Rampant DEI nonsense to blame for the chaos seizing higher education

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Universities have succeeded in radicalizing their campuses. Eliminating mandatory ideological pledges to DEI is the first step to recovery

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With American college campuses convulsed by protests that are anti-Israeli, anti-American and often antisemitic, it’s a good time to ask how students at the country’s institutions of higher education are so profoundly radicalized and hostile to their own society. The answer is that, to a great extent, these schools are the authors of their own problems. They worked hard to politicize students and, at least with some, succeeded.

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New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind, notes that campus bureaucracies around freshman orientation and student life are constantly growing — and they’re staffed by people who are even further to the political left than professors.

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“They’re largely getting PhDs from education schools,” Haidt explained. “They’re very ideological. And their goal is to shape incoming students to be warriors for social justice as they see it.”

This shaping comes in the form of mandatory training nominally intended to help students interact with classmates of different backgrounds, races, sexual orientations and what have you. But the training, often presented under the banner of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), is deeply politicized and leads receptive subjects towards what Haidt characterizes as a “hate-filled, binary, us-versus-them worldview.”

Inculcation of this worldview is pervasive on college campuses. One report published last month by Speech First, an American free speech advocacy organization, examined 248 colleges and universities in the country and found that a “significant majority (67 per cent) of these institutions mandate DEI academic courses to satisfy general education requirements.”

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Such courses pop up everywhere. Arizona’s Goldwater Institute reported in March that journalism students at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication are required to take a course that pushes identity politics, lectures students on so-called “microaggressions” and preaches the doctrine of “privilege” that some people supposedly acquire simply by being born.

“If you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, here are a bunch of unearned benefits you get that many folks do not,” students are told in a section that then launches into a litany of such perks.

Arizona is better than some places given that the state’s board of regents barred public universities from requiring DEI statements — pledges of allegiance to a specific point of view — of job applicants.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) warned about these pledges in 2022: “Vague or ideologically motivated DEI statement policies can too easily function as litmus tests for adherence to prevailing ideological views on DEI, penalize faculty for holding dissenting opinions on matters of public concern and ‘cast a pall of orthodoxy’ over the campus.”

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In April, Kansas adopted FIRE’s model legislation forbidding public colleges to “condition admission or educational aid to an applicant for admission, hiring an applicant for employment or hiring, reappointing or promoting a faculty member, on the applicant’s or faculty member’s pledging allegiance to or making a statement of personal support for or opposition to any political ideology or movement.”

The broad language of the bill is important to forestall an end-run by DEI advocates through shifting terminology. It’s also necessary to prevent advocates of other ideologies from adopting loyalty-oath tactics in the future. Infusing educational institutions with rigid orthodoxy is wrong for all movements, not just for the totalitarian problem child of the moment.

But that legislation doesn’t address the incorporation of DEI into curriculums, which is a concern for Speech First. In its report, the organization proposes to “prohibit the mandatory inclusion of ideological activism courses, such as critical race theory and DEI, as a condition for obtaining a degree” and “ensure that universities provide instruction in foundational principles of the United States that make up our legal system and governing structures.”

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But a requirement that universities provide instruction in any sort of principles, no matter how good, is not compatible with prohibiting ideological activism. To the contrary, it sounds a lot like a mission to replace one flavour of ideological instruction with another. Speech First might prefer a different set of ideas, but those should no more be foisted on captive students than should DEI.

An additional problem is that prohibiting ideologically charged courses is going to be a challenge. Faculty capable of crafting mandatory DEI courses at a journalism school are perfectly capable of renaming their classes something innocuous and then playing Whac-a-Mole with the enforcers of neutrality.

At a time when surveys find that left-leaning faculty outnumber those leaning to the right at American universities five-to-one, and the ratio among administrators is a mind-blowing 12-to-one, policing ideological content in classes is a losing proposition. Undoing damage to higher education that took years to develop will also take a long time.

Ending universities’ self-adopted role of crafting students into radical social justice warriors will require remaking those schools. Professors and administrators will have to be more likely to disagree with each other so that they’re not delivering unquestionable orthodoxies to students. Then students can be educated in a healthy atmosphere of competing views rather than received wisdom.

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Writing in 2018 of his experience as a Columbia University undergraduate with one especially doctrinaire instructor, Coleman Hughes recalled, “Voicing a strong pushback against any idea that the professor favoured was nearly unthinkable.

Eliminating DEI statements — or any other ideological loyalty oaths — as conditions of admission, employment or graduation is the first step down a long path to restoring open inquiry to schools.

That’s the one good thing about the current moment’s campus chaos. It’s a wake-up call to universities that became accustomed to smugly grooming students as radical activists and are now reaping what they sowed. If they don’t respond to that call, we can do so ourselves — by choosing education elsewhere.

National Post

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