[NOTE: This post has been UPDATED
Last month I discussed (here) the Student Bar Association at the University of Virginia encouraging students to sign a pledge of allegiance to “diversity.”
Now comes news, from the Chronicle of Higher Education today, of a new set of guidelines at Virginia Tech that, critics say, “appear to require faculty members to show a commitment to diversity as part of their bids for tenure and promotion.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Association of Scholars are on the case. Yesterday FIRE called on Virginia Tech president Charles Steger to abandon its new “political litmus test for faculty.”
The proposal would force faculty members in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to adhere to an ideological loyalty oath to an entirely abstract concept — “diversity” — that can represent vastly different things to different people. Faculty are to be evaluated with “special attention” to the candidate’s “involvement in diversity initiatives.” This includes “demonstrating accomplishments and significant contributions pertinent to the candidate’s field” in areas such as “Publications,” “Courses taught,” “Competitive grants,” and other areas of professional contribution. Such evaluative criteria unacceptably interfere with faculty members’ moral and intellectual agency. Although expecting candidates to demonstrate this involvement in every area of their work may seem admirable and innocuous, in practice this is indeed an ideological loyalty oath to adhere to Virginia Tech’s current ideological perspectives on bias, race, gender, and culture.
Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, also issued a long and detailed criticism of the Virginia Tech policy last week. “Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences,” he wrote,
is making active support and advancement of “diversity”a requirement for faculty to keep their positions and for promotion.
This is a highly unusual step — one that flouts academic freedom. “Diversity” is not a category of academic accomplishment equivalent to high-quality teaching or success in scholarly research and publishing. “Diversity” is an ideology. The term summarizes a set of objectives popular on one part of the political spectrum. Virginia Tech, which is a public university, has no business turning a partisan political credo into a test that must be passed for faculty members to win tenure or to advance in rank.
Defenders of the new guidelines argue that requiring “involvement in diversity initiatives” and “contributions to diversity” is really no different from requiring service to the community (such as serving on faculty committees, etc.), a defense that Wood obliterates:
To start with, “Contributions to diversity” begin with “self-education.” The first duty of the faculty member is to achieve ideological conformity, and the Dossier Guidelines gently explain how. This consists of submitting to training by the good folks at the Equal Opportunity Office, and at CEUT (Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching), and attending lots of events such as “the Diversity Summit, identity group celebrations, Campus Climate Checkup, MLK events, special speakers, annual AdvanceVT, Scholarship of Diversity conferences, events hosted by Cranwell Center or Disability Services,” and etc.
All this stuff testifies to the conviction of the senior Virginia Tech administrators that the University’s faculty members give little credence to the concept of “diversity.” Many of those faculty members apparently have to be coerced into agreeing with the doctrine. No such assumption comes with the other kinds of service. It is assumed in those cases that the value of going to workshops, serving on committees, and assisting students in extra-curricular activities is self-evident. Only “diversity” requires reprogramming the ideas, ideals, and social attitudes of faculty members.
Second, it turns out that embracing “diversity” requires changing everything else a faculty member does: student advising, scholarship, research methods, syllabi, teaching styles, student recruitment, and much more. What kind of “service” is Virginia Tech talking about that suddenly balloons into an
across-the-board rehabilitation of the faculty member’s whole life?
Both “re-education” and the ballooning-into-everything are strong evidence of the ideological character of this “diversity” requirement. It is not about improving service to the students or even service to the University. It is about humble acceptance of political doctrine that administrators hope to impose without the inconvenience of rational argument or intellectually valid reasons. They can’t, because the program is intellectually indefensible.
”Diversity,” Wood concludes,
is too shop-worn a word to require much exposition these days, but that doesn’t mean it has lost its ideological character. It remains a way of dividing people into categories on the basis of what the diversiphiles consider group characteristics. That this involves radical stereotyping that denies individuals the right to determine for themselves who they are doesn’t slow down the diversity’s hard-core supporters. They believe that anyone who doesn’t conform to their storyline isn’t being “authentic” and may suffer from what the Marxists used to call “false consciousness.” Get in your group, says diversity, and stay there. We — the race experts, the disability advocates, the heads of women’s centers, and LGBTQ “safe space” allies, the folks who are making careers out of convincing you that you are a victim and need our advocacy — we will look out for you. And part of looking out for you is that we will browbeat the faculty into going along with our spiel. If they don’t go along, it will cost them their jobs or their promotions. Yes, some of them may huff about academic freedom, but we’ve got that covered too. Academic freedom now consists of agreeing with us. Free to agree!
Virginia Tech’s response to this questions is so tepid and vacuous as to be humorous. As reported in the Chronicle article linked above,
the university’s provost, Mark G. McNamee, says not only is the language on diversity not really new, it is also merely intended to encourage faculty members to pursue activities related to diversity, not to require it.
Oh, so Virginia Tech has long required its faculty to pass political litmus tests? Mark McNamee is not old enough to have been a university apparatchik during the McCarthy era, but if he had been around then it’s easy to imagine him defending promotion guidelines calling for demonstrated “involvement in Americanism initiatives” as reflecting nothing more than intent “to encourage faculty members to pursue activities related to Americanism, not to require it.”
In an e-mail message to The Chronicle on Wednesday, Mr. McNamee said he would review the new promotion and tenure guidelines in light of the letter from FIRE.
That may well be the first smart thing he’s done in this matter.
UPDATE [March 27]
When The Chronicle asked Provost McNamee what would happen to faculty members who failed to report any involvement in “diversity” activities, he replied, “Nothing.”
FIRE is not convinced. As it noted yesterday, citing a National Association of Scholars discussion of a May 29, 2008, memorandum sent to Virginia Tech department heads mandating “diversity accomplishments”:
Diversity accomplishments are a meaningful part of the faculty review process. Candidates must do a better job of participating in and documenting their involvement in diversity initiatives. Diversity accomplishments are especially important for candidates seeking promotion to full professor. Please use the categories developed by the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity to prompt and organize diversity-related contributions. The categories may be found at section VII. C. 1. – 8. of the promotion and tenure guidelines. They are also available at www.provost.vt.edu/documents/reporting_diversity.php. Committees are asked to develop working expectations for department members, perhaps sharing good examples, and to review diversity contributions included in the dossier with those expectations in mind. (Emphasis added.)
The guidelines cited above helpfully provide eight categories of examples faculty might use (well, seven plus a category for “Other diversity initiatives or accomplishments.” My favorite is the first category, “Self-Education, Increasing Your Own Awareness,” the examples of which are
Participation in diversity awareness workshops on campus or off, attending harassment prevention training from EO Office, participation in CEUT reading group on multicultural/diversity topics, attending diversity-related programs to learn more about groups other than your own (Diversity Summit, identity group celebrations, Campus Climate Checkup, MLK events, special speakers, annual AdvanceVT and Scholarship of Diversity conferences, events hosted by Cranwell Center or Disability Services, special programs in your discipline or association, etc.); participating in an Undoing Racism workshop; learning another language (including American sign language) so that you might speak to current or prospective students, parents, or community members.
With that, I will sign off. Although you can’t see me, I’m signing “Good Bye” in American Sign Language as I post this UPDATE….