The Diversity War
In his editorial in the March 10 issue of Science Magazine, Editor-in-Chief H. Holden Thorp notes the different directions diversity rules are going at the state vs. federal levels.
The National Science Foundation has said that “diversity initiatives seek to ‘recruit, retain and develop a diverse, high-performance workforce that draws from all segments of society and values fairness, diversity, and inclusion to promote progress in science.’” The NSF funds a great deal of research in the United States.
The NIH, which funds even more, has a quote on its website that now “includes a section on advancing racial equity.” The quote is from a former DEI official Treava S. Hopkins-Laboy: “Failure to acknowledge, recognize, and correct past cruelties will always lead to repeated uncivil behavior.”
You get the drift. The federal government is stepping into the diversity fray big-time and undoubtedly, diversity will be a criterion in the evaluation of future grant applications.
Despite this clear federal initiative, many states, including Texas, are going in the opposite direction precluding the use of diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring and trying to close DEI offices at universities.
Here’s the problem.
In Thorp’s essay he states: “a more diverse scientific community can average out individual biases leading to more robust consensus.” That’s not the reason to diversify the scientific workforce. Neither is “correct(ing) past cruelties.”
As we have written before, the product of a diverse scientific workforce, particularly as it pertains to medicine, is that patient care will improve and reach more of the population. The academic institutions should not be used as political laboratories to either right past wrongs or promote the forcing of DEI results. Rather, diversity and its use in the everyday operation of major academic centers is good for everyone because the science is better and the medical care more equitable when everyone has access to participating and benefitting from the resultant product.
What Thorp does note is that a clash is on the horizon.
Are states that eliminate DEI offices going to forego federal grant money? Will the feds shut these states’ universities out if they cannot sign statements that they adhere the federal guidelines on DEI?
These are not small points. As anyone who ever wrote a federal grant application will tell you, you must adhere to a slew of rules regarding how research is to be performed from animal care and use guidelines, to human subjects research rules, to biosafety commitments. These are not suggestions by the federal government. They are rules. Universities must have processes in place to investigate allegations of scientific misconduct and if experimental drugs are part of the research, the FDA’s rules must also be obeyed.
Will having a diversity program become a need to qualify for federal funds? If so, what happens when the state governor outlaws them?
Probably the best idea is for each university and academic center to institute a program to promote diversity BECAUSE it is good for science and medicine, not because the feds say so. The rationale here matters on the part of the federal government, the states, and the academic institutions as well.
The research results emanating from these universities will be better if the workforce is diverse. DEI programs are not the mechanism to correct past wrongs, nor feel good liberal efforts to increase the number of administrators on campus. It must be part of the fabric of the academy that having more different kinds of people in the university is good for the product of the university—knowledge.
I don’t know how this will shake out, but I do know if federal grants are not accepted in red states or if the federal government lays down guidelines that red states can’t meet, the academics in those states may well be migrating to the blue states so they can pay the bills in their labs and at home.
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