Editor's Note: The following is a transcript from an interview of Bruce Gilley—professor of political science at Portland State University, member of the NAS Board of Directors, and president of NAS's Oregon affiliate, the Oregon Association of Scholars—by Sophia Pappalau of The Western Front. The interview was conducted in preparation for a February 14, 2021 article. In it, Professor Gilley describes his thoughts on Western Washington University student lobbying of a Washington legislative bill that would require public institutions of higher education to provide faculty, staff, and students with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training. He relates some of his experiences with diversity statements at Portland State University. The transcript has been lightly edited for readability.
WESTERN FRONT: Can I get your name and title within your organization for the record?
GILLEY: I’m Bruce Gilley. I'm a professor of political science at Portland State University and I am a member of the Board of the National Association of Scholars. I head their Oregon chapter.
WF: As I mentioned, part of this piece has to do with a bill that would require public institutions of higher ed in Washington to provide faculty, staff, and students with DEI training.
The bill documents state: “The Legislature finds that developing and maintaining a culture of belonging and support for students, faculty and staff of higher education is essential to student success, and that faculty and staff play a key role.”
So, I'm curious as to what you think about DEI training and other forms of ideological signaling courses, specifically regarding the idea that it is essential to student success.
GILLEY:Well, first of all, the premise of their bill is incorrect and unscientific, because it's not true that students learn better when supported and in an environment of respect. Students learn more when they're challenged, and students learn more when they are exposed to ideas that are not their own, that they find controversial, even offensive.
Students learn better when they feel they are being invited into a grown-up world where nobody has to shelter them from a range of opinions.
So that's firstly faulty and secondly, in terms of inclusion and support — you said that we want that socially on campus. DEI is precisely what you would not want to do if you want to build a civilized campus environment, because DEI teaches people to hate one another based on their skin color or their genitalia. Well, to divide the world into oppressor or oppressed categories.
Dignity of the individual and the critical role of the individual in being responsible for their own life and their own choices in their own outcomes. And it basically creates a dog-eat-dog world on campus, which, quite aside from the question of learning, is precisely the opposite of what the preamble says is the intention.
I mean, I could just stop there and then, you know, go back to drawing and try again.
WF: What do you think might be the ramifications of having this kind of bill passed, how it will affect university operations?
GILLEY:Well, first of all, of course, the implications other than worsening an already hostile campus environment where people walk on eggshells and nobody is willing to say anything because they're all afraid of being called racists or sexists or homophobes —
The implications will be basically that the Washington state taxpayers and the students will be paying ever higher amounts of money for less and less education, because all this does is allow the staff and faculty to fulfill their obligation imposed on them by the legislature.
It's basically a bunch of box checking and watching videos and everyone sitting on their hands and shutting up, and being told by the diversity consultant how they're supposed— [signal interference] — and getting their certificate of accomplishment which allows them to get on with their jobs, which is why they're at the University.
And student costs go up — the costs of running universities go up, and if anything's achieved, it's a negative outcome. It makes the campus environment worse, but in most cases it's just an empty promise.
And indeed, I think the main purpose of doing this — It's for these legislators and senators in the Washington Legislature to virtue signal to their constituents that they're all on side with this progressive ideology. They don't give a rat’s ass about higher education or what happens on campus, or learning outcomes or student debt loads, or job training and preparation for the 21st century.
They're trying to throw a bone to their constituents who want to see them virtue signaling. In this way, it's just surprising how little push back there is among people who should know. It's a moral panic. It's no different than the Salem witch trials in Salem, MA.
There's a moral panic, they've decided that— [signal interference] —for stocking the world, which explains why we have COVID, or why we have unemployment, and they've decided that it's all about racism. And so, like the Salem witch trials, they need to get some witches.
So, they run around campus with these training seminars, trying to get people to out themselves as, which is, in this case, racists or having unclean thoughts according to the campus thought police and the diversity police, and it's a classic example of a moral panic.
And it creates a sort of snowball effect where people are afraid of not being on the bandwagon because they realize how vulnerable they are, and so there becomes a situation where these politicians are, are outflanking each other, trying to be more woke than the other guy because the person who's the least woke is the one who's going to be declared to be the racist.
Right? And so, it's this kind of arms race of moral virtue, virtue signaling to show how woke you are by passing the most outrageous legislation.
WF:Right — I was doing some research last night on the history of DEI training, which was first introduced in the 60s — A time where we saw a downward drift in intellectual standards and also the implementation and introduction of race and ethnic and gender studies departments.
But to that point, I noticed that when I was reading your report on diversity statements, you wrote that now, universities are conducting hiring under this doctrine of affirmative action and diversity statements. So, I'm curious about how you think academic standards have changed regarding progressive attitudes in faculty hires and academic units.
GILLEY:Yeah, so it is just essentially an ideological imposition.
Then when people say, ‘oh, this is not partisan. This is not ideology. This is just values. You know, this is good, American values.’
And my response to that is, ‘OK, well I've got about 20 other good American values and I don't see you doing training in them.’
For instance, capitalism is one of our most universal and bipartisan values in the United States, but I don't know any students and faculty who are forced to undertake training in capitalist values. Indeed, most universities want to give training on Marxist values. So that's completely at odds with American values and what we stand for.
So, you know this idea that this is not ideology or partisanship, it's just good values, is clearly nonsense, and you're right to say that it coincides with the decline in the quality of education in the humanities and social sciences.Because humanities and social sciences have, as their first principle, the need for the great contest of ideas and competing perspectives. And when you impose diversity ideology, you essentially handicap the study of the humanities and the social sciences.
What they're contemplating in Washington state is not diversity statements. But yes, you're right that it's absolutely part of the same package, to the extent that this is a mandatory part of training.
One of the questions that might then follow from a diversity hiring process says, ‘we have mandatory diversity training in this state or in this institution. What do you think about that? Do you think you'll be able to accept that?’
And of course, that's the opportunity for them to make sure that they're not letting an independent thinker creep into the process, because if they say anything that's not 120% on board with that program, then it's a very easy way to essentially filter out those kinds of people. Even though this training is not the ideological litmus test, but you're right, it absolutely fits into that bigger program of making sure that everybody on campus is 110% woke and anyone who doesn't agree with diversity ideology needs to be vigorously either prevented from getting into the university through the hiring process, or, once they're on campus, they need to be sent to thought reform camp and probably stay there until they've written self-confessions. And you know, presumably jump out of a balcony and kill themselves is, I guess, the ideal outcome.
But if you can't get that, at least you can send them to thought reform camp for as long as is necessary to change their incorrect thinking, right?
WF: We don't have to discuss this if you don't want to, but I understand you were the subject of an investigation by PSU's diversity office, following the publication of “The Case for Colonialism,” where they concluded that you would benefit from implicit bias and microaggression training. I'm curious about why you think the University came to this conclusion and how you feel about it.
GILLEY: Because they were trying to use the diversity process to punish me for my non-progressive article, and that's very clearly — all the documents are there. It's all on my website. You know, the students — the complaint initiated by students said ‘because of his article we're filing this complaint. We suddenly have remembered all these terrible things that happened to us, which we didn't know that happened to us until we read his article. And then we realized all these things that happened.’So, it was plainly false. Don't forget that the University found that every single one of those complaints raised by the students was without foundation.
What they did, then, because they felt stupid, was they went back and they dragged out an old complaint that they had previously investigated and previously decided was not grounds for any problems, and suddenly decided it was, after all, the problem and used that to send me for microaggression training.
So, it was a complete joke and in some ways I'm glad they did it. Because them doing the Freedom of Information request, getting the documents and making them public, it shows the nature of this thing: how it is ideological and punitive, how it's intended to punish faculty who don't think the correct thought.
And the other thing is, with all these trainings, people always say we need training. Training doesn't work on unwilling participants. So, if I'm trying to train you to install windows, and you really wanted to be an auto mechanic, and your parents forced you to go to the window training, you're not going to be a good window installer, right? We know that from professional education. We know that training doesn't work if you don't want to be there.
And so, what are you going to get out of this training? All the people who are already ultra-woke are going to reinforce their biases. The people who don't agree with it are going to be even more hostile to it. Nothing is going to be achieved except lining the pockets of diversity consultants and providing virtue signaling and campaign materials for the legislators who passed the law.
WF:Do you think that students are being prepared in humanities classes for the real world to do critical thinking?
GILLEY:Well, they're not really. We know the departments which are now kind of complete, bombed out areas: English and colleges of education, anthropology. These fields which actually used to be quite reputable. And some great, great minds were in these departments, but we now know that they're just essentially party commissions for woke ideology.
What's also interesting about the Washington case is Oregon has the same mandate, but in the Oregon case, the Legislature allowed the individual institutions to come up with their own —I think in Oregon, it's called Cultural Competency training, but it's essentially the same nonsense.
It's interesting that in Washington they went for a — they're going to have an essentially state-determined training program. So, I mean this is — I think, in the case of Oregon, they recognize that this is basically ideological indoctrination and they didn't want to be associated with actually — so what's the office going to be called: the Office of — It's going to have some Orwellian title, like the State Office of Cultural Competency Education or something, right?
I mean, it's basically going to be the Ministry of Truth, and the Oregon legislators — I think we're smart enough to not want that.
But in Washington, as the legislation is written right now, you're going to have to have a State Office of Inclusive Education or something. It's going to have some euphemistic title like that, and it's going to cost taxpayer dollars, and it's going to require state bureaucrats to be choosing quote-unquote “training materials.”
I mean, it's so spooky. To think of that being in the hands of a bureaucracy.
I'm assuming this is — I'm going to look at the legislation — so it shouldn't apply to non-publicly funded universities. So, Seattle University. Yes, the Catholic university should be excluded, the Christian university should be excluded. Private liberal arts colleges.
WF: University of Puget Sound, I believe would be exempt from it.
GILLEY:Yeah, so it's state-funded universities. And then the thing about that is it then widens the achievement gap, especially for Western Washington. Of course, UW is going to always have the funding and stuff, and to some extent WSU as well in Pullman.
But for the smaller state universities it's a killer because they are competing with the smaller private colleges. And it's not just that this increases the costs, but this decreases the excellence of the education for these secondary state schools, which really are in a kind of life-and-death struggle right now due to COVID.
And because the rising costs of education — we have also two state schools like that in Oregon: It's the same thing. They just can't compete, and the more they get burdened with these regulatory burdens from the state government, the worse their situation is.
You may think if it's like the intersectional lobby day on campus, I mean the obvious question to these students is, ‘What gives you the right to tell your fellow students what they're supposed to learn and not learn?’ I mean, aren't you very little different than a bunch of Benito Mussolini's marching on Rome?
I mean it is, it is so illiberal and intolerant for this group of people who talks about being liberal and tolerant and inclusive. And they are essentially ideological terrorists imposing their thinking on their fellow students rather than trying to win the Battle of Ideas and have constructive debates with their fellow students.
They're trying to use the undemocratic seizure of political power to force their fellow students to think a certain way.
So, the silent majority's educational quality goes down, and costs go up, and few very radical mobilized minorities push these programs through. And their job — the legislature is to control this. But in this case, the legislatures are throwing fuel on the fire.
Bruce Gilley is Professor of Political Science at Portland State University, a member of the NAS Board of Directors, and President of NAS's Oregon state affiliate, the Oregon Association of Scholars.