DEI: Useless or Useful?

By Dr. Harold A. Black

There is little doubt that diversity, equity and inclusion have added administrative bloat on many college campuses. Ron DeSantis has asked for an accounting of DEI on Florida’s campuses. It was reported that one university had 31 administrators solely devoted to DEI. One conservative website claimed that “The average American university has more than 45 individuals with jobs devoted to promoting so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion.” It further states that “DEI programs push divisive identity politics as well as distorted narratives about American History.” Personally, I find it hard to believe that the average university has 45 plus jobs solely to promoting DEI. What would all those folks do? While it is true that universities have engaged in administrative bloat in the face of declining enrollments, 45 DEI administrators would have difficulty finding something to do. At best, many DEI officials engage in make-work. For example, many universities require their professors who are already overwhelmingly progressives to swear on the DEI altar. They have to sign statements, often put statements on course syllabi and take tests to determine implicit bias. Clearly, none of this is significant and given the professors’ politics is redundant. No matter. Your flaming lib sociology professor with the Karl Marx poster may be a closet racist. Too often, even progressive professors look down their noses at DEI administrators claiming that those positions were just added to increase the high administrators’ kingdom and to provide make-work for minorities.

DEI staffing may be bloated but that is the norm for campus administrations. I would wager that administrators could be cut by a third without any loss of function. However, I do not favor the elimination of DEI on campus. Yes, on some campuses, DEI needs to pivot in order to actually be useful. Some universities have programs that advocate racial segregation with no whites allowed. This amazes me since it is whites who are okaying programs to exclude other whites. There are black dorms, black programs, black scholarships, black workshops and black initiatives. If it were reversed, the condemnation would be deafening. Some universities teach Critical Race Theory which brands all whites as racists – including liberal professors.

But DEI on campus need not do any of these. Rather it would serve a useful purpose if it provided a foundation for first-generation college students to acclimate to the university. Rather than segregating by race, DEI should bring students together to get to know each other and to discuss important issues that arise on campus. For me, the ideal model is what is averred on the University of Tennessee’s DEI website. It reads “We are committed to supporting the creation of equitable and inclusive spaces for students, faculty, and staff, with a focus on removing structural barriers and fostering an atmosphere in which every member of the campus community matters and belongs. We work to advance access, accountability, an inclusive campus climate, and equity while combating racism, bias, and discrimination.” This is ideal. Instead of being exclusive as some DEI programs clearly are at other universities, this statement aims to truly be inclusive and the only way to accomplish that is to include students from all backgrounds, all beliefs and all political views. Moreover, on a college campus, DEI should further the mission of the university to promote educational and professional advancement and excellence. Unfortunately, too many of our colleges have lowered academic standards and encourage mediocrity rather than excellence. Rigorous courses have been eliminated from those that are required or eliminated altogether. Exams are now mostly machine-graded true-false and multiple choice. I became increasingly frustrated with my undergraduate students over the years. They knew less and less about less and less. Sometimes, I would wager my seniors that they could not get 50 percent on an entrance exam to Bronx High School administered in 1888. They said they could so the bet was that if they made 50 percent I would increase their final grade one level, but if they got less than 50 percent, I would reduce it one level. I let them see the exam first. None of them took it. I was asked occasionally by students “Why do you know so much?” My response was always “Why do you know so little?”

I know it is asking the impossible, but I would like to see the universities recommit themselves to academic excellence. Ideally, DEI could help lead the way by exposing students to successful people from all backgrounds in various fields who have triumphed against daunting odds. DEI could play a valuable role on college campuses. That it does not is an indictment of campus administrators and not of DEI.