“In practice, DEI staff operate as a political commissariat, articulating and enforcing a political orthodoxy on campus.”
Jay P. Greene, senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, and Frederick M. Hess, a senior fellow and director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, argued in National Review that “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)” needs to end on campuses:
At too many colleges and universities, DEI administrative units now pose a profound threat to free inquiry and academic integrity.
More than a few reputable observers have suggested that we’ve reached “peak woke” and that the stifling threat to free thought is no longer ascendant. But the status quo is not acceptable. Unless the DEI infrastructure is rolled back, it will continue to quietly distort higher education.
Given the relatively recent provenance of campus DEI bureaucracies, many readers may be unfamiliar with just what they do. After all, they are not academic units (like gender- or ethnic-studies departments). Nor are they legal-compliance staff charged with overseeing civil-rights laws (as with Title IX officials). In fact, because DEI staff are not charged with conducting research, teaching classes, or avoiding lawsuits, they enjoy an amorphous charge and remarkable leeway.
In practice, DEI staff operate as a political commissariat, articulating and enforcing a political orthodoxy on campus. The National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education describes itself as “a leading voice in the fight for social justice” and lays out its plan for political action by “creating a framework for diversity officers to advance anti-racism strategies, particularly anti-Black racism, at their respective institutions of higher education.” They emphasize that this effort “requires confronting systems, organizational structures, policies, practices, behaviors, and attitudes. This active process should seek to redistribute power in an effort to foster equitable outcomes.”
Universities have expanded the ranks of this DEI political commissariat at an extraordinary rate. A review of 65 universities in the Power Five athletic conferences found that the typical institution has 45 diversity-staff members on its payroll. That is more than four times as many employees as are devoted to supporting students with special needs (even though accommodations for disabilities, unlike DEI, is something institutions are legally required to provide). In fact, the typical university has roughly one DEI staffer for every 30 tenured or tenure-track professors.
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