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Abolishing Diversity Statements Is an Empty Gesture at MIT

Chronicles – Last week, media reports revealed that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will no longer require diversity statements in faculty hiring. The news did not break in a proud official press release from that institution, but in response to an e-mail inquiry to MIT from the journalist John Sailer, who published excerpts from the reply he received from an MIT spokesman.

In use since the late 2010s and now required by almost half of large universities, diversity statements have become an element of applications for many university professorships. They can also be required at later career stages, including in applications for promotion and tenure. Some graduate study programs require them for prospective students. The relevant instructions typically ask applicants how they conceive of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and what proactive steps they have taken, are taking, and plan to take to promote the controversial ideology in their work.

Critics of the practice hold that it is a political litmus test used to ensure ideological conformity on college campuses. A 2020 report revealed that 76 percent of applicants for professorships across eight life science programs at the University of California, Berkeley, for example, were disqualified on the basis of their diversity statements alone, ahead of any consideration of their academic qualifications. That same year, a study of the practice at the University of California, Davis suggested that this was true for more than half of applicants to certain schools at that institution. State legislatures in Florida, Texas, Utah, and Idaho have banned the practice, with other states following suit.

Even supporters of diversity statements, including the dean at Berkeley’s law school, Erwin Chemerinsky—recently in the news for an embarrassing video in which he objected to a pro-Palestinian protest speech at a dinner he hosted at his private home—have said they believe such statements can be misused. Chemerinsky should know. In September 2023, The New York Times reported that a psychology professor primed to join the Berkeley faculty who submitted the required diversity statement was rejected after graduate students objected to him for having questioned years before whether diversity statements should be used.

MIT’s decision to abandon the practice came from its embattled president Sally Kornbluth, supported by MIT’s provost, chancellor, and all six academic deans. In a widely quoted statement, Kornbluth said, “We can build an inclusive environment in many ways, but compelled statements impinge on freedom of expression, and they don’t work.”

Last December, Kornbluth appeared alongside former Harvard president Claudine Gay and former University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill in a congressional hearing in which all three infamously testified that “context” would determine whether it was acceptable to call for the deaths of Jews on campus. Gay and Magill subsequently resigned from their posts after massive public outcries. Earlier this week, so did former Cornell University president Martha Pollack, who said she was retiring amid similar objections.

Kornbluth did not indicate why diversity statements “don’t work,” but there is no indication that she has seen the light. Even if diversity statements are out, DEI appears to be at MIT to stay. A survey of its website indicates that virtually every division continues to incorporate the concept at a fundamental level, guided by an institution-wide “strategic action plan” that announces more than 50 DEI-related “actions” to unfold by 2027. There is no indication that the plan has been scrapped, suspended, or subjected to even the slightest critical scrutiny.

Even before MIT introduced its DEI-infused strategic action plan, it employed DEI deans in all six of its main schools. Notably, two of those individuals, Tracie Jones-Barrett, initially of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and now deputy DEI chief for all of MIT, and Alana Anderson, formerly of MIT’s Schwarzman College of Computing (she voluntarily left MIT in 2023 for a private-sector DEI job), stand accused of plagiarism in a 71-page complaint filed on Saturday and excerpted in the Free Beacon. The allegations include information strongly suggesting that they copied entire passages without attribution for their doctoral dissertations. In Jones-Barrett’s case, this extended to her section on “ethical considerations.”

MIT has yet to comment on the plagiarism allegations, but its “Institute Equity and Community Office” employs 16 individuals who work on what appears to be exclusively DEI programing. Only four of them are male, only two appear to be white, and just one appears to be a white male. MIT’s Human Resources Office separately offers an exhaustive list of “resources” specifically intended “to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)” and insists that DEI is “necessary for a full realization of the potential of any group and organization.” MIT’s Discrimination & Harassment Response Office lists not merely a (female) Title IX coordinator, but 13 Deputy Title IX coordinators, only two of whom are male.

Virtually all MIT departments include thorough DEI programming. The Department of Mechanical Engineering’s website says that it “has pledged to develop and implement actions that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in our students, faculty, and staff” and includes a lengthy departmental strategic action plan intended “to build a community that is actively anti-racist.” The department also intends to raise over $500,000 for “DEI and mentorship programs” and additional funds for “underrepresented group (URG)-focused fellowships to increase graduate student diversity.” It commits further resources to “attract and retain” underrepresented faculty and staff. There seems to be no internal debate about whether these initiatives might violate non-discrimination laws, laws against affirmative action hiring, or last June’s Supreme Court ruling banning the use of race in college admissions.

Over in MIT’s Biology Department, “Diversity” is the first item in a drop-down list under “About.” Clicking on it reveals that the department “promotes diversity and inclusion as one of our core values.” This is no idle platitude. The department employs a full-time “diversity officer” who has no apparent training in science but does hold a master’s degree in “community engagement,” as well as a separate “Director of Diversity and Science Outreach.” The department also has an in-house DEI Council and a separate Faculty DEI Committee. Yet another departmental initiative recruits post-doctoral fellows from underrepresented backgrounds to the department, again without any apparent consideration of relevant anti-discrimination laws and rulings. The Biology Department publishes an annual diversity report, but, perhaps tellingly, access is restricted to MIT community members.

MIT’s Sloan School of Management is ranked among the nation’s most prestigious business schools. “Diversity” is the second tab on its website. Clicking reveals a lengthy section claiming that “systemic challenges require systemic solutions” and calling on “the MIT community to develop a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive working and learning environment.” Like MIT’s other major schools, Sloan employs a DEI dean, who appears to be an academic sociologist with no degrees in business. It also employs an “Associate Dean for Innovation and Inclusion,” who appears to hold degrees in applied science but, like her colleague, no academic business credentials. Sloan’s publicly accessible annual report describes “a wide variety of projects and activities to build diversity, equity, and inclusion across all parts of the MIT Sloan community” and aims to make DEI a permanent feature of the business school’s landscape.

These are only three examples, but a search of all MIT programs yields largely the same DEI-drenched results. Diversity statements may be out, but unless and until Sally Kornbluth ousts DEI from all other areas of her troubled institution—as the University of North Carolina’s Board of Trustees did on Monday—she has no business leading it and should resign or be removed in disgrace.

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