Harvard professor calls to end mandatory DEI statements

Harvard Law School professor Randall L. Kennedy called on Tuesday for the end of mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion statements, calling them “ideological pledges of allegiance.”

Kennedy wrote an op-ed as part of a Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard calling out DEI ideology and the practice of forcing prospective professors to submit a statement describing their “orientation toward diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.”

“By requiring academics to profess — and flaunt — faith in DEI, the proliferation of diversity statements poses a profound challenge to academic freedom,” Kennedy wrote Tuesday, even while describing himself as “a scholar on the left committed to struggles for social justice.”

“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,” he continued.

The piece comes as Harvard has taken heat over the past several months regarding antisemitism, plagiarism, and affirmative action loopholes, all of which have seen critics blame DEI ideology at some level for their outgrowth.

Using an application from Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Kennedy noted a requirement to answer several questions signaling both belief in the ideology and action taken on its behalf. “How does your research engage with and advance the well-being of socially marginalized communities?” one question he cited asks, while another asks, “Do you know how the following operate in the academy: implicit bias, different forms of privilege, (settler-)colonialism, systemic and interpersonal racism, homophobia, heteropatriarchy, and ableism?”

“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,” the law professor wrote.

Kennedy went on to describe the stranglehold the DEI bureaucracy has on academic freedom, such as creating an inability to question its importance and discouraging conservative thought in academia.

“In addition to exerting pressure towards leftist conformity, the process of eliciting diversity statements abets cynicism,” he said. “Detractors reasonably suspect that underneath the uncontroversial aspirations for diversity statements — facilitating a more open and welcoming environment for everyone — are controversial goals including the weeding out of candidates who manifest opposition to or show insufficient enthusiasm for the DEI regime.”

Kennedy’s piece ran in tandem with the opposing viewpoint, as is the practice of the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard. That piece, authored by philosophy professor and Council co-president Edward J. Hall, argued not to “eliminate” but rather to “improve” DEI.

However, Hall did criticize the ideological origins of the hiring practices as when the “post-modernism-infested corners of academia, began to break out into the mainstream,” where “one began to hear pronouncements like: ‘The teacher who refuses to interrogate the structures of oppression within which they operate will merely reproduce those structures in their classroom’; ‘the best teachers enable students to find their own truths’; ‘the very distinction between ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ enacts systemic violence.’”

“Worse, the radical theories lurking behind such pronouncements began to affect college and university governance,” Hall continued.

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Hall argued that diversity statements themselves should not be the target of frustration with DEI, defining them simply as a “statement describing [a candidate’s] approach to teaching.” He touted the purpose of the Council, which places high importance on “learning to treat with intellectual seriousness and honesty the wide range of ideas and perspectives that live within our diverse community.”

“I think we should direct that anger at its proper target: not diversity statements themselves, but rather the horribly distorted view that has taken hold about what they should contain,” Hall concluded.

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