The Chronicle of Higher Education’s hit piece on South Dakota, “When Diversity Becomes A Bad Word,” criticizes the successful work of policymakers to turn that state’s public university system away from Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other elements of the authoritarian Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) ideology. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and the members of the South Dakota state legislature deserve congratulations. They would not have provoked this attack if they were not doing their work well.
But education reformers who seek the elimination of DEI from our public universities should limit their celebration. The most notable change at South Dakota’s public universities was the renaming of the Diversity Offices as Opportunity Centers. The National Association of Scholars wrote in November 2021 that,
The SDBOR’s statement of principle allows regental institutions simply to rename their Diversity Centers as Opportunity Centers, and to keep their old personnel in a new office. It is far more likely that the personnel will continue their old policies under a new name than that they will change their policies.
The Chronicle quotes Shuree Mortenson, a spokesperson for the Board of Regents, as writing, “The name change removed no diversity services or programming at South Dakota’s state universities.” We are afraid that this is largely the case.
Yet South Dakota’s reforms, such as House Bill 1012, have made for a real difference. The Chronicle reports that,
Diversity offices did more than what opportunity centers have been charged with, several administrators and faculty members said. They looked at equity across campus by recognizing that some groups may need access to different resources to achieve the same things as their peers. They looked at their institutions on a macro level — at how policies affect not only racial and ethnic minorities, but LGBTQ students, first-generation students, students with disabilities, and veteran students. ... The current and former professors and administrators interviewed by The Chronicle say that people still want diversity and inclusion training, but that’s harder to do these days because of the new state laws.
“Equity,” “some groups may need access to different resources to achieve the same things as their peers,” “looked at their institutions on a macro level,” “diversity and inclusion training”—these are the code words by which DEI advocates impose discriminatory policies on campuses and the supportive apparatus of illiberal repression to stifle all opposition to these policies. We cannot tell from these complaints precisely what malicious policies South Dakota’s policymakers have forestalled, but they surely have made a real difference for the better for South Dakota’s public universities.
The DEI advocates’ own choices compound the improvements. Apparently South Dakota’s DEI advocates have begun to leave the state’s public employ. They can’t handle the “stress,” they have more trouble getting funding, it’s “exhausting”—and they can get employment elsewhere in the country. The pleasing result is that South Dakota’s public universities are shedding their more seasoned DEI advocates. Adroit education reformers will take advantage of the opportunity to ensure they are not replaced—or, at the very least, to ensure that regular South Dakotans can compete on even terms with DEI advocates for those positions.
The Chronicle’s hit piece informs education reformers that early adopters of measures to inhibit CRT and DEI ideology will gain an unexpected benefit—the voluntary departure from education institutions of DEI advocates. Education reformers should work to implement their reforms quickly, so they can take advantage of this benefit. Education reformers who take longer may discover that their institutions’ DEI advocates will cling like limpets to their positions.
Yet the Chronicle’s piece also provides sobering reading. South Dakota’s reforms, for all the howls they provoke in the Chronicle, have as yet had only a minor effect on South Dakota’s public universities. South Dakota still has much to do. In November, we urged South Dakota’s citizens and policymakers to engage in far more thorough oversight and policy reform of South Dakota’s public university system. The Chronicle’s piece confirms our belief that the reforms to date, though welcome, are only the beginning of what must be done.
The Chronicle concludes that, “some professors who remain in South Dakota say they wonder whether diversity can continue to be an institutional value when ‘diversity’ isn’t supposed to be talked about anymore.” Their worry points to the true, necessary goal of education reform in South Dakota, and in the United States: to remove “diversity” as an institutional value from higher education, and to restore the proper institutional values to higher education:
1. the duty to educate students by means of free, open, and rigorous intellectual inquiry to seek the truth;
2. the duty to equip students with the intellectual skills they need to reach their own informed conclusions on matters of social and political importance;
3. the duty to ensure that no aspects of university life, within or outside the classroom, require, favor, disfavor, or prohibit speech or action to support any political, social, or religious belief;
4. the commitment to create a community dedicated to an ethic of civil and free inquiry, which respects the autonomy of each member, supports individual capacities for growth, and tolerates the differences in opinion that shall naturally obtain in a public university community;
5. the duty to accept only students who are fully prepared to succeed academically at undergraduate coursework; and
6. the duty to treat all faculty, staff, and students as individuals, to hold them to equal standards, and to provide them equality of opportunity.
We encourage South Dakota’s policymakers—and all American policymakers—to make these the institutional values of their systems of higher education, and to remove all illiberal ideologies such as “diversity” from their list of stated institutional values.
Once policymakers do so, DEI advocates will have nothing to do. If they draw salaries for the rest of their lives for doing nothing, our nation will be far the better for it.