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Opinion | D.E.I. Programs Are Getting in the Way of Liberal Education

Today, many universities have consciously or unconsciously abandoned that mission and replaced it with the pursuit of diversity, equity and inclusion. Many D.E.I. programs seem to be predicated on a view radically different from the liberal tradition: namely, that the university is not merely a home for the discovery of knowledge, but also a vehicle for activism, liberation and social change.

The criticism of such programs might begin with a simple question: Even on its own terms, does D.E.I. actually work? And the answer, according to the best available evidence, appears to be no. Researchers at Harvard and Tel Aviv University studied 30 years of diversity training data from more than 800 U.S. companies and concluded that mandatory diversity training programs had practically no effect on employee attitudes — and sometimes activated bias and feelings of racial hostility. There is no reason to believe that similar programs on university campuses have better outcomes.

In fact, there is much greater cause for concern with D.E.I. in academia. While many corporations understandably discourage internal debate about political issues unrelated to their business interests, universities are supposed to provide a forum for a wide range of views and perspectives, in the interest of reasoning toward truth. D.E.I. programs as currently carried out are antithetical to this pursuit. In practice, they often restrict the range of discourse, push a narrow political ideology on the campus community and micromanage the language that professors, administrators and students should use.

For City Journal, the magazine of the Manhattan Institute, I recently conducted investigative reporting for a series on the ideological nature of the way D.E.I. was practiced in Florida’s public universities. My intention was to go beyond the euphemisms and expose the specific content of these programs, which, I believed, would shock the conscience of voters across the political spectrum. These programs have become commonplace not only in official “diversity and inclusion” programs, but also throughout administrative and academic departments. The University of Florida, for example, managed more than 1,000 separate D.E.I. initiatives, which included, as part of a professional development conference, a presentation featuring material that declared the United States was rooted in “white supremacy” and included mantras from Racists Anonymous.

The University of Central Florida, in its “Inclusive Faculty Hiring” guide, described merit in faculty hiring as a “narrative myth” and advised employees to avoid using it in job descriptions and hiring materials. The guide also advocated explicit quotas of “minoritized” groups in its hiring practices. Florida International University’s Office of Social Justice and Inclusion effectively served as a recruiting ground for political activism, encouraging students to participate in grass roots campaigns — mostly modeled on left-wing movements. In one training session, Black Lives Matter was held up as an exemplary movement and students were prepared for the possibility of violent confrontation with the police.

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