Bravo to George Mason University’s Board of Visitors

Teresa R. Manning

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by American Greatness on April 12, 2024, and is republished here with permission. 

Next month, George Mason University’s Board of Visitors, whose governor-appointed members oversee the school’s policies, will again consider a new and controversial graduation requirement—so-called “just society flags.” The proposal means professors could obtain a flag for their class if it includes diversity content in a lecture, an assignment or an exam; each student would then need to take two such “flagged” classes to graduate.

The Board delayed action on the matter in February. It should reject it outright in May.

For those unaware, destructive and trendy ideologies are everywhere in America’s so-called education system. From there, they spill out into the general public. They’re usually based on race and sex and aim to divide Americans by pitting one ethnic group against another or by pitting women against men. Entire university programs now promote such divisiveness and often have “studies” in their names—“Women’s Studies,” “Gender Studies,” or “Queer Studies.” Some simply call them all “Grievance Studies,” since resentment, not knowledge, is the main result.

The names vary. Monikers have included Critical Race Theory (or “CRT”), anti-racism, and toxic masculinity. But “Diversity,” or “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (aka “DEI”), is the most common today.

Though the names change, the goal is always the same: To divide, rather than unify, Americans by grouping them into preconceived tribes. The result, predictably, is tribalism, not patriotism or love of country, much less love of neighbor. It’s a good way to destroy a nation (or a civilization).

So GMU’s “just society flags” proposal is just one more label and iteration of this divisiveness.

Even so, GMU Provost Keith Renshaw, who presented the proposal to the Board in February, tried to rationalize it by reminding them that the DC area is international. Other Virginia schools require entire courses on “diversity,” so GMU needs to catch up! His presentation showed an Anthropology class that was given a flag because its syllabus had a “Student Learning Outcome” (or “SLO”) saying: “Define key terms [in this class] related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion and be able to engage meaningfully with peers using such terms.” Renshaw insisted all this was merely to encourage mutual understanding and equal opportunity.

But the words “equal opportunity” already mean “equal opportunity.” And the words “mutual understanding” already mean “mutual understanding.” So why say “just society”? Or “diversity”?

Because these novel phrases intend to mean something else.

Whatever the name du jour, these ideologies mean to foment discord by imposing racial categories so citizens think of themselves not as Americans but as Asian, black, or white. Proponents then manufacture problems supposedly tied to these categories, using terms such as “access,” “outcomes,” or “privilege,” even though most of the issues are cultural, not racial. In educational matters, for instance, some cultures value academic achievement while others do not, regardless of race.

For example, so-called “whites” (those of European descent) in college towns such as Iowa City, Iowa, are necessarily influenced by the university there (its programs, professors, etc.) since the university dominates the town. But the so-called “whites” (mostly Scotch-Irish) in rural Appalachia, as described in J.D. Vance’s book, Hillbilly Elegy, have no such dominant university influence. Both groups are “white,” but the two cultures are totally different.

So why the phrase “white” privilege?

Because the goal of “diversity” proponents is racial resentment, now directed mostly against so-called “whites,” even as rural and working class white Americans lose “access” to opportunities and increasingly have worrying “outcomes” on numerous fronts—such as income, education, and family formation.

If the overused and tiresome term “diversity” were truly about diversity—as in, true variety—universities would brag about professors and administrators from all walks of life, including conservative Republicans, fundamentalist Christians, and former factory workers. But these demographics are nowhere to be found among America’s professors and deans. So the term is a lie, meant to distract, actually, from the staggering political uniformity on campus, where Democrats dominate faculties by a ratio of 50 to 1.

Ironically, GMU’s proposal comes right when Americans are waking up to this. Many states are rolling back DEI resources (IowaTexas) and the University of Florida recently announced it is eliminating its DEI Office, rerouting those funds instead to faculty recruitment. GMU Visitor Cully Simmons made this very point, also noting that corporate America is doing the same. “Diversity” turns out to be a sham that displaces the pursuit of excellence with identity politics.

Other GMU visitors asked: Why make this mandatory? Shouldn’t classic works—say, Plato’s Republic—be required instead? And: Won’t students feel pressured to go along just to get a good grade? Some faculty were more pointed: Economics Professor Bryan Kaplan called the proposal “a thinly veiled attempt at left-wing thought control.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. These ideologies are, in fact, substitutes for religion. Why else integrate racialist concepts at every turn? It’s reminiscent of a religious faith that’s supposed to infuse all behaviors. So “diversity” looks like a state-imposed fake religion—a dogma—though its proponents don’t tell students that.

But students deserve to know.

In fact, without such notice, imposing diversity ideology this way is a stealth infringement not just on one’s individual conscience but also on one’s right to free exercise of religion, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. So DEI looks not only morally objectionable but also illegal (unconstitutional).

The reaction of other professors isn’t clear. However, GMU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (or “AAUP”) emailed faculty to complain that the Board was engaged in overreach. How dare they question the university, whose personnel always know best? University faculty enjoy “academic freedom!”

Unfortunately for GMU’s AAUP chapter, the phrase “academic freedom” means neither blanket immunity nor a blank check for academics. Professors cannot yell obscenities at students in class and then plead “academic freedom” as if this were a license to do anything they want.

“Academic freedom” generally means permission to follow where one’s research leads and the right to have opinions based on that research, even when those opinions are noxious to others. Tenure, or the life-long job security given to professors, was intended to protect this freedom, similar to the life-long appointments of federal judges. When an occupation is needed or is beneficial to a society (such as the administration of justice or the advancement of knowledge) but may seriously upset people, this kind of job protection is understandable.

Today, however, both tenure and the phrase “academic freedom” are abused. Tenure has become a club to coerce conformity, and “academic freedom” is used to put professors not above the law but beyond accountability, as in, “We do what we want, and no one can stop us!”

On the contrary, AAUP. GMU’s Board was doing its job and protecting Virginians by providing a much-needed check—remember checks and balances?—on university politicization.

So bravo to GMU’s Board for putting a stop to this euphemistically labelled “just society” proposal. The Commonwealth thanks you.

Most American colleges and universities need more of this kind of accountability and oversight, not less. And it looks like George Mason University’s Board is showing the way.

Photo by Johnadamsz - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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