The California Community College System approved a new policy in May that added diversity, equity, and inclusion criteria to tenure and promotion reviews. Then, a few weeks later, the University of Washington faculty rejected a proposal to require professors to submit a diversity statement as part of the tenure process.
The contrast highlights the raging debate in higher education — and across the political spectrum — about whether professors must demonstrate support for their institution’s diversity goals in order to move up the academic ladder.
Since the racial-justice protests and national census that began in 2020, many organizations have added diversity criteria to tenure and promotion criteria, often referred to as DEI. While diversity statements in faculty hiring became more common about five years ago, revisions to tenure policies are a new phenomenon.
About one-fifth of institutions surveyed this year by the American Association of University Professors made DEI a factor in tenure and promotion. Half of the colleges that did not said they were considering adding a DEI in the future.
Asking faculty members to sign the college’s DEI statement or creating their own statement are two common ways department and college leaders measure “competence,” as it is often called in those fields. Some colleges either require or recommend that professors provide examples of how their academic work has contributed to DEI efforts on campus.
Proponents of the practice say adding diversity to tenure reviews is common sense, as today’s professors need to know how to work with increasingly diverse student bodies and help their institutions make progress toward their equity goals. The change aims to account for additional service and mentoring, often referred to as invisible labor, performed by junior scholars of color.
But some critics — including faculty members, free-speech advocates, and right-wing groups — see the DEI criteria for tenure as a clear political litmus test, asking professors to support policies and viewpoints they disagree with.
Some professors of color also believe the requirements place a disproportionate burden on scholars from underrepresented backgrounds, for whom diversity, equity and inclusion are already baked into their teaching styles and lifestyles.
Eddie R. Cole, an associate professor of higher education and history at the University of California, Los Angeles, said disagreements over how to meet DEI-eligibility requirements often boil down to tensions between administrators and faculty members with competing interests. UCLA added a DEI requirement to its tenure process in 2019.
The push to add diversity criteria to hiring, tenure, and promotion often comes from deans who came up through the faculty ranks and are now in charge of running the school but don’t have to make individual decisions, Cole said. Professors, meanwhile, are personally navigating the process themselves, or trying to figure out how to observe the mandates.
“It’s more like, ‘Hey, you don’t have to do this anymore, and you’re making decisions about it, but we still have to do it,'” Cole said.
Those tensions came to a head this year at the University of Washington, whose faculty was considering adding a requirement for faculty members to write a DEI statement to gain tenure or promotion.
The proposed proposal states that the change would supplement the university’s existing requirement — a DEI statement — for new faculty hires. “It supports the university’s strategic priorities by allowing for research, teaching, and service that helps diversity, equity, and inclusion be more clearly considered during promotion and tenure reviews,” the proposal states.
University spokesman Victor Balta wrote in a recent email that “it’s important to consider the full range of faculty contributions when evaluating merit, and that includes contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion. That’s how the proposal to the Faculty Senate was addressed.”
Washington’s Faculty Senate voted to support the requirement. When the full faculty weighed in, however, the proposal failed, with 40 percent of participating professors either voting against it or abstaining. A two-thirds super majority was required to pass the resolution because less than 50 percent of the faculty voted.
Cliff Maas, a professor of atmospheric sciences, said the requirement would have amounted to “compelled speech,” violating professors’ academic freedom and the First Amendment.
Maas said the issue was particularly poignant in Washington, given its history of dealing with free-speech issues. In 1940, three professors were fired for admitting past membership in the Communist Party as a result of anti-Communist sentiment.
Meanwhile, 116 campuses of California community colleges will now consider diversity, equity, inclusion and access in staff evaluations and faculty tenure bids. System officials stressed that the exact policies vary at the local level, and that individual districts and campuses will have 180 days to comply.
In response to public comments submitted to the community-college system, the chancellor’s office described the new policy as a framework that individual community-college districts can negotiate to meet the needs of their students, “rather than prescribing a specific and rigid ideology.” When reached for comment, the California Community College The spokesperson instructed The Chronicle FAQ page and news release.
The system’s decision drew sharp criticism from groups such as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. The group known as FIRE has argued that such requirements for hiring, tenure, or promotion are “ideological litmus tests that threaten employment or advancement opportunities for faculty who dissent from prevailing opinion at DEI.”
Aaron Terr, a senior program officer for campus rights advocacy with FIRE, said requiring faculty members to accept certain “political or ideological views for which there is no consensus” violates the First Amendment and infringes on academic freedom.
“Fire recognizes that universities have a responsibility to prevent discrimination on campus, and that they can evaluate the effectiveness of faculty members in teaching a diverse range of students,” Terr said. But this is not a requirement, it should be a consideration, he said.
Only public colleges are bound by the First Amendment, but in a recent position statement, FIRE also opposed diversity requirements at private institutions, which “generally make a commitment to free speech and academic freedom that precludes the enforcement of any political, moral, or ideological principle.” According to a recent survey by the AAUP, 26.4 percent of public colleges and 17.6 percent of private colleges have added DEI criteria to their tenure criteria.
An additional burden
Meanwhile, some faculty members of color worry that requiring scholars to demonstrate their proficiency in DEI principles—specifically making their own DEI statements—disproportionately burdens professors of color compared to their white counterparts.
Tara Conley, an assistant professor in the School of Media and Journalism at Kent State University’s main campus in Ohio, made the request. Twitter In the summer of 2020: “Can you all stop requiring black people to write diversity statements for jobs in higher education?”
Conley said in an interview that she wrote the tweet after she and other professors of color experienced a “feeling of exhaustion” when writing DEI statements.
“In general, people in higher education, faculty of color, we see fewer promotions to full professors, especially black women, compared to our white counterparts,” she said. “But we’re being asked to do this kind of extra legwork, to prove we have what it takes to fulfill the university’s mission.”
When Conley was applying for faculty positions that required a diversity statement, she explained that she did not feel the need to demonstrate her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in her statement and that her identity was already embedded within her. Academic work, teaching, and research. She used the statement as an opportunity to showcase more of her contributions.
Brian McGowan, associate professor of education at American University, a private institution in Washington, D.C., said requiring a DEI statement in tenure and promotion cases creates more work for faculty members. This undermines the original intent behind diversity statements, which is to recognize the invisible labor that professors in underrepresented groups often perform as part of their work.
“I don’t have to create an additional statement to prove that I’m hitting these metrics,” he said. “Who I am as a scholar, who I am as a teacher, who I am in the way I serve—it’s woven into each other, there’s an interconnected and integrated relationship between these pieces, and I think it’s extra labor to ask faculty. Do that. “
While American does not require diversity qualifications on board, McGowan said, officials have encouraged all departments to reconsider and evaluate how they promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their respective tenure and promotion processes.
As institutions debate the role of diversity criteria in tenure and promotion decisions, there is another key question to consider: With something as subjective as DEI, how can colleges evaluate the merit of faculty members?
Washington’s proposed policy, for example, would have allowed individual units to create their own systems for evaluating faculty members’ contributions to DEI, as they may vary by discipline, according to the proposal. It also said that candidates can describe their DEI contributions in a number of ways, such as changing deadlines to accommodate working parents or updating the curriculum to be more diverse.
At Salisbury University, a public college in Maryland, faculty members are working to create a system that alleviates the concerns of both professors of color and free-speech advocates.
Jessica Kennett Clark, Salisbury’s assistant provost for faculty success, has been a facilitator for a group of professors working on diversity, equity and inclusion in tenure and promotion matters since May 2021.
The group looked at other research-intensive universities in the United States that have similar DEI-eligibility requirements for tenure and promotion. In its report released last September, the group recommended that tenure and promotion committees look for evidence of a candidate’s commitment to DEI in teaching, scholarship, or service.
The report also recommends that officials prepare a statement on DEI expectations for tenured faculty members, so that newly hired professors know what they need to demonstrate if they qualify for tenure.
“It’s really important that we deeply embed our values and our commitment to student success, and we can’t do that without equity and inclusive excellence transparently embedded in our culture,” Clark said.
Although there is a ways to go before the recommendations are finalized, Clark said faculty members are working to create change to serve their increasingly diverse student body.
She said, ‘It’s not about punishing what you haven’t done. “This is the reward of the work.”