversity statements a bad idea? I’d say they’re a bad idea if they’re done badly. They can be really valuable if they’re done well. Most of my work has been devoted to figuring out that difference, uh, and that’s what I hope we’ll be able to talk about here. It’s important first, though, I think, to step back and ask why did schools like mine start asking about faculty contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the first place? There have been some recent articles in the press that make it sound as if we’ve done this just as a way to hire more Black and Hispanic professors in a state like mine that bans affirmative action. And I think that’s actually wrong, or at least, uh, woefully and complete. At UC, the story actually goes back more than two decades.

  • 00:08:54

    There’ve always been faculty at UC and everywhere else who do extra work to try to ensure that a diverse set of students are flourishing under their teaching and mentorship, or to ensure that the interests of a population as diverse as California are being served by the research that we’re putting out. And so, back in 2002, the president of our university and the faculty Senate started talking about how we could encourage and reward faculty members who were doing that kind of work. Our regents, along with the faculty, had declared that diversity was quote, “Integral” to the university’s achievement of excellence. And if that’s part of how we define excellence, if that’s part of what it means to do your job well, to, uh, you know, have academic merit, then it seems like we should be crediting DEI contributions when they’re occurring, whether that’s in tenure or promotion decisions, uh, or in hiring.

  • 00:09:52

    And then, if something’s gonna be credited, we shouldn’t hide the ball about it. We should just make it clear and give faculty and faculty candidates the opportunity to say what it is that they’ve done in this area. So that’s why I think that, uh, these are at least potentially a very good thing. The question then is, how we realize that, uh, potential? We’ve been using diversity statements at UC since 2009, when UC, San Diego used them for the first time. And I think we’ve learned a lot about them in that time. Uh, one of the things I hope we’ve come to see is that diversity statements can be a lot like the other statements, that we already force faculty to submit, just like research or teaching statements, they can be done in more, less useful ways. So when I was chairing our academic freedom committee, we added two requirements that I think are crucial. First, ask only what people have done and plan to do regarding DEI, not about what they believe.

  • 00:10:49

    And this is just like teaching statements. No one asks me if my… If I think teaching is the best thing in the world, or if it’s my favorite part of the job. I might actually think that we teach way too much and that it gets in the way of my research. And I might write Op-eds on that. That’s all fine. But in my teaching statement, the thing I’m compelled to submit, I’m asked to talk about what I’ve done as a teacher to help my students learn. And I’m asked what I’m planning to do to make my classes better going forward. So that’s the first thing. Actions not beliefs. The second is, I think we should be deciding bottom up, not top down what a good diversity statement looks like within a given field. That’s how peer review generally works when we’re hiring or tenuring. No one thinks good teaching or research is gonna look the same in biology as it does in theater or in law. So the point is, let experts within a field think about what their field’s DEI needs or gaps are. Let them evaluate then whatever steps faculty or faculty candidates have taken to address those needs. There’s just not one right answer when it comes to how a diversity statement should be answered.

  • 00:11:57

    John Donvan

    All right, thanks very much, Brian. And actually, thanks to both of you. We have now heard your opening statements and how the outlines of your argument, and we’re gonna take a break and when we return, we will dive into where the disagreement exists and potentially find out where you might overlap. But we’re gonna start where the argument is. I’m John Donvan, this is Open to Debate. We’ll be right back.

  • 00:12:16

    Welcome back to Open to Debate, I’m John Donvan. We are debating the question, are DEI mandates for university faculties a bad idea? We have heard opening statements from Randall Kennedy and Brian Soucek. And just to get a little bit of a look back at the arguments that they have made, Randall in saying they, yes, there were bad idea, he feels dangerously they are pledges of allegiance to support an agenda, and that they are tied to promotion. He feels that this has consequences. The consequences include either cynicism or resentment. In the long run, he says that there’s a coercive power to these things, and it’s the, it’s that coercive nature which he finds most corrosive and concerning.

  • 00:13:10

    Brian Soucek arguing, no, uh, they’re not a bad idea. He says they can be done badly, but they can also be done well. He makes it clear that there’s no one-size-fits all for any of these things, that that might have been a mistake that sometimes has been made. But he says that just as there are other kinds of statements required of job applicants, why not this kind of statement as well, when it is relevant to the work that is being done? Randall, I want, I want to ask you to take on Brian’s point that we’re already in a world where, as he said, applicants for jobs have to make certain kinds of statements, they are required and that this should not be considered as really very different in that way.

  • 00:13:49

    Randall L. Kennedy

    Two things. Number one, do note that in, uh, Brian’s remarks, he talked about people being rewarded for doing DEI work, but of course, what we are debating is mandated DEI statements. That’s 0.1. 0.2, on the issue of, um, what’s wrong with this, as opposed to other sorts of statements, other sorts of statements go directly to the expertise of the, uh, person that is being considered. They’re asked about what they do. Here, they’re not being asked about what they do. Here, they’re asked whether they basically sign on to a view. And third of all, what happens to the person who says, by the way, “Actually, I don’t agree with, uh, the whole DEI project”? Is there any room for such a person? It seems to me that in academia, there should be room for people who say, “Actually, I fundamentally disagree with the way in which, uh, this institution or other institutions of higher education are managing people.” Again, the university should be open, it should facilitate candor, it should facilitate diversity. All of those values are threatened by mandated DEI statements.

  • 00:15:16

    John Donvan

    So Brian, essentially, what I think I hear Randall saying that, that pins together everything he said is he does not feel that a commitment to a, a, DEI program or initiative is central to the job of an educator, certainly, not in places like chemistry and physics, and therefore, it’s not the same as everything else. Can you take that on?

  • 00:15:38

    Brian Soucek

    There absolutely needs to be space for somebody to say without hypocrisy that they disagree with the use of DEI statements or maybe even that they disagree with the entire DEI emphasis within the university entirely.

  • 00:15:38

    John Donvan

    Would that be an, uh, a very big strike against the individual?

  • 00:15:55

    Brian Soucek

    It shouldn’t be. And if a school is treating it that, then I’m going to join hands with Randall and if not, march on them, write a very strongly worded letter about it, because that is not how academic freedom works. I think it’s question begging to say that this, the DEI contributions don’t go to the expertise, or the academic merit of somebody being considered either for hiring or for tenure or promotion. I think that for me, especially at a public school like mine, to ensure that a diverse set of students are flourishing under my watch, under my teaching and mentorship. I think that is core to what it means to succeed as a teacher at the University of California. I think if my research is reaching some part of our diverse population that perhaps hasn’t had its needs and interests met in UC’s past research, then that’s a contribution. That’s a form of academic merit. That’s a way that I’m serving the university’s mission. So I just don’t see this as extraneous in a way that say, a pledge to make America great again, uh, would be.

  • 00:17:00

    John Donvan

    So Randall, do you see DEI, and I know that that’s a broadly squishy defined term, but maybe you can work with this question, do you see it as, as essentially representing an ideological agenda?

  • 00:17:12

    Randall L. Kennedy

    Yes. And by the way, it is very squishy. It is very amorphous. Of course, that’s part of the, that’s part of the problem. I am all in favor of institutions taking action against any sort of wrongful discriminatory conduct. But that’s a very different thing than monitoring beliefs by demanding pledges of allegiance to an array of policies that are often vague, frequently ambiguous, and invariably controversial.

  • 00:17:44

    John Donvan

    But Brian is arguing that it’s not an… It’s… They’re not seeking to know the belief. They’re seeking to know the action, past and future, and that he says that’s an important distinction.

  • 00:17:52

    Randall L. Kennedy

    Well, that’s a distinction on paper. I’m saying let’s, let’s take a look at the reality of how these things work on the ground. And I, I take solace, by the way, from, uh, Brian’s concession, he said, if what I’m saying is true, then he would join me. Well, I feel very certain that what I’m saying is true as a, as a matter of reality on our campuses. We have… We, we know what’s gonna happen if somebody submits a, a, uh, a statement in which they say, or even if, even if they even hint that they have skepticism towards certain aspects of the DEI regime, we know what’s gonna happen to them.

  • 00:18:38

    Brian Soucek

    Uh, you know, on the one hand, it seems as if there’s some orthodoxy that everybody is supposed to pledge allegiance to. On the other hand, it’s being said to be so vague and squishy that nobody knows what it is. I think the squishiness is, in a way, a, a virtue. I mean, I think that is another way in which DEI statements are analogous to the rest of the things that we judge people on. I don’t know why Harvard Law School didn’t hire me when I was on the job market. There was discretion on the part of the hirers, and we’re used to that. And the way that we… The reason for that is because we don’t want the university top down to be dictating who Harvard Law School should hire. We want the discipline area experts at that school in that field to be deciding what would be the biggest contribution. That’s what academic freedom means, that you’re judged by your academic peers, not by administrators or, you know, some outside concern.

  • 00:19:34

    Randall L. Kennedy

    Brian is telling us… Brian’s story is that these DEI mandated statements are informational. I am rejecting that. I don’t think that that’s actually the case. I don’t think that they are merely informational. I think that they are signals, they are signals telling applicants that they better say certain things or shut up about their beliefs. Now, uh, the, the claim that these things are informational, it seems to me is unrealistic. As for the que- as for the issue of academic freedom, I agree with you entirely, Brian, that it should be people on the ground, peers, academic peers who make these determinations. But where do DEI statements come from? They don’t come from peers. They come from the top. They come from administrators who have imposed this on faculty and by extension on students.

  • 00:20:39

    Brian Soucek

    Well, two very quick things. One, as a descriptive matter, that may be true in any number of places. It’s not true as I just described at the University of California. But more importantly, secondly, we can make it not be true.

  • 00:20:39

    John Donvan

    Brian, I, I, I, I have before me, thanks to our research team, a, a rubric that, um, is dated 2018 UC, Berkeley.

  • 00:20:39

    Brian Soucek

    Uh, the Berkeley rubric. Uh.

  • 00:21:02

    John Donvan

    Is this out of date? Is this… Has this… Is this in practice, or before I go to it?

  • 00:21:06

    Brian Soucek

    Would that it were not? Uh, that thing-

  • 00:21:08

    John Donvan

    All right. So I wanna-

  • 00:21:08

    Brian Soucek

    … has a life of it own.

  • 00:21:11

    John Donvan

    … I wanna talk about it, ’cause I, I, I think it goes to some of the issues we’re talking about. And so what this is, is a score sheet. Uh, it’s a guide to how to score an applicant for a job in the area of DEI. There’s the, the category of how much does this person know about DEI, and they get one to two points if they have expressed, I’m quoting that a little express knowledge of or experience with dimensions of diversity that results from different identities. And then the top score in this category of knowledge of DEI, you get four to five points, clear knowledge about, you know, a person who has a far more sophisticated grasp of what, uh, the DEI mission is. There are three or four categories that have this, this point system from one to five. A one is weak on DEI, and five is very strong on DEI. What is, what is going on here (laughs), and why, why did you groan right away when you heard it?

  • 00:22:06

    Brian Soucek

    As you said, that was a 2018 rubric that came top down at Berkeley. It’s not what you find when you go even to the top at Berkeley and look at their DEI, uh, office and their official recommendations about, about diversity statements. It has, for whatever reason, had a life of its own where you see it cropping up at other schools as a model. And I wish that weren’t the case because that’s not how I think these should be done. And I think it’s important and actually salutary that that’s not how our system now recommends doing it. When I’m saying to Randall, even if he were right to some extent about the descriptive story, that’s not static. There’s no reason why we can’t, uh, do things better. You know, if you don’t want pledges of allegiance, don’t ask people to pledge allegiance. Ask them about their actual experiences, ask them how they’re changing their syllabus to make it more inclusive. Ask those kinds of things.

  • 00:23:01

    John Donvan

    So, so Randall, again, Brian is saying there’s all kinds of room for nuance here that these things can be fine-tuned to be far less, far less offensive to academic freedom than you’re saying. And I just wanna ask you to take on that point that he says there’s, there’s a way to, to massage these things so that they’re not as, uh, uh, egregious in the sense that you find it egregious and may actually do some good.

  • 00:23:24

    Randall L. Kennedy

    I can imagine that you could have this device and it would be less offensive to academic freedom. That’s not good enough for me. I don’t want to have any device that’s gonna encroach upon academic freedom at all. Uh, we were just talking about a great university, Berkeley, and he conceded that that was a terrible DEI statement. This has gone to other places. He’s conceded that this is at least a potential threat. What I’m saying is, let’s get rid of potential threats to academic freedom to candor, uh, to freethinking and free learning in America’s universities.

  • 00:24:06

    Brian Soucek

    The problem is that the argument you’re making, Randall, just proves way too much because every element of the application can be used in bad ways. I don’t understand why so many of the critics of diversity statements aren’t out there criticizing all parts of… Why aren’t they out there, you know-

  • 00:24:23

    John Donvan

    So-

  • 00:24:23

    Brian Soucek

    … talking about teaching statements, for example.

  • 00:24:24

    John Donvan

    … Brian, let, let, let me point back though to the question that Randall just put before you is, what is the evidence that these statements are doing good?

  • 00:24:31

    Brian Soucek

    That’s an important question. Uh, I’ve read a lot. I was chair of our appointments committee last year, read hundreds of them. It’s actually inspiring to see what people put in their diversity statements. When they talk about ways that they have identified shortcomings in their teaching, for example, when they realize that the readings that they’re assigning basically out of, not out of ill will, but just out of inertia, that they haven’t diversified the set of examples they’re using, the type of cases they’re assigning because they have this nudge. They know that they’re going to be asked about it. Does it force them to do any particular intervention? No. Does it push them to be thoughtful about whether they’re reaching a diverse set of students and whether they’re taking DI- DEI values into account when they think about how they wanna teach their class? Yeah, I really think it does that.

  • 00:25:22

    Randall L. Kennedy

    I think of myself as a person being in favor of racial justice militantly in favor of racial justice. I would absolutely, if I applied to some place now, and they asked me the sorts of things that are, that people are being asked at the entry level and for purposes of promotion, I would on principle reject answering. I think that this is a major violation. It is coercion in soft gloves. That’s what we are facing here.

  • 00:26:01

    John Donvan

    So Brian, take, take on the, the mandate piece of this. Why should it be mandatory?

  • 00:26:07

    Brian Soucek

    I don’t think the mandatory nature of it actually plays much a role at all, so-

  • 00:26:12

    John Donvan

    But that, but that’s, but that’s the main, that’s the main, uh, point of, uh, of offense that’s taken by the other side.

  • 00:26:12

    Brian Soucek

    Well, perhaps. I… But hear me out-

  • 00:26:20

    John Donvan

    But it’s not perhaps. I, I have to push you on that. That’s, that’s why there’s a debate here, I think, is primarily because of the requirement and it’s, it’s the heart of Randall’s argument.

  • 00:26:28

    Brian Soucek

    So tell me what the difference is between saying, in your mandatory statement, saying zero contributions during this, during the review period, as some might say, if they didn’t publish anything during that par- during that period, versus having an optional statement that they just don’t file, that they decide not to submit. It seems to me that if what the school is doing is looking for such contributions that, as I said at the opening, we shouldn’t hide the ball about that.

  • 00:26:56

    Randall L. Kennedy

    There’s a reason for it being mandatory. It’s part of the signaling process. It’s mandatory because what the institutions are saying is, um, either play ball with us with respect to this, or don’t expect to get hired or don’t expect to be promoted. The, the mandatory aspect of this is absolutely essential. And again, I repeat, the DEI required statement, they… Nominally, it’s informational. That’s not what is really going on. Realistically, it is about, uh, a, a, a test, a pledge of allegiance, and we’re testing you to make sure that you’ll play ball with us.

  • 00:27:46

    Brian Soucek

    If the problem is that universities are signaling that they care about diversity, equity, and inclusion, I mean, that ship has sailed. The University of California made that part of our core mission explicitly in 2006. So if that is something that the university sees as quote, “intrinsic” to its excellence, then of course, we’re signaling that we want things that contribute to how we define excellence.

  • 00:28:12

    Randall L. Kennedy

    Uh-huh. You have just now pointed out how deep a problem this is because what you’ve just said is, “Well, you know, the university administrators has said that this is very important to us.”

  • 00:28:24

    Brian Soucek

    It was written by the faculty. Randall, that came through shared governance, five years of shared governance with the faculty.

  • 00:28:28

    Randall L. Kennedy

    I’m willing to stipulate that that’s so. If that is so, then the faculty is complicit in a regime that is, um, endemical to the values that institutions of higher education should support.

  • 00:28:46

    John Donvan

    I wanna bring in one other topic, and that refers to the situation in California, which, um, especially, you know, well Brian, where under Proposition 209, um, preferential treatment in hiring in college admissions that is based on race and gender and sex has been barred for quite some time now. And we are hearing some people argue that DEI statements are, are a way to sidestep that, that prohibition on us- using, uh, race, gender, sex, uh, to make any sort of decision about an applicant’s qualifications for a position.

  • 00:29:16

    Brian Soucek

    Is this a way around Prop 209? Well, no. The Supreme Court has told us that we can’t make explicit use of people’s race unless we first tried out other non-racial alternatives, race neutral alternatives. A student can talk about their race when they’re applying. They just have to do so in a way that shows how their racial background has made them… Given them some kind of trait or experience or background that will allow them to contribute in a unique way at Harvard. And again, done the right way, that’s what we should be asking people in their diversity statements.

  • 00:29:55

    Randall L. Kennedy

    Unfortunately, and this goes to your very first question, John, you know, why does this matter to me? The reputation of higher education, its esteem in the public mind matters tremendously to me. And the esteem of public education has fallen because of the perception, all too often, the realistic perception that there is a good amount of double-talk going on in universities. What we’re talking about now is a classic illustration of that. Uh, we have, you know, we have these DEI policies that are presented as a, you know, an, an innocuous way of getting information aimed at advancing the educational, uh, uh, uh, program at a university when in actuality, that’s really not what’s going on. And, you know, people are gonna, people are gonna understand this, uh, over time. I think people are already understanding it, and it’s gonna lead to the further undermining of confidence in our colleges and universities.

  • 00:31:13

    John Donvan

    Okay. We are in mid-flow in this conversation, and we’re gonna take a break and when we come back, we’re gonna bring in some additional voices to see what directions the conversation goes in with their contributions. I’m John Donvan. This is Open to Debate.

  • 00:31:32

    Welcome back to Open to Debate, I’m John Donvan. I’m joined by Randall Kennedy and Brian Soucek to debate this question, are DEI mandates for university faculties a bad idea? And what we like to do at this point in the program is bring in some journalists who have been thinking and writing about these questions and can bring us some insights in the way they put a question to each of our debaters. And joining us first is Sarah Isgur, who is a senior editor at the Dispatch and host of the podcast Advisory Opinions. Welcome Sarah, thanks for joining us on Open to Debate.

  • 00:32:00

    Sarah Isgur

    Thank you so much for having me. Uh, the E, in DEI stands for the word equity, which, uh, itself, as I understand it, is largely defined as looking at outcomes rather than an opportunity, which is something that a lot of conservatives reject. Uh, so the very concept of DEI is something that is sort of offensive to their, uh, ideological philosophy. At the same time, we’ve seen a real problem in academia, either attracting or hiring conservative viewpoints on campus. So my question to you is, are schools missing out on viewpoint diversity? And if so, how would you suggest that they fix that conservative side of viewpoint diversity that’s missing from so many campuses?

  • 00:32:46

    John Donvan

    I think there are innumerable ways that you can make contributions to DEI in ways that do not require you to classify your students based on their race or gender. I write, as I know Randall does, I, I write my own, uh, case book for two of my classes. Uh, my students are able to download that for free. That is an access issue that allows people to, uh, feel more welcome and have more access to, uh, law school education, and that’s the kind of contribution that can be included. And that makes no distinction whatsoever based on anybody’s race. If it so happens that there are no women in your field, or there are very few people of a particular race, uh, doing well at your school, I think you need to be asking yourself about that. And I don’t think that, uh, requiring people to do so is a way of driving out people on the basis of ideology. I think that’s just getting people to do their jobs.

  • 00:33:45

    Randall L. Kennedy

    On the, on the question of that’s just requiring people to do their jobs. Of course, we can, uh, make jobs, follow any particular agenda. We can define things in such a way as to make our job, make the job description, um, in alignment with compelled mandated DEI statements. I guess my position is, I don’t think that this should be part of the job description. I think that actually, we have a notion of what academics do, and that our notion of what academics do ought not to include pledging allegiance, uh, to some sort of agenda, even an agenda that I like. And by the way, I should mention, I mean, I’m a person on the left. Let’s not, let’s not think that, you know, everybody who is against DEI statements are conservatives. I am not a conservative. I am a person on the left.

    (34:57):

    And as a person on the left, as a person who embraces much of what animates the DEI project, I really, um, am quite against this mandated requirement. Why? Because it poses a risk to freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of learning on our campuses. Those freedoms should be at the very top of what universities ought to be protecting.

  • 00:35:34

    Sarah Isgur

    Does your stance against DEI statements extend to DEI programming at these universities?

  • 00:35:34

    Randall L. Kennedy

    I think that the DEI regime has a big problem, and that big problem is the problem of coercion. The forces behind DEI in American society, in, in much of American society, they are on the margins. But in some parts of American society, they are very powerful, including in its certain institutions of higher education and where they have power, they do what people often do, who have power, they overreach. And this, the DEI’s mandated statements are an aspect of that overreach.

  • 00:36:20

    John Donvan

    Thanks very much for your question, uh, Sarah. And I now wanna bring in Emily Yoffe, who is a journalist and senior editor at the Free Press. Emily, welcome to Open to Debate and come on in with your question, please.

  • 00:36:30

    Emily Yoffe

    Hi. Thank you, John. Here are some statements from a DEI initiative at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. There is no priority in medical education that is more important than addressing and eliminating racism and bias. And someone’s lived experience of racism and bias is all we need to know about its impact on them, whether intended or not. Finally, leaders from the Association of American Medical Colleges recently proclaimed that DEI quote, “Deserves just as much attention from learners and educators at every stage of their careers as the latest scientific breakthroughs.” My question is, when DEI is declared central to a university’s mission on par, or more important than the expansion and dissemination of knowledge, does a culture of mistrust and ill will and of reporting violation to the DEI authorities arise? Doesn’t this undermine the very purpose of the university?

  • 00:37:35

    John Donvan

    Okay. I, I wanna point out, I… And I’m gonna allow the question, but I want to point out that you did not address a mandate there, unless you’re telling me that putting a signature under that statement is ma- mandated. Nevertheless, Brian, if you’d like to, to respond to the question, because this is certainly very much, uh, the second stage of the conversation that’s going on about all of this topic.

  • 00:37:35

    Brian Soucek

    So there seems to be a difference of opinion here about what DEI means in this kind of context. Sometimes from listening both to that question and to this debate in general, I’m picturing those signs you see outside the houses of certain liberal neighborhoods where they say, you know, we believe Black lives matter and no human is illegal, and women’s rights are humans rights. And that what we’re trying to do with DEI statements is get people to check all of those lines and say, “Yep, I believe in those things too.” I don’t see that being what we’re after or at least what we should be after. So, Emily, when you ask about putting DEI on par with the concern about finding knowledge and disseminating knowledge, I wanna know finding what knowledge? Knowledge about what? Disseminating it to whom? Who are we teaching? Uh, who are we allowing to be part of this research project? For a long time, it was a pretty limited audience and a pretty limited set of people doing the research. And so, if Mount Sinai is saying, “Let’s expand that, then I don’t see that as problematic at all.”

  • 00:39:02

    John Donvan

    Thank you Emily Yoffe for, for joining us on Open To Debate. And next I’d like to bring in Ryan Quinn. Ryan is a reporter at Inside Higher Ed who focuses on faculty issues. Ryan, the floor is yours. Thanks for joining us.

  • 00:39:13

    Ryan Quinn

    This may be a question for Professor Soucek, but how do you defend requiring prospective or current faculty members to sign or write specifically DEI statements as part of hiring or promotion evaluations when there are so many other types of possibly valuable statements that one could argue faculty members should also be required to make? For instance, why not require faculty me- members to sign or write statements pledging to support student mental health issues in certain ways, such as flexible grading and due dates? Why not require faculty members to sign or write statements pledging to respect students’ religious beliefs in certain ways, such as not discussing atheism in a philosophy classroom? Why not require faculty members to sign or write statements saying certain things about the Israel-Palestine conflict? Or do you support requiring statements for all of these and more?

  • 00:40:07

    Brian Soucek

    The first of those about mental health and possibly the second of those about religious belief would absolutely be good things to write about, uh, possible candidates to, for discussion within ADEI statement. So I see that as encompassed. I guess I fall off when you talk about, uh, a statement saying, “You won’t discuss atheism within a philosophy class.” Uh, I don’t see that as a contribution to diversity, equity, and inclusion at all. But, of course, I would leave it to the disciplinary experts within that field to decide whether that’s true. Uh, the, the last of the example, a pledge not to talk about the Israeli-Palestine conflict, uh, seems simply like a, a violation of academic freedom.

  • 00:40:07

    John Donvan

    Okay, Ryan, thank you very much for your question. I want to ask one last question to each of you that is based on, on some of your writing, Brian, that I found very interesting. So earlier in the program, you said it, it wouldn’t make sense, uh, it wouldn’t make educational academic sense to require a, um, a, a pledge to make America great again, a slogan such as that. But in some of your writing, you suggested that actually, a pledge to support capitalism would make sense in the context of a business school. And I found that very interesting because that comes very close to your argument about the, the subject matter, and the pledge of principles being very, very intertwined. And I just wanted to ask you to build a little bit on that case and then to ask, uh, Professor Kennedy his response to it.

    0041:46

    Brian Soucek

    Sure, thanks, John. It’s not within the context of a business school, it’s in the context of hiring somebody to run the entrepreneurship program at the business school.

  • 00:41:55

    John Donvan

    I’m sorry. Thanks for the specification.

  • 00:41:57

    Brian Soucek

    No, not at all. So in the same way that when Maya Randall’s Law School hires the director of our asylum clinic, I think, uh, views on asylum become fair game in a way that they’re absolutely not in our general hiring within the law school, much less within the chemistry department or anywhere else in the university. So that’s, that’s to say that what counts as viewpoint discriminatory under the First Amendment really comes down to job or position relevance, that we judge people’s opinions all the time when we hire. That’s what peer review is, but it has to be on the basis of things that are relevant to the job. And that’s where I see Randall and I disagreeing just about what kinds of contributions really are relevant to certain jobs.

  • 00:42:44

    Randall L. Kennedy

    So we’re gonna ask that, uh, people who are gonna be professors, let’s say, at a business school, sign a pledge that, uh, you are in favor of, uh, capitalism at is cur- as it is currently practiced in the United States. Let’s imagine that we’re, uh, hiring somebody for a position in law school. Maybe you’re gonna teach contracts, maybe you’re gonna teach torts, but oh, but we wanna know about where you stand with respect to immigration. We could go on and on and on with all sorts of questions. Where are you, where, where do you stand with respect to abortion? I know that, um, uh, this position is a position for, uh, a physics instructor, but we wanna know where you stand with respect to abortion.

  • 00:43:28

    You can see how this would play out. And again, think about how are you going to make America great again? And by the way, this is, this is not some sort of hypothetical coming from an, an overheated imagination. This is already happening. It’s already the case that in some jurisdictions that are conservative, there are already lawmakers in place who were saying, “No, we shouldn’t require people to, um, uh, sign on to DEI.” No, we should require people to sign on to and then fill in the blank of what they want. This whole idea of making scholars pledge allegiance is a bad idea, and it is going to haunt us. We need to get rid of it.

  • 00:42:44

    Brian Soucek

    I, of course, agree and thought I had just said that somebody shouldn’t be asked about immigration when they’re being hired generally within the law school, much less the chemistry department. Instead, it’s not that we should ask somebody to pledge fealty to something, but we should certainly be able to ask, what have you done, uh, in the realm of asylum in helping asylum seekers, if we’re hiring a director of our asylum clinic. That’s the point that I was making in the part of the article that you were, uh, asking me about, John.

  • 00:44:55

    John Donvan

    Okay. So I would, uh, like to thank you both for the conversation to this point, and point out that we are now moving on to our closing round. And the closing round is comprised of closing statements from each of you in turn. Uh, Randall, you answered yes again to the question, are DEI mandates for university faculty a bad idea? You said you’ve been arguing yes. And this is your last chance to make the point. So one more time, why are you a yes?

  • 00:45:18

    Randall L. Kennedy

    I’m a yes because of, um, actually, what you’ve heard over the past few minutes. Uh, at this point, I’m willing to say, uh, [inaudible

  • 00:45:28

    ], uh, the, the thing speaks for itself. My counterpart, whom I respect, uh, has actually conceded on any number of times now that the mandated, uh, uh, diversity statements, uh, can be used wrongly, have been used wrongly. I mean, at this point, I, frankly, I say, well, you know, I, I don’t need to actually push my argument. My counterpart has made my argument for me. I think that we are dealing with something that, uh, is dangerous. Does it have to be dangerous? You know, each and every time it’s used? No. A lot of dangerous things aren’t, uh, dangerous each and every time they’re used.

  • 00:46:16

    But does it pose enough of a risk for us to say for the purposes of safety, academic, safety for academic freedom, safety for teaching, safety, for learning on our campuses, for the purpose of safety in that context, should we get rid of these forced compelled DEI statements? I say imperatively yes, we ought to get rid of these things, uh, and go on with the business that, uh, higher education, uh, ought to pursue. Thank you very much.

  • 00:45:18

    John Donvan

    Thank you, Randall. And that turns it over to you, Brian. You have the final word here again to tell us why you’re answering no to the question of whether or not DEI mandates for university faculties are a bad idea. You’re a no. One more time why?

  • 00:47:08

    Brian Soucek

    Thanks, John. And thank you, Randall. So, earlier this year I was giving a talk about DEI statements at a big public research university. And an older faculty member came up to me afterwards mostly just to tell me why I was completely wrong. Uh, he was a scientist, and he didn’t think that DEI really had anything to do with science at all. Uh, he thought like Randall does, the DEI is extraneous to merit. It’s just not part of what it means to be a good science professor. This professor was expressing frustration with the direction his university had gone during his career. And at one point he said to me, “I can’t even call on my students anymore because they’re all from Asia, and I don’t know how to pronounce their names.” Now, I was taken aback by this, but what I actually said to him in response was, “Gosh, you’ve got the makings of a just terrific DEI statement right there.”

  • 00:47:59

    Here’s what you do. You’d start by identifying a need that you’ve id- found in your department. Professors there are calling on students less because the demographics of your faculty are diverging from that of your students. As a result, professors are start feeling uncomfortable that they’re gonna get names wrong. So what did you do about it? Well, maybe you found technology that allows students to record themselves saying their names. Maybe you gave them a survey before class where they could write their names phonetically. You start learning students’ names so that you can call on them, students feel more included. A more diverse set of students are now, uh, thriving within your science department. Notice, doing this would not have required to, the professor to treat any of his students differently because of their race.

  • 00:48:45

    Moreover, to Randall’s point throughout this debate, nowhere in that statement would this professor be required to pledge allegiance to anything at all. He wouldn’t have to state a single belief about diversity. What he would’ve described was ADEI-related way that he made his teaching better. That’s the kind of thing that we’re after, or at least that’s the kind of thing I think we should be after.

  • 00:49:08

    John Donvan

    Thank you very much, Brian Soucek. And that wraps up this debate. And I want to thank our debaters, Randall and Brian for approaching this debate, uh, with mutual respect and civility and for bringing thoughtful disagreement to the table, in short, for being open to debate. I also wanna thank our journalists who helped move things along, Emily Yoffe, Ryan Quinn and Sarah Isgur. And to all of you listening and tuning in, I want to thank you for joining us. As a nonprofit, our work at Open to Debate to combat extreme polarization through civil respectful debate is generously funded by listeners like you and by the Rosenkranz Foundation and by supporters of Open to Debate.

  • 00:49:41

    Open to Debate is also made possible by a generous ground from the Laura and Gary Lauder Venture Philanthropy Fund. Robert Rosenkrantz is our chairman. Clay O’Connor is CEO. Leah Matha is our chief content officer. Alexis [inaudible

  • 00:49:52

    ] and Marlet Sandoval are our editorial producers. Gabriela Mayer is our editorial and research manager. Andrew Lipson is head of production. Max Fulton is our production coordinator. Damon Whitmore, our engineer, Gabrielle [inaudible

  • 00:50:04

    ], our social media and digital platforms coordinator. Raven Baker is events and operations manager. Rachel Kemp is our chief of staff. Our theme music is by Alex Clement. And I’m your host, John Donvan for Open to Debate. We’ll see you next time.

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