Mandatory DEI Statements Undermine Academic Freedom at UNC-Chapel Hill

John D. Sailer

In my recent trio of reports—which examined civics education at the universities in Texas, Utah, and Arizona—I found a consistent trend: In each state, universities had recently created policies requiring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) evaluations for faculty promotion and tenure.

In its 2020 “Diversity Strategic Plan,” Northern Arizona University promised to “institutionalize the value of diversity-centered learning, service, scholarship, and work by embedding diversity as an important component of learning outcomes, professional development, performance expectations, and performance evaluations at all levels.” Southern Utah University committed to “incorporat[ing] diversity as a performance dimension within the tenure and promotion process for faculty.” At UT-Austin, the university instructed each college and school to “develop mechanisms for evaluating faculty contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion in their units for considerations of merit and promotion.”

These DEI requirements for promotion and tenure are becoming ubiquitous, but they build on a more established trend—namely, mandatory “diversity statements” for job applicants. The American Enterprise Institute conducted a survey of university job listings and found that 19 percent required diversity statements, which are commonly used to weed out job applicants.

It’s hard not to see these as ideological litmus tests. As I show in my Texas report, at the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech University, job candidates receive low scores on their diversity statements for failing to demonstrate a track record that “includes intersectional actions spanning the needs of minoritized individuals” and for conflating “diversity, equity, and inclusion without distinguishing among them.” Many universities release their diversity statement rubrics, which make abundantly clear that candidates must embrace a “race-conscious” orientation in virtually everything they do. If a candidate expresses one of many commonly held beliefs that are now off-limits, such as opposition to affirmative action—or, even more poignantly, if they quote Martin Luther King’s admonition that individuals “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”—they can say farewell to their job prospects.

Today, the concepts of “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” are politically coded. Of course, out of context, each term seems unobjectionable and good in a banal sense. In the context of academia, however, they connote the adherence to a set of social and political views, especially those expressed, for example, by Ibram X. Kendi.

This brings me to the University of North Carolina (UNC). Recently, UNC-Chapel Hill reaffirmed its commitment to the Chicago principles on free expression and adopted the Kalven Committee Report, a statement that codifies the principle of institutional neutrality, promising “a heavy presumption against the university taking collective action or expressing opinions on the political and social issues of the day.” Mandatory DEI evaluations come in conflict with both sets of principles. A university that asks its faculty to state their commitment to politically-coded concepts is hardly neutral. Such statements make it likely for scholars to be penalized for expressing opinions held by many Americans. Moreover, they hinder academic freedom by requiring scholars to reorient their research to match a “social justice” agenda at the university.

I’ve reported before on UNC-Chapel Hill’s use of DEI evaluations for promotion and tenure—a policy adopted by both the School of Medicine and the Gillings School of Global Public Health. But I wanted to examine how the policy has been applied to hiring. Thus, I’ve created a snapshot of how the policy is applied to hiring at UNC-Chapel Hill. Looking at the current faculty job listings at UNC-Chapel Hill, I’ve identified all the listings that mandate diversity statements. Those listings are below:

Position

Department

Diversity Statement Instructions

Open Rank Professor, Teaching

Division of Pharmacotherapy and Experimental Therapeutics

The School’s vision is grounded in our aspiration to be a diverse and inclusive community of people who accelerate new thinking and ideas in education, research, and practice that have a positive impact on human health worldwide. We envision a school that reflects, in all its dimensions, the population it serves. Using the field below, please provide a diversity statement that outlines examples of your commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, as well as how you will contribute to an inclusive environment at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Research Assistant Professor

Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine

For “other” document required, this is for a diversity and inclusion statement.

Teaching Assistant Professor

Biostatistics, Gillings School of Global Public Health

Submit your diversity statement as an “other document” that outlines examples of your past and ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and that describes how you might contribute to an inclusive climate at Gillings. Stronger statements will include a range of examples of how you have incorporated equity into your work experience to date.

Computational Research Professor

School of Pharmacy

In your application materials utilizing the “Other Document” upload, please include a separate diversity statement that outlines examples of your commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, as well as how you will contribute to an inclusive environment at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Research Assistant Professor

Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Gillings School of Public Health

Please include a separate diversity statement which outlines examples of your past commitment to diversity and inclusion, as well as how you believe you might contribute to an inclusive climate at Gillings (please upload your diversity statement to “other document” in the required documents section).

Fixed Term Open Rank

Biostatistics, Gillings School of Public Health

Please include a separate diversity statement which outlines examples of your past commitment to diversity and inclusion, as well as how you believe you might contribute to an inclusive climate at Gillings.

Open Rank Tenure Track Faculty

Department of Health Policy and Management, Gillings

The Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in all areas of faculty effort including research, teaching and service. Candidates should address at least one of these areas in the Diversity Statement, describing past experiences, current interests or activities, and/or future goals to promote a climate that values diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Stronger statements will include a range of examples of how you have incorporated equity into your research, teaching and/or service.

The Department is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hiring process. An independent equity advocate will be involved throughout the hiring committee proceedings. Candidates identified for interviews will be provided with all evaluation rubrics, criteria for promotion, and information about potentially relevant University and School centers, programs, and resources.

Open Rank

Department of Epidemiology

Inclusive Excellence is a core value at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. We expect our faculty and staff to actively contribute to fostering an academic workplace climate that is welcoming and supportive for all.

Please include a separate diversity statement which outlines examples of your past commitment to diversity and inclusion, as well as how you believe you might contribute to an inclusive climate at Gillings.

Open Rank

Department of Cell Biology and Physiology

Please provide two or three specific examples of how you intend to promote diversity and inclusion in your research program. Explain why you believe these practices will be effective and positive for your program and for the broader research community.

Open Rank Tenure

Microbiology

Please include the following with your application:

Cover Letter

Curriculum vitae, including names and contact information for 4 or more references

Statement of research accomplishments and future plans

Teaching statement that includes interest and philosophy

Diversity and inclusion statement

Assistant Professor

Germanic and Slavic Lang Literature

Statement describing your past and/or potential contributions to equity, diversity, and inclusion

Open Rank

Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics

In your application materials please include a separate diversity statement that outlines examples of your commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, as well as how you will contribute to an inclusive environment at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Upload your diversity statement as "Other Document"

Assistant Professor

The Department of Art and Art History

A diversity statement that addresses your contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion.  Examples of contributions could include:

- Evidence of creative projects and research that incorporate diverse groups or issues of equity.

- Examples of future projects and teaching that engages in questions around accessible and inclusive art education.

- Evidence of ways you have addressed inequities within institutions as an artist or a teacher.

Teaching Assistant Professor

Chemistry Department

Applicants should submit a cover letter, a curriculum vitae, and concise statements of (1) teaching philosophy and experience and (2) a diversity and inclusive teaching statement as a single pdf.

Open Rank, Teaching Faculty

Department of Health Policy and Management, Gillings

Submit your diversity statement as an “other document” that outlines examples of your past and ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and that describes how you might contribute to an inclusive climate at Gillings. Stronger statements will include a range of examples of how you have incorporated equity into your work experience to date.

Thomas J. Pearsall Fellow in American Politics

Political Science

Please include a cover letter, CV, research statement, teaching statement, writing sample, evidence of teaching excellence, and diversity statement (upload as other document).

Professor

Departments of Genetics and Psychiatry

For all new faculty recruitments and promotions of existing faculty, a Statement of Contribution to Diversity is requested as a component of the application or dossier. The statement should include the applicant’s perspectives and personal/professional track record of engagement and activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as a vision of how their work at UNC will continue to support this mission. Examples include family, community, civic, religious, political, academic, clinical or work efforts that further the goals of equity and inclusion.

Open Rank

Department of Cell Biology and Physiology

Please provide two or three specific examples of how you intend to promote diversity and inclusion in your research program. Explain why you believe these practices will be effective and positive for your program and for the broader research community.

Chair

Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics

 Interested individuals should submit a cover letter describing your interest, current curriculum vitae, and a statement summarizing the following: (1) your leadership and administrative experience; (2) your research experience, program, and vision for the discipline; (3) your commitment to and vision for diversity, equity, and inclusion in basic biomedical research

All told, 19 out of the 234 jobs currently listed require diversity statements, in disciplines ranging from politics, to art history, to medicine, to chemistry. While UNC-Chapel Hill has not yet taken the diversity statement policy as far as some other institutions, this snapshot reveals that many candidates who apply to teach and research at UNC-Chapel Hill will have to submit diversity statements in order to have their application considered.

Those who are required to submit statements will be assessed on such metrics as “examples of how you have incorporated equity into your research, teaching and/or service,” “how you will contribute to an inclusive environment at the [university],” and perhaps the most on-the-nose, “[evidence of] family, community, civic, religious, political, academic, clinical or work efforts that further the goals of equity and inclusion.”

To put it lightly, this seems to fly in the face of UNC-Chapel Hill’s commitment to free expression and institutional neutrality.


John Sailer is a Research Fellow at the National Association of Scholars and serves as Keeping the Republic Project Lead.

Image: Colin Rowley, Public Domain

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