The Threat Of DEI


The Threat Of DEI


Leonard Zwelling

Academic leaders in at least two institutions with which I have been associated are putting a premium on DEI—diversity, equity, and inclusion. These terms mean different things to different people, but in a well-considered editorial in The Wall Street Journal on February 11, Matthew Spalding, the vice president of Hillsdale College, uses the following language to define what the pro-DEI crowd means in 2023.

“Diversity is no longer a term to describe the breadth of our differences but a demand to flatter and grant privileges to purportedly oppressed identity groups. Equity assigns desirable positions based on race, sex and sexual orientation rather than character, competence and merit. Inclusion now means creating a social environment where identity groups are celebrated while those who disagree are maligned.”

As Spalding goes on to say, “DEI is an effort within the administrative authority…to shape the whole institution and all its activities consistent with its ideology.”

To make it simple, DEI is the latest Orwellian manifestation of institutional group think.

Academic centers, be they medical centers or broad-based universities, have created entire offices (containing many administrators) dedicated to DEI. These offices guarantee the new principles of DEI are followed in everyday business as well as in hiring. One survey found “20% of academic job postings require DEI status statements as a requirement of employment or promotion.” DEI has supplanted the loyalty oath as the means by which academic leadership regiments the faculty and staff.

One of the main attractions of the university and certainly one of the things that attracted me to MD Anderson was the constant free flow of opposing ideologies when it came to cancer diagnosis and treatment let alone research. Where the National Cancer Institute, the place from which I migrated, was staid and conservative in its need for institutional loyalty, MD Anderson was the place of constant tumult out of which emerged novel ideas and bigger than life personalities. I liked the latter better than the former. It was a lot more fun.

Now it seems that a premium has been placed on DEI in places that used to reward character and merit over yoga and preferential treatment of favored groups of people. The essence of MD Anderson’s historic greatness was its seemingly unlimited tolerance of different kinds of people from all over the world so long as those people were contributing to the mission to eradicate cancer. No more. Now how you behave is more important than how you think and how closely you adhere to the principles of DEI says more about you than your ability to recruit the best and the brightest.

And the same can be said for training programs in DEI as Mr. Spalding does.

“DEI training programs discourage the open and candid discussion necessary for intellectual growth. They exacerbate divisions between groups, creating an environment of tension, fear, and one-mindedness, and they have the pernicious effect of closing minds and shutting down thoughtful debate.”

I, for one, have had enough of DEI and I guess Governor Abbott agrees. I am not sure what this means for the various active DEI programs on the campuses of several UT institutions. Now if the Governor eradicates these offices, that’s bad too for there is surely a role for considering a diversity of opinion on any university campus. On the other hand, if the DEI programs function to stifle the opinions of those who believe that all advancement in academia should be truly merit-based, that’s a form of discrimination as well.

There must be a balance struck between the traditional all white, all male dominance of academia and the new thinking that condemns straight, white guys as soon as they show up.

The challenge will be to walk back from the precipice to which the new DEI has brought us and return to an academic environment of really free speech and free thinking.

How about we go back to assessing someone’s ability before we worry about his or her race, gender, sexual orientation, or pronouns. I liked it better when MD Anderson was pursuing prizes for science and clinical research, not prizes for diversity.

4 thoughts on “The Threat Of DEI”

  1. I was reared in a West Virginia coal and steel town where there was a true diversity of ethnic, racial and cultural groups that tended to have their own neighborhoods, places of worship, and clubs.
    But, we all came together in the public school system where everyone had the same opportunity to learn and excel. The “coin of the realm” was hard work, integrity and MERIT. We did not appear to need DEI training to have mutual respect for each other. I saw students of every background rise to the top because they had the “fire in their bellies” to improve their lot in life.. Many of them were second generation immigrants and some only three generations from slavery.
    Like some of you, I am concerned that DEI programs are a new way to create a “group think” that allows a small group of institutional leaders to control behavior and maximize their own power and income. I am concerned about the trend.

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