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Harvard Professor Calls For End to DEI, Cites 'Growing Resentment' Among Academics

Randall L. Kennedy says DEI statements are coercive litmus tests: 'If you want the job or the promotion, play ball — or else'

Harvard Professor Calls For End to DEI, Cites 'Growing Resentment' Among Academics

A Harvard professor is calling for an end to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements for students and faculty, citing a growing backlash.

“By requiring academics to profess — and flaunt — faith in DEI, the proliferation of diversity statements poses a profound challenge to academic freedom,” Randall L. Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor at Harvard Law School, wrote in a recent op-ed.

Kennedy acknowledges that at Harvard and other institutions of higher learning, jobs increasingly require diversity statements, which Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, he explains, describes as being “about your commitment to furthering EDIB [Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging] within the context of institutions of higher education.”

In providing guidance to applicants on which DEI questions to address in formal statements, Kennedy says the Center “mirrors the expectation that DEI statements will essentially constitute pledges of allegiance that enlist academics into the DEI movement by dint of soft-spoken but real coercion: If you want the job or the promotion, play ball — or else.”

He added:

Playing ball entails affirming that the DEI bureaucracy is a good thing and asking no questions that challenge it, all the while making sure to use in one’s attestations the easy-to-parody DEI lingo. It does not take much discernment to see, moreover, that the diversity statement regime leans heavily and tendentiously towards varieties of academic leftism and implicitly discourages candidates who harbor ideologically conservative dispositions.

DEI initiatives have been under increased scrutiny across America. Over the past year-and-a-half, more than 70 pieces of legislation targeting DEI in academia have been introduced in over two dozen states.

Major companies have begun dismantling DEI programs, as advocates highlight its blatant discriminatory nature, and federal officials become more vocal in warning that DEI programs may be a violation of federal law, which could result in lengthy and expensive litigation.

Kennedy, who is a member of the District of Columbia bar and served as a law clerk for Judge J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals and for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court, says that DEI statements are counterproductive to efforts to undo historical discrimination in academia.

Though universities “are under a legal, moral, and pedagogical duty to take action against wrongful discriminatory conduct,” he writes, “demands for mandatory DEI statements venture far beyond that obligation into territory that is full of booby-traps inimical to an intellectually healthy university environment.”

Kennedy continues:

By overreaching, by resorting to compulsion, by forcing people to toe a political line, by imposing ideological litmus tests, by incentivizing insincerity, and by creating a circular mode of discourse that is seemingly impervious to self-questioning, the current DEI regime is discrediting itself.

It would be hard to overstate the degree to which many academics at Harvard and beyond feel intense and growing resentment against the DEI enterprise because of features that are perhaps most evident in the demand for DEI statements. I am a scholar on the left committed to struggles for social justice. The realities surrounding mandatory DEI statements, however, make me wince. The practice of demanding them ought to be abandoned, both at Harvard and beyond.

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