Free to Agree

Peter Wood

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University—Virginia Tech—has imposed a political test on candidates for promotion and tenure. Specifically, Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences is making active support and advancement of “diversity” a requirement for faculty to keep their positions and for promotion.

This is a highly unusual step—one that flouts academic freedom. “Diversity” is not a category of academic accomplishment equivalent to high-quality teaching or success in scholarly research and publishing. “Diversity” is an ideology. The term summarizes a set of objectives popular on one part of the political spectrum. Virginia Tech, which is a public university, has no business turning a partisan political credo into a test that must be passed for faculty members to win tenure or to advance in rank. 

Faculty members at most colleges and universities are evaluated for promotion and tenure on the basis of their teaching, scholarly performance, and to a lesser extent, on their service to the institution. The “service” requirement typically means the candidate’s record of serving on various departmental and college committees. Virginia Tech appears to have seized on this third, minimal requirement as the pretext for creating a political litmus test for faculty members. 

The document that announces this test is titled the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Promotion and Tenure Guidelines. It incorporates two other documents, one with a very similar name. To keep them straight, I am going to label them X, Y, and Z.

X is the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Promotion and Tenure Guidelines

Y is the University’s Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure Dossiers, which I will also refer to as Dossier Guidelines

Z is the Office of the Provost’s Reporting Diversity Accomplishment in the Faculty Activities Report, which I will also refer to the as Activities Report Guidelines.

X was released recently with some thunder. The College’s Associate Dean for Academic Policies and Procedures, Debra Stoudt, [email protected], announced that the faculty have until the end of this month to vote on the new rules, which, if approved, will take effect with the 2009-2010 promotion and tenure review cycle. “Chairs and heads already have been asked to begin aligning departmental guidelines with this document.” That sentence seems to presume that faculty approval is merely a formality. 

Promotion and Tenure Guidelines (X)

The new document (X), of course, covers many procedures that are uncontroversial. The “diversity” litmus test appears twice. First, in the general description of the “Promotion and Tenure Review Process,” (page four), there is this compact declaration:

The university and college committees require special attention to be given to documenting involvement in diversity initiatives; categories for documentation may be found in Section VII.C.1.-8. of the promotion and tenure guidelines, or at

The other key passage in X appears on page six, where in laying out the “discussion of cases and criteria,” the guidelines specify that, “The committee expects all dossiers to demonstrate the candidate’s active involvement in diversity.”

The Dossier Guidelines (Y)

The first of the two linked documents above is Y, the University’s Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure Dossiers. The key item appears on page twelve, where “diversity” is bundled into “University Service” as one of four types of service. The other types are ordinary. They consist of attending (A) “University meeting, panels, workshops, etc.”; (B) taking on “departmental, college, and university service;” and (D) “Service to students—involvement in co-curricular activities, advising student organizations, etc.” A, B, and D are elaborated as far as “etc.” and no further. The other letter (C) “Contributions to diversity,” by contrast runs on for two pages and has eight subparts. 

There is no substitute for reading the actual document, and I have pasted it in below. But before you turn to it, let me highlight the extraordinary differences between “diversity” service and the other kinds of service that Virginia tech says that it values in faculty members. 

To start with, “Contributions to diversity” begin with “self-education.” The first duty of the faculty member is to achieve ideological conformity, and the Dossier Guidelines gently explain how. This consists of submitting to training by the good folks at the Equal Opportunity Office, and at CEUT (Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching), and attending lots of events such as “the Diversity Summit, identity group celebrations, Campus Climate Checkup, MLK events, special speakers, annual AdvanceVT, Scholarship of Diversity conferences, events hosted by Cranwell Center or Disability Services,” and etc. 

All this stuff testifies to the conviction of the senior Virginia Tech administrators that the University’s faculty members give little credence to the concept of “diversity.” Many of those faculty members apparently have to be coerced into agreeing with the doctrine. No such assumption comes with the other kinds of service. It is assumed in those cases that the value of going to workshops, serving on committees, and assisting students in extra-curricular activities is self-evident. Only “diversity” requires reprogramming the ideas, ideals, and social attitudes of faculty members.

Second, it turns out that embracing “diversity” requires changing everything else a faculty member does: student advising, scholarship, research methods, syllabi, teaching styles, student recruitment, and much more. What kind of “service” is Virginia Tech talking about that suddenly balloons into an across-the-board rehabilitation of the faculty member’s whole life? 

Both “re-education” and the ballooning-into-everything are strong evidence of the ideological character of this “diversity” requirement. It is not about improving service to the students or even service to the University. It is about humble acceptance of political doctrine that administrators hope to impose without the inconvenience of rational argument or intellectually valid reasons. They can’t, because the program is intellectually indefensible. 

But first the text from the Guidelines:

VII. University Service

Faculty have significant roles in the governance, development, and vitality of the university and academic profession. Service to the university and academic professional organizations constitutes an important faculty responsibility. This section also requests documentation of contributions to achieving the university’s diversity goals, and advising for student organizations.

A. University meetings, panels, workshops, ect. led or organized

B. Department, college, and university service, including administrative responsibilities

C. Contributions to diversity

Candidates whose responsibilities include significant diversity-related program leadership, research, teaching, or advocacy, should describe such activities and accomplishments in the appropriate categories and only make a brief cross reference in this section to previously cited accomplishments. In this section, candidates may wish to convey the ways in which their efforts have helped achieve departmental, college, or university diversity goals. Such efforts may include, but are not limited to:

1. Self-education

Increasing awareness, such as participation in diversity awareness workshops on campus or off, attending harassment prevention training from EO Office, participation in CEUT reading group on multicultural/diversity topics, attending diversity-related programs to learn more about groups other than one’s own, learning another language to speak to current or prospective students, parents, or community members. Examples of diversity-related programs are the Diversity Summit, identity group celebrations, Campus Climate Checkup, MLK events, special speakers, annual AdvanceVT and

Scholarship of Diversity conferences, events hosted by Cranwell Center or Disability Services, special programs in the candidate’s discipline or association, etc.

2. Committee leadership and/or university or professional service

Identify role and any specific accomplishments. For example, chairing or serving on a college or departmental diversity committee, membership on the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity; participation on an AdvanceVT work group; participating in planning campus diversity events such as the Campus Climate Checkup or Diversity Summit; helping to translate university web pages into Spanish or Chinese; serving on the Task Force on Race and the Institution; chairing or participating in a diversity-related task force for a professional association or serving on a national or regional committee related to diversity.

3. Mentoring, counseling, or advising students and student Organizations

For example, serving as a research mentor to students in the MAOP, MEAMP, McNair, or VT-PREP programs; serving as faculty advisor to student organizations like MANRRS, Society of Women or Black Engineers, Women’s Space, Muslim Student Association, etc.; lecturing/mentoring in MOSAIC residential learning community; participating in SAFEZONE; mentoring student workers or student leaders from underrepresented groups; counseling with students who are victims or perpetrators of bias-related incidents.

4. Incorporating diversity-related scholarship in courses, readings, programs, service learning activities, and one’s own research/scholarship

For example, revising a course reading list to incorporate concepts, readings, and scholarship on issues of gender, race, and other perspectives relevant to the course material; rethinking or adapting workshops, lectures, or publications to incorporate multicultural or gender perspectives; creating classroom discussions about the Principles of Community; creating an extension program to address needs in the Hispanic community; developing a service learning experience to introduce students to issues of concern to residents of the Appalachian region; using/doing diversity research to help inform university programs and problem solving; inviting and hosting a diversity-related speaker for the department; facilitating educational programs in the residential halls; assisting students in planning cultural events related to courses; securing research grants or industry funds to support diversity initiatives or research; facilitating a staff training activity on diversity, bias reduction, or celebration of diversity.

5. Special student, faculty, or staff recruitment initiatives

Include outcomes, if any. For example, identifying and personally recruiting candidates from underrepresented ethnic/racial groups (or women) to positions in the department; making contacts with faculty counterparts at regional historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to identify potential graduate student applicants; inviting and hosting women postdocs for a pre-recruitment visit to one’s department; visiting another campus and asking to meet with doctoral students from underrepresented groups to talk about faculty career opportunities; making calls to prospective freshmen from underrepresented groups to encourage them to apply and accept the offer to VT; consciously inviting women and minorities to join student organizations, programs, or to participate in leadership opportunities from which they might benefit.

6. Outreach and pipeline initiatives

For example, teaching a segment in the VT-STARS/C-Tech2 summer program; meeting with high school students from a minority high school to talk about majoring in the candidate’s field; giving a talk to a high school class for Women’s Month or Black History Month; participating in Women in Math Career Day; meeting with Upward Bound students; participating in a VT-STEM initiative targeted toward underrepresented students.

7. Special efforts for individuals from underrepresented groups For example, providing special support to international, women, or minority doctoral students; serving as a host family for international students; assisting students, employees, or families with special

needs; acting as an informal advisor to students of color or women who are not one’s formal advisees; special mentoring of colleagues from underrepresented groups.

8. Other diversity initiatives or accomplishments

D. Service to students—involvement in co-curricular activities, advising student organizations, etc.

The Activities Report Guidelines (Z)

                The other document linked in the new Virginia Tech Promotion and Tenure Guidelines is Z, the Office of Provost’s Reporting Diversity Accomplishment in the Faculty Activities ReportZ is mostly word-for-word identical to Y, the Dossier Guidelines, except that Z is a webpage with a photomontage, some links to other documents, and it provides several additional paragraphs of context and definition. Here we learn, for example, that “diversity” is not just about race. Rather:   

In reporting diversity accomplishments, you are encouraged to think of diversity very broadly. While issues related to race and gender are often preeminent at Virginia Tech, other issues are also important and should be included, such as issues related to ability/disability, international students/scholars, religious minorities, Appalachian regional or cultural issues, sexual orientation, and so on.

We are also presented with as much justification for this soft totalitarianism as the Provost’s Office can muster:

In December 2006, the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity recommended the following as a list of possible categories for reporting diversity accomplishments and examples of items that might be included within each. The list is not meant to be exclusive, but rather to help organize the reporting of diversity efforts and to suggest ways in which faculty members are already, or might become, engaged in developing the educational benefits of diversity, to which we are committed as an institution and as a community of learners, no matter our role.

RecommendedNot meant to be exclusiveSuggest. One has to wonder what would happen to the faculty member who presented himself for tenure claiming that he had met the “diversity” requirement by indeed going beyond the list, and had done so by fostering intellectual diversity in reaching out to libertarian students, or to social conservatives; who had recognized the need to mentor the Society of Black Engineers in the principles of free market economics; who had sought to assist the Muslim Student Association achieve a better understanding of Christian apologetics, and thereby advance inter-faith dialogue as a component of “diversity.” 

We could probably come up with dozens if not hundreds of such thought experiments in which a faculty member took the Provost’s invitation literally and explored some aspect of what “diversity” would look like if it were an actual educational ideal and not just a codeword for an identity politics-based approach to campus life.

                “Diversity” is too shop-worn a word to require much exposition these days, but that doesn’t mean it has lost its ideological character. It remains a way of dividing people into categories on the basis of what the diversiphiles consider group characteristics. That this involves radical stereotyping that denies individuals the right to determine for themselves who they are doesn’t slow down the diversity’s hard-core supporters. They believe that anyone who doesn’t conform to their storyline isn’t being “authentic” and may suffer from what the Marxists used to call “false consciousness.” Get in your group, says diversity, and stay thereWe—the race experts, the disability advocates, the heads of women’s centers, and LGBTQ “safe space” allies, the folks who are making careers out of convincing you that you are a victim and need our advocacy—we will look out for youAnd part of looking out for you is that we will browbeat the faculty into going along with our spielIf they don’t go along, it will cost them their jobs or their promotions. Yes, some of them may huff about academic freedom, but we’ve got that covered too. Academic freedom now consists of agreeing with us. Free to agree! 

Promotion and Tenure Guidelines

Dossier Guidelines

Activities Report Guidelines

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