Exclusive: UT Austin Proposes Political Litmus Tests for Hiring and Promotion

John David

The University of Texas at Austin is plunging head-first into the murky waters of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” as per a recently proposed plan issued by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost. The National Association of Scholars obtained the draft proposal, titled the “Faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Strategic Plan” from a UT Austin employee who shall remain anonymous.

The proposal, henceforth referred to as the Plan, is based on a 2017 UT Austin “blueprint plan” called the “Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan” (UDIAP). The UDIAP was created “to reflect upon how the best education can be provided for students from all backgrounds, especially those that historically have been marginalized.” But the UDIAP doesn’t stop at reflection—it establishes the goals for achieving “diversity and inclusion” at UT Austin in eight “focus areas”: 

  1. University Leadership
  2. Campus Climate and Culture
  3. Students
  4. Faculty
  5. Staff
  6. Alumni and Community
  7. Pre-K–12 Partnerships and Education Pipeline
  8. Communications, Assessment, and Accountability

The Plan is primarily intended to address focus area 4, though it also includes proposed policies related to areas 2 and 3. Presumably, other “strategic plans” will follow to cover the remaining focus areas. 

In the Plan’s preamble, UT Austin leadership describes the goals it hopes to achieve in remedying the lack of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” within focus area 4, Faculty:

An excellent and diverse faculty benefits our educational and instructional experiences and strengthens our research, scholarship, and creativity. As a university with a documented history of denying equitable inclusion to qualified students, staff, and faculty, UT Austin endeavors to create an inclusive environment of teaching, research, and service in which all can learn from one another, productively interact, and share in the benefits of learning and working at a diverse university. [emphasis added]

The meaning of this statement is largely dependent on the chosen definition of “diversity.” The preamble provides this as well:

The institution [UT Austin] embraces diversity, equity, and inclusivity in many forms. We are dedicated to the principle that individuals of all races, ethnicities, peoples, nationalities, religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, socio- economic statuses, disabilities, and health histories, regardless of their marital, parental, age, veteran, or citizenship status, be respected, equitably included, and enjoy equitable access to opportunities. [emphasis added]

Notably absent from the Plan’s definition is diversity of worldview or ideology—that is to say, anything outside of one’s physical, social, and legal “identities.” 

Might ideological diversity be implied or assumed in the Plan? It’s a long shot: According to a recent study by Mitchell Langbert and Sean Stevens, faculty in over one hundred of the country’s most prestigious schools make political contributions to federal candidates that strongly favor Democrats, with an average ratio of 95:1 D:R. There is a wide range of views represented within the Democratic party, but it falls far short of the full ideological spectrum that exists among the American populace. The homogeneity is stark. What’s more, those academics who do speak contrary to progressive orthodoxy run the risk of being canceled, with sullied reputations and ruined careers to follow.

UT Austin leadership specifically seeks diversity of “identity” over and against viewpoint diversity—a fundamentally progressive quest that cuts against what should be the university’s ideological neutrality. How will the university go about achieving this dubious goal? The proposal lists four “Strategic Objectives”:

Objective 1: Attract, Recruit, and Employ a Diverse Faculty

Objective 2: Retain, Develop, and Promote a Diverse Faculty

Objective 3: Establish an Equitable and Inclusive Climate

Objective 4: Support Innovative and Diverse Scholarship, Teaching, and Service

For each objective, I list the stated motivation and select several of the Plan’s proposals, emphasizing sections that are particularly troubling with regards to ideological bias, lack of intellectual diversity, and the subservience of individual merit to group identity. I then provide my own takeaways on what this tells us about UT Austin and its educational (read: anti-educational) priorities.

Objective 1: Attract, Recruit, and Employ a Diverse Faculty

Motivation: 

The primary objective of the strategic plan is to attract, recruit, and employ a diverse faculty. Despite years of endeavor in this area, UT Austin’s faculty body is not as diverse as its own undergraduate student body, or the population of the state we serve, or even the citizens of the same age as our faculty. [emphasis added]

Selected Proposals:

Priority 1: Establish and implement procedural norms and policies that represent best practices for faculty hiring at the university and enhance institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion. In this manner, we will strengthen regular faculty hiring processes by increasing the yields of diverse faculty through refinements in our hiring processes.

  • CSs [colleges and schools] will include applicant commitment to inclusivity and support for diverse populations, as well as experience and future plans in these areas as a hiring criterion.
  • This diversity, equity, and inclusion criterion will be stipulated in each job posting.
  • All applicants should address any past contributions, as well as their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion somewhere in their application materials. CSs are encouraged to seek this information in the form of a separate statement.
  • CS leadership (e.g., dean or CS diversity officer) will monitor the pool of applicants for each faculty position for diversity and may require expansion of searches when such pools are not sufficiently diverse.
  • Each search will actively solicit applicants for purposes of enhancing the diversity of the candidate pool.
  • Each CS must have a diversity officer whose responsibilities include oversight of faculty diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Each diversity officer is responsible for collaborating with the Provost’s Office in leading Search Committee trainings and training trainers in their respective CSs. 

All members of faculty search committees must participate in diverse hiring training

Priority 2: Implement centrally-funded special faculty hiring programs with diversity as principle [sic] or important criterion. [emphasis added]

Takeaways:

Applicants’ requirement to “address any past contributions, as well as their current commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion”—which, again, only includes diversity of physical, social, and legal “identities”—is nothing more than an ideological litmus test. It elevates diversity of identity to an end in itself. Requirements such as these quash academic freedom and intellectual diversity before hiring even occurs. They intend to weed out those applicants who would prove problematic for the diversity regime.

Additionally, by mandating each college and school to hire a “diversity officer,” to “actively solicit” “diverse” applicants, to expand searches when “pools are not sufficiently diverse,” to administer “diversity hiring training,” and to create “diversity hiring programs,” UT Austin leadership lays its intentions bare: discriminate against some applicants in favor of others based on physical and social identity, not merit. These are textbook progressive tactics that leave no room for academics who may disagree.

Objective 2: Retain, Develop, and Promote a Diverse Faculty

Motivation: 

A closely related objective [to Objective 1] is to retain, develop, and promote the professional advancement and wellbeing of our faculty members who are already here, particularly those from populations previously underrepresented at UT Austin and whose persistence and advancement has historically been obstructed. Diverse faculty members are in high demand across the nation and face unique challenges. The diversity plan must recognize that it is not enough to simply hire diverse faculty members, but that it is equally important to retain and promote them. [emphasis added]

Selected Proposals:

Priority 1: Working with the subcommittee of deans to establish mechanisms for assessing contributions to university and community diversity, equity, and inclusion as a part of the merit and promotion process for tenured, tenure track and non-tenure track faculty.

  • Contributions to university and community diversity, equity, and inclusion will be a criterion for faculty merit and a positive factor in promotion considerations.
  • Each CS will develop mechanisms for evaluating faculty contributions to diversity in their units for considerations of merit and promotion.
  • Each CS will have a member of its promotion and tenure (P&T) committee who is responsible to assure that diversity is considered in promotion deliberations.
  • A faculty service award including service that enhances diversity, equity, and inclusion will be established.
  • Deans should consult with diversity officers before creating dean’s letters for promotion. [emphasis added]

Takeaways:

We don’t yet know what the aforementioned “mechanisms for evaluating contributions to diversity” will look like, or how much weight contributions will hold as “a criterion for faculty merit and a positive factor in promotion considerations,” but their inclusion as an incentive for faculty promotions serves as another ideological litmus test. They would also fundamentally alter the nature of UT Austin instruction, encouraging conformity to leftist orthodoxy and discouraging dissent.

As we can also see in the hiring practices outlined by Objective 1, progressives’ conception of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” necessitates discriminating against certain groups in favor of others, always at the expense of the individual. The classroom will be no different—UT Austin instructors will face increased pressure to show partiality toward certain students in order to properly promote “equity and inclusion” within their classrooms. We’ve seen it happen before.

Take the case of Gordon Klein, lecturer in accounting at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. He declined to accommodate demands to award lenient grades to his African-American students in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and his benign email response was condemned as “woefully racist” by students. UCLA then caved to the mob and suspended Klein, transferring his classes to different instructors.

If the Plan takes effect, UT Austin professors will not only feel pressure to appease such ludicrous demands in order to spare their jobs—they’ll also be given an incentive to show partiality toward students in order to advance their careers. Ironically, degrading the value of a student's individual merit will help faculty accrue sufficient “merit” for a promotion.

Objective 3: Establish an Equitable and Inclusive Climate

Motivation: 

UT Austin is a premier institution of higher education that recognizes the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusivity in which difference stimulates and generates excellence. Such excellence in faculty diversity is only sustainable if every individual and their differences are welcomed, respected, and treated equitably. [emphasis added]

Selected Proposals:

Priority 1: Conduct an analysis of faculty salary disparities with particular focus on faculty members of historically underrepresented groups, and develop action plans to address findings.

  • When faculty merit [*] increases are reestablished, the provost will allocate the financial resources resolve [sic] salary inequities across the faculty as a whole.
  • The Provost’s Office will create salary comparison reports for each CS for the provost to share with each dean. Deans will review each disparity to identify and adjust for inequities.

Priority 2: Conduct an analysis that includes an audit of endowment and faculty award recipients and a description of procedures and criteria for faculty selection for such endowments and awards in all CSs. This analysis will include an equity assessment of the distribution of endowments and faculty awards with particular focus on faculty members of historically underrepresented groups.

  • Each CS will undertake annual audits of their endowments and faculty awards and review their selection processes to ensure equitable distributions.

Priority 3: Conduct an analysis that includes an audit of leadership and committee membership at the CS and departmental levels and a description of procedures for how the tenured, tenure track, and non-tenure track faculty filling those roles are selected. This analysis will seek to identify disparities in service and governance assignments (too much service/too little leadership) with particular focus on faculty members of historically underrepresented groups.

  • Each CS will analyze the resultant data in the context of their existing processes and adjust them to eliminate disparities.

Priority 4: Create a diversity officer position in the dean’s office of each CS responsible for faculty diversity. This position will be responsible for the monitoring and coordination of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts for tenured, tenure track, and non-tenure track faculty in each CS.

  • Larger CSs should consider appointing two diversity officers, one for faculty and staff diversity and the other for student diversity.

Priority 5: Design and implement resources and training for all tenured, tenure track, and non- tenure track faculty members on inclusive student interactions. This process has already begun with the formation of the UT Access, Equity, and Inclusion Institute, a three-year (2019-2022) pilot collaboration between the Vice Provost for Diversity unit and the LGBTQ Studies Program that seeks to improve faculty practices that lead to enhanced access, equity, and inclusion with regard to students.

  • Create resources and trainings for faculty that promote equitable and inclusive faculty student interactions.
  • Create a mechanism by which students can identify faculty who have undertaken such training when they select their courses.
  • The UT Access, Equity, and Inclusion Institute will coordinate inventory, evaluation, and resource preparation and implementation. Deans, CS diversity officers, and department chairs will implement resources in every CS and promote faculty participation.

Priority 6: Design and implement resources and training for department chairs, CS administrators, and tenured, tenure track, and non-tenure track faculty aimed at creating and sustaining an inclusive culture within CS’s and their component units. Climate and practices of diversity, equity, and inclusion have a direct impact on units’ abilities to recruit and retain diverse faculty and staff.

  • Develop resources and trainings for creating and sustaining equitable and inclusive CS unit climates.
  • Training and resources will target departmental chairs and other unit leaders first and then expand to faculty in general.
  • Implement in all university units the resources and trainings for creating and sustaining equitable and inclusive departments and CSs.

Priority 7: Provide opportunities for higher education leadership development for historically underrepresented mid-career faculty. With the goal of recruiting faculty from underrepresented groups to fill positions of leadership within departments and CSs.

  • Restructure and reorient the Executive Management and Leadership program (EML) towards equity and inclusion in higher education management and leadership.
  • Develop diverse Provost’s Administrative Leadership (PAL) fellows program to create opportunities for one-on-one leadership mentorship for mid-level diverse faculty. [emphasis added]

* Note that “merit” now includes the aforementioned, ambiguous “contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Takeaways:

The Plan aims to “eliminate disparities” in 1) faculty salaries, 2) faculty awards, 3) leadership and committee membership, and 4) positions of leadership within departments and CSs, inequities presumed to be caused by identity. It also would require the creation of one “diversity officer” per CS, with a second officer recommended for larger schools. These officers would design and implement resources and trainings for all faculty and administrators at every CS in order to create an “inclusive” environment at UT Austin.

The cost of hiring 1-2 diversity officers at each of the university’s eighteen schools would be exorbitant, further increasing student tuition and expenses. But even more concerning than UT Austin’s financial insouciance is that its chosen definitions of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” are overtly leftist. The campus “climate” envisioned by the Plan is one of sterile conformity to progressive orthodoxy.

The so-called “inclusive” environment created by such guidelines necessarily infringes upon the deeply held beliefs of many academics. For example, Professor Nicholas Meriwether of Shawnee State University was formally censured after refusing to call a male student by female pronouns. He cited his beliefs as an Evangelical Christian and yet was labeled transphobic for his speech. The “inclusive” climate UT Austin seeks to create is almost certainly one in which students have the right to be referred to with their preferred pronouns, however this is in direct conflict with, in Meriwether’s case, religious liberty. One man’s inclusivity is another’s ostracization.

Furthermore, the “elimination of inequities” in various aspects of faculty life and achievement is a bait and switch To achieve perfect parity of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., UT Austin must create stark inequities in merit and intellectual diversity, permanently damaging the very foundation of higher education.

Objective 4: Support Innovative and Diverse Scholarship, Teaching, and Service

Motivation: 

UT Austin recognizes that the imperative of faculty diversity is not the mere presence of different identities, but the different knowledges, positionalities, and experiences those identities encompass. Hence, the benefits of faculty diversity are realized if the multiplicity of perspectives and scholarship that faculty bring to the campus are embraced, supported, and rewarded. These new perspectives offer UT the chance to be a leader in many exciting new areas of scholarship and to use the knowledge we gain to enrich the educational experience of our students. Public recognition of the diversity of our faculty and the embrace of diverse scholarship, teaching, and service enhances the reputation of UT Austin as an inclusive institution of intellectual excellence and scholarly innovation.

Selected Proposals:

Priority 1: Develop and fund a Provost’s Early Career Faculty Recruitment Fellows Program (Provost’s Fellows) to support the recruitment excellent [sic] faculty members who can contribute to diversity at the University of Texas at Austin. The goal of the program is to increase the number of faculty who can contribute to institutional diversity by identifying early promise and investing in career development and professional growth. …

  • Participating departments and schools must identify one of their approved strategic faculty hires for the year of their application to support their participation in the Provost Fellows Program and commit to filling it in a particular broad field at the junior level.
  • Provost Fellow candidates must potentially contribute to the University of Texas’ efforts to make the University more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

All Provost Fellows will participate in a professional development/networking program conducted by their department or school in partnership with the provost’s office that will support them in: crafting a faculty application, interviewing for faculty positions, grant funding opportunities, creativity in teaching, institutional awareness, interdisciplinary research, teaching innovations, proposal writing, tenure and promotion, mentoring and motivating graduate students, inclusion and equity in academia, research budgeting, etc. This program will be open by application to other UT postdocs with a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Ideal outcomes of the program, will be (1) identification of excellent faculty candidates who could be hired on the faculty line identified by the department or school. (2) Professionalization of outstanding research scholars who are highly committed to diversity and inclusion within higher education. 3) The enhancement of the reputation of the University of Texas at Austin as a center of research excellence attractive for excellent scholars interested in diverse, equitable and inclusive institutional settings.

Priority 2: Support the programming and research engaged in by tenured, tenure track, and non-tenure track faculty who help diversify the university and/or have the objective of enhancing campus equity and inclusion.

  • Develop and support diverse programing in the CSs to bring non-UT scholars to UT Austin campus. These should include speaker series, visiting scholars, conferences, etc.
  • Each semester CS Diversity Officers will collect the colloquium and other external speaker schedules and visiting scholar lists for University, departments, centers, institutes, and other units. The officers will compile statistics on underrepresented status (including gender in STEM) of the speakers/invitees and provide Vice Provost for Diversity and their deans with this information on a department/center level.

Priority 3: Develop and support tenured, tenure track, and non-tenure track faculty research and teaching on diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.

  • Establish seed projects and build research collaborations around research on diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.
  • Develop and support a university-wide fellowship program sponsoring research and teaching on UT Austin’s historic and contemporary struggles for diversity, equity,and inclusion. [emphasis added]

Takeaways:

This objective assumes that different physical, social, and legal identities create “knowledges, positionalities, and experiences” that are distinct from one another. Therefore, the faculty, as well as the scholarship it produces, will be incomplete until total quota-enforced identity-based diversity is achieved. This assumption is ideological on its face.

Tribal identity does not necessitate conformity of opinion, ensuring that the assumption of shared knowledge is dubious at best. Trends among groups exist, but, arguably, many of them are inculcated through external influence (nurture) rather than being innate qualities (nature). At the very least, there is a debate to be had regarding the relative effects of group identity and individual experience. But the Plan assures us that our natural differences are supreme.

Conclusion

The assumptions, methods, and goals of UT Austin’s proposed “Faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Strategic Plan” are the work of ideologues, not public servants. 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 Plan is profoundly prejudiced and ought to be met with fierce opposition from University of Texas’ administrators, faculty, and students, not to mention the Texas taxpayers who would underwrite the university’s newly formed search committees, diversity officers, and training programs. UT Austin has no claim on anyone’s wallet if it refuses to uphold basic principles of liberal education—academic freedom, intellectual diversity, and merit-based success.

This “strategic plan” has little to do with diversity, equity, or inclusion but is instead an outline of tactics that will destroy higher education as we know it. But perhaps that’s been the goal all along.

The National Association of Scholars condemns this insidious, unjust “strategic plan” and calls on UT Austin Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Daniel Jaffe and Interim President Jay Hartzell to retract it immediately.


John David is Communications and Administrative Associate at the National Association of Scholars.

Image: aaronisnotcool, Public Domain

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