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Participation in politics is mandatory in higher education

WASHINGTON – The Free Speech Movement, an early tremor of the earthquake that shook campuses in the 1960s, began on Sproul Plaza at the University of California at Berkeley, in 1964. Today eight of the 10 universities in the UC system are administering faculty hiring practices that involve coerced speech, enforced political conformity and mandatory political participation.

Any academic seeking a position is required to write a “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) statement affirming support Higher education’s mandatory political participation – sometimes even “enthusiastic” support – for, and demonstrating activism in support of, a system-wide orthodoxy. In the required statement (“Demonstrating Interest in and Ability to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion”), an applicant should show that he or she has been active, and must promise to be active, in advancing the approved agenda. This process explicitly subordinates assessments of academic excellence.

Abigail Thompson, chairwoman of the mathematics department at UC-Davis, praises diversity (without explaining how ethnic, racial and gender diversity improves teaching and research in mathematics). But she thinks mandatory DEI statements have a problematic pedigree.

In 1949, during the Cold War anxiety about communist subversion, Robert Sproul, president of the UC system, proposed that university employees sign an oath attesting that they were not members of the Communist Party or other organizations advocating violent revolution. Protests, litigation and the firing of some non-signers ensued. Then fears of domestic communists abated, and a court ended the oath in 1967. The UC system subsequently adopted this policy: “No political test shall ever be considered in the appointment and promotion of any faculty member or employee.”

Today, however, DEI statements are political litmus tests used in a baroque three-stage, five-point scoring system that winnows out applicants – sometimes most of them – before considering the applicants’ academic qualifications. For example, eight departments in Berkeley’s life sciences recently applied the DEI “rubric” in sorting through 893 eligible applicants.

First – yes, first – they were evaluated solely on “contributions” to diversity, equity and inclusion. This involved assessing, among much else, candidates’ “comfort” in talking about those matters. Only 214 candidates who scored well in the diversity enthusiasm sweepstakes were then evaluated as scholars.

Most of the 679 who were immediately flunked received insufficient grades – only 1 or 2 points on the category “knowledge about” DEI (e.g., insufficient discussion of “gender or ethnicity/race”) or 3 (“strong understanding of challenges” but “little understanding of demographic data”). Most survivors scored 4 or 5 on “comfort” and enthusiasm discussing the DEI agenda.

The second test concerned demonstrating a “track record in advancing” DEI. Those who fell at this hurdle perhaps showed only “limited participation at the periphery” of officially approved activities. The third test concerned “plans for advancing” DEI. Those who failed here might have been judged “vague” about the required political “activities.” The fortunate few who scored 4 or 5, and so survived to have their scholarly credentials considered, presumably professed an impressive intention to strongly advocate the orthodoxy.

When Thompson published in the leading mathematics journal her criticism of mandatory DEI professions of loyalty, a Williams College mathematician, Chad M. Topaz, was enraged by this diversity of thought. He urged a digital mob to inflict on Thompson “some good ‘ol (sic) public shame.” He profits from the diversity industry: In exchange for “donations,” he and associates will critique, and even help write, job candidates’ diversity statements. This assistance will be “completely confidential.” As befits ghostwritten political enthusiasm.

Because coast-to-coast academic culture is politically homogenized, other universities are adopting identical or similar requirements of “demonstrated commitments” to this and that, including “outreach,” which presumably means something to those who speak academia’s patois. Opaque language cannot, however, disguise that this is all politics.

Politics is how we organize our ideas and practices for living together. The defining characteristic of totalitarian societies is not that the individual cannot participate in politics, but that the individual cannot not participate. In such societies, politics permeates everything: Government’s aim is the conquest of consciousness, and abstention from politics is subversive. Hence DEI pledges.

The Hoover Institution’s John Cochrane, blogging as the Grumpy Economist, has publicized UC’s practices, which he expects will become more onerous and invidious because universities continue hiring large numbers of diversity enforcers whose profession is to banish the classical liberal principle that every person should be treated as a unique individual. This banishment is a political project abetted by DEI statements, which are political tests. That they violate UC’s stated policy prohibiting political tests means that the policy actually is: “Only progressive political tests shall be considered in appointments.” George Will is a Washington Post columnist. Email him at

George Will

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