UT Austin Approves Orwellian “Strategic Plan for Faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity”

Louis K. Bonham

Last summer, a working copy of the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) “Faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – Strategic Plan” was leaked by a UT employee. As detailed in an earlier National Association of Scholars article, this plan included political litmus tests for hiring, promotion, and even scholarship. As the article concluded:

In the name of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” university leadership has decided to end its search for truth and to instead become a redistribution scheme for the transfer of money from students and taxpayers to new hires that, by necessity, must be committed zealots of the regime. If this plan takes effect, Texans of diverse opinions can say goodbye to any dream of being hired by its most prestigious university.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also weighed in, sending UT a letter expressing similar concerns that the plan “presents a serious threat of establishing a viewpoint-based litmus test for both hiring and promotion.”

Not to worry—UT eventually responded, explaining that the leaked document was only an incomplete draft, and that UT would “continue to seek faculty with a wide range of political, religious, philosophical, ideological, and academic viewpoints.” Last week, after rumors from UT insiders circulated that UT President Jay Hartzell might be tactically delaying approval of this plan until after the Texas Legislature adjourns in May, UT quietly announced that the plan had been approved.

While the final version of UT’s strategic plan has been massaged from the prior draft, in substance the plan’s means, objectives, and import remain the same: all faculty hiring and promotion decisions—and even the conferring of endowed chairs and teaching awards—must now be scrutinized through the lens of whether faculty contribute to “diversity, equity, and inclusivity.” Millions of dollars will be spent on mandatory “diversity officers,” whose job will be to enforce this diversity orthodoxy. New positions will be created that will be open only to those who would “increase diversity” at UT. Muddying the waters further, the plan now adopts the amorphous, undefined concept of “diversity skills” as a yardstick for hiring and performance.

Of course, what UT actually means by “diversity” (much less “equity” or “inclusivity”) is never specified. What is clear is that UT is not merely focused on guaranteeing equal opportunity and nondiscrimination (and perhaps enhanced faculty recruiting/retention efforts among certain groups) in hiring and promotion, but is instead implementing an “equality-of-results” identity-politics model. More troubling, all prospective and current faculty are effectively required to embrace this new orthodoxy.

Some examples from the plan:

(Page 5) All faculty search committee members must participate in “diverse hiring training” by the UT Provost’s Office. This training will focus on “evaluation of demonstrated skill in promoting or achieving diversity, equity, and inclusivity in teaching, service, or research within applicant portfolios.” (This phrase is repeated in a formulaic fashion throughout the plan, and rather than repeat it I’ll refer to it as “diversity skills.”) Particularly in light of the UT Provost’s Office’s past involvement in developing and investigating alleged violations of UT’s unconstitutional speech codes, I daresay that the concepts of diversity of viewpoint and freedom of expression will likely not be a focus of such reeducation, if they are mentioned at all.

(Page 6) Every job posting must affirmatively include such “diversity skills” as a desired skill set for the position. Applicants for such positions must “address any past contributions pertaining to diversity, equity, and inclusivity, as well as any plans for future contributions, in their application materials.” While the plan states that having such “diversity skills” is “not required” for a faculty position, in the next breath the plan provides that having them will be “positively considered.” Given that all hiring decisions must also be “mindful of the diversity plans and goals” and “support the university-wide objective of increasing faculty diversity,” the claim that “diversity skills”—whatever those are—are not actually required for employment appears to be nothing but window dressing. Any applicant not demonstrating affirmative obeisance to the creed of “increasing diversity” (or worse, uttering heresy questioning it) will be disadvantaged at best, if not simply disqualified.

(Page 6) Each college must have a diversity officer, whose responsibilities include “oversight of faculty diversity, equity, and inclusivity” and who will work with the Provost’s Office in “training” search committee members. (Again, given the activities of current UT “diversity and inclusion” deans to date, concern for diversity of opinion, free speech, and academic freedom does not appear to be part of a UT diversity officer’s job description.)

(Page 7) UT has established a special “Provost’s Faculty Recruitment and Hiring Program”, which will hire new faculty “with diversity-related skills as a principal or important criterion.” The Provost’s Office will “clarify” with deans as to who would be eligible for such positions. (I rather doubt that anyone whose opinions are deemed insufficiently “woke” would ever be, even if having faculty with such viewpoints increase the breadth of opinions available at UT.)

(Page 17) Similarly, UT is creating a “Provost’s Early Career Faculty Recruitment Fellows Program”. This program is open only to those who “can contribute to diversity at UT,” with the goal of eventually “increasing the number of faculty with diversity-related skills.”

(Pages 9-10) The plan also recognizes that the transitions from assistant to associate professor and from associate to full professor “have often been problematic for underrepresented faculty members.” UT’s solution includes enhanced mentoring activities (which are, of course, completely appropriate), but it also requires deans to “consult” with their mandatory diversity commissar before writing any letters for promotion. Further, “efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion” are to be a factor in all merit and promotion considerations. (Query whether expressing opinions that do not toe the party line on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” would earn a faculty member a disqualifying black mark from the diversity commissar—or worse—for insufficient efforts in this area. I suspect faculty members hoping for promotion will, like Vaclav Havel’s greengrocer, see that it is in their interests not to attract attention.)

(Pages 12-14) Each college’s faculty salaries, teaching awards, and selection for endowments, leadership positions, and committee memberships will be annually audited (apparently by its required diversity commissar and/or the Provost’s Office) to detect disparities, “with particular focus on faculty members of historically underrepresented groups.” If the diversity commissar makes findings of any “improper” disparities, “action plans” must then be developed to address them. (Given that employment discrimination is already illegal, I suspect that this is designed to facilitate such findings based on standards of disparate impact rather than actual discrimination, and thus justify redistribution of such spoils on identity politics bases.)

(Page 15) “Inclusivity” training (along the model previously developed for LGBTQ issues by the Provost’s Office) will now be required of all faculty and administrators. Faculty will have to include on their syllabi and court catalogs indications of whether they have completed these required reeducation courses.

The plan does contain the usual formulaic pronouncements that quotas are not allowed, and that employment decisions must not be made on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or any other impermissible basis. Of course, these are legal obligations UT is required to follow anyway. Similarly, perhaps in response to criticism from NAS and FIRE, the introduction to the plan now notes in passing the need for having a variety of ideas and viewpoints among the faculty.

But given that the entire thrust of the plan is to increase the numbers of faculty from “underrepresented” groups; that “diversity skills” are the new touchstone for all faculty personnel decisions; that the Provost’s Office (which seems to be the nerve center at UT for all things woke) and dedicated diversity commissars will be the enforcers of these edicts; and that viewpoint diversity is never actually addressed in the plan at all, the concerns voiced by NAS and FIRE about the working draft of the plan do not appear to have been seriously considered.

Under UT’s now-adopted plan, prospective UT faculty should know that, if hiring them will not demonstrably advance UT’s “diversity” objectives (and/or they have viewpoints that are not sufficiently “woke” and thus might not enhance “inclusivity”), their chances of scoring a position at UT appear remote. Current UT faculty who believe in equal opportunity and individual merit, rather than equality of results and identity politics, should stay mum lest their departmental diversity commissar deem them lacking in “diversity skills.”

UT faculty have warned of the dangers of this approach. John Sibley Butler, professor of management and sociology (who was one of the first students to integrate Louisiana State University in the 1960’s and who has studied and written on race relations for decades) urged then-UT President Gregory Fenves “to move the needle back to equal opportunity; away from ‘diversity’ and the ‘I am offended’ people.” (I chose to study under Prof. Butler over 40 years ago after watching him calmly apply his analytic approach to dissect and demolish his opponent in a debate over the scientific merit of the controversial theories of psychologist Arthur Jensen. Sadly, such a debate would likely be unthinkable at UT today.) As Prof. Butler observed in his typical to-the-point style, “I have never understood the concept of diversity. I guess it allows white minorities, who were never legislated against at the University to be in the ‘pity party’ conversations of the public square.”

Rather than heed such warnings, UT has instead chosen to embrace what amounts to a spoils system based on identify politics and political litmus tests. While development of this plan began during his predecessor’s administration, current UT President Jay Hartzell could have stopped it. Despite his claims that different perspectives and the ability to disagree are absolutely essential to higher education, his approval of this program (as with his ignoring other examples of illiberal wokeness at UT) hardly supports that.

Both of my degrees (BA [Plan II] ’83, JD ’86) are from UT. Both of my parents (who were the first generation in their families to attend college) received their degrees from UT, as have other family members. I’ve been a guest lecturer at UT for over a decade, teaching intellectual property law to classes in the schools of architecture, fine arts, and business administration. But with UT’s increasing abandonment of fundamental principles such as free expression, free inquiry, equal opportunity, and individual achievement in favor of cancel culture, groupthink, identity politics, and equality of results, I no longer recognize the institution that I once attended and have long supported.

Enough is enough. Like a growing number of alumni across the country, I simply can no longer support my alma mater. Let’s hope the Texas governor and legislature take note of this institutional malpractice and follow the lead of their counterparts in Idaho: begin redirecting a significant amount of UT’s state funding to other state institutions . . . even to Texas A&M!

 Louis K. Bonham is an intellectual property litigator. He is a graduate of the University of Texas (BA ’83, JD ’86), was an Articles Editor on the Texas Law Review, and served as a law clerk to the Hon. Edith H. Jones of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Image: Peter Hansen, Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license, cropped.

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