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Mathematicians who want tenure at UCLA have to do more than show a facility with numbers. They also have to pledge in writing a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

In fact, all professors applying for a tenure-track position at UCLA must write a statement on their commitment to diversity, showing, for example, their “record of success advising women and minority graduate students,” according to the UCLA’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Such mandated statements reflect a push by college bureaucrats “to ratchet up the requirements” to achieve more diverse campuses, said Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars. Until recently, diversity programs tended to focus on mandatory training and sanctions for policy violators.

Now “you have to make a public confession of faith,” said Wood. “You’re essentially citing a creed,” and “all the more effectively, they force you to put that creed into your own words.”

From the UC Berkeley diversity page.

The University of California system is especially active – UCLA, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, and UC Berkeley all require such statements. UC Santa Cruz requires them for candidates for faculty Senate positions.

The written pledges are used to “identify candidates who have the professional skills, experience, and/or willingness to engage activities that will advance our campus diversity and equity goals,” said Judy Piercey, senior director of strategic communications at UC San Diego.

There are big incentives to achieving tenure. Not only do tenured professors typically make tens of thousands of dollars more annually than their non-tenured colleagues (full professors can make more than twice as much as instructors and lecturers) but they cannot be fired except in the most extraordinary cases.

No one knows how many schools require such diversity statements, but the practice appears to be in vogue. Vassar College, for example, requires tenure-track job candidates to write about their contributions to social justice. Both Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania provide guides on how to write an effective diversity statement.

Some professors see this requirement as a threat to free speech, open inquiry and debate. “They’re looking for an ideological sieve to weed out people who don’t comport with the reigning moral orthodoxy,” said Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University.

“Universities could potentially be liable for First Amendment violations if they make hiring decisions based on political beliefs or associations that might be revealed by these diversity statements,“  said Lawrence Walters, a First Amendment attorney.

But requiring statements helps faculty recruiters “learn more about candidates’ pedagogical skills for creating inclusive classroom environments,” said Mark Kendall, director of news and strategic content at Pomona College, which has required tenure-track candidates to submit diversity statements since 2013-2014. “We see inclusive classrooms as helping all and in no way antithetical to diversity of thought.”

Ricardo Vazquez, a spokesman for UCLA, agreed. “Requesting that applicants submit an EDI [equity, diversity, and inclusivity] statement will not compromise academic freedom,” he said.

But diversity officers are not unanimous. Darren Kelly, deputy to the vice president in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, said such statements are not an effective tool for gauging a candidate’s commitment to diversity. Making them mandatory increases the likelihood that they will become pro forma checklist items instead of expressions of true conviction.  

Plus, “Nobody likes being told that they have to do certain things,” said Kelly.

Another diversity expert was unsure about what the requirement accomplishes. 

“Unless you’re applying for a job to be the chief equity and inclusion officer – how effective is it?” said Jean Lee, CEO of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, an organization that works to promote diversity in law. While colleges definitely don’t want professors who lead students against diversity, said Lee, the statement does not provide a clear measure of one’s commitment to these values, and for many positions it is not relevant. 

Most will probably regard the requirement as no big deal and write a statement, said Wood, of the National Association of Scholars. But in that case, “you’re sacrificing your intellectual freedom now for the sake of convenience, of not being hassled about something.”

But in a piece on writing an effective diversity statement for Inside Higher Ed,  UC Merced sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza advises professors, “Do not write a throwaway diversity statement.” In her experience, job candidates’ diversity statement are “scrutinized.” Strong statements reflected candidates’ “experiences teaching first-generation college students, their involvement with LGBTQ student groups, their experiences teaching in inner-city high schools and their awareness of how systematic inequalities affect students’ ability to excel.”

Wood said that in the long run, faculty will get the message that on the matter of diversity-statement policies, “it’s wise to remain silent”; students, meanwhile, will get the impression that “all smart people believe this.”

“This is a contentious social issue in which there are not just two, but many points of view that through four years of college you’re only going to hear one point of view on. What conclusion are you going to draw from that?”

 

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