How colleges make would-be professors submit essays on diversity, equity, and inclusion

DEI statements are a common part of the academic job application process, especially at elite schools.

Universities judge job applicants on how thoroughly they plan to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Many major universities are judging applicants for faculty positions based on their dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) or advising their students to use their DEI credentials in future academic job applications. 

In many cases, applicants must submit DEI statements in order to be considered for the job, and colleges make hiring decisions based in part on which candidates seem most committed to advancing DEI.

The American Enterprise Institute recently examined academic job postings from Fall 2020 and found that the requirement of a DEI statement is on the rise, with 19 percent of job postings mandating one as part of the application package. Jobs postings from elite colleges were most likely to have such a requirement, with 34 percent of the postings from schools ranked in the top 100 requiring such.

Several major universities have either instated blanket requirements for DEI statements, across all faculty job postings across all departments. 

In 2018, UCLA mandated that every faculty job posting require an EDI statement (the university’s reordered version of a DEI statement). Similarly, Cornell University requires all applicants for tenured or tenure track faculty positions to write a “Statement of Contribution to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” 

Bowling Green State University goes a step further by mandating that all applicants, even to non-teaching administrative positions, answer questions about DEI.

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Some schools have published their own how-to guides for writing a DEI statement, which points to the values the college wants to see in these essays as well as what the guide’s authors think will help the college’s alumni get hired at other institutions. 

The University of Texas published a how-to guide for writing a DEI statement, which advises candidates to “explain the intrinsic value of diversity, equity, and/or inclusion in your work and in higher education.” The idea that a candidate may not see intrinsic value in DEI initiatives is never mentioned.

Likewise, the University of Pennsylvania tells academic jobseekers that future employers will look for applicants who have incorporated DEI into their work as researchers. 

The guide advises them to consider mentioning “research activities that specifically contribute to diversity, equity, and inclusion” in their statements, as well as “[awareness]of challenges faced by historically underrepresented populations.”

The long list of suggestions makes clear that awareness is not enough; employers will expect successful applicants to have used DEI in practice.

The University of Pennsylvania is not alone in expecting academic jobseekers to put DEI principles to work. 

The physical sciences department at U.C. San Diego has posted examples of DEI statements, and their contents seem to use identity as social currency. 

One applicant proudly touts that he or she is a “current mentor of three outstanding female graduate student researchers, one Hispanic and another with diagnosed narcolepsy,” as if the students’ demographics and disability status are a credential. 

Another essay states that the author would specifically “offer guidance, counseling and support” to illegal immigrant students and would help a faculty member “draft UC-wide legislation to protect undocumented students from possible federal action.” The applicant’s action is given meaning only by the identities of the people they choose to help.

Whether the statements are required university-wide or at the discretion of the department or search committee, the statements are judged according to a scale that is similar between institutions.  

Bowling Green State University’s rubric says that applicants who discuss DEI only in “generic terminology” should be given the lowest scores. Essays are considered “basic” if “[t]he applicant used sentences such as ‘I appreciate the role of diversity in an organization’ with no additional explanation.”

A mere appreciation for DEI is not enough to score highly on these rubrics. At Texas Tech University, the biology department warns against using “vague terms” that do not show sufficient appreciation for DEI. According to its rubric, statements like “the field of Biology definitely needs more women,” or “diversity is important for science,” will merit the lowest scores. 

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Brandeis University uses a nearly identical rubric, and UC Berkeley recommends a very similar one to its hiring committees. Based on Brandeis’ rubric, verbal support for DEI is not enough; applicants must give specific examples of what they have done and what they pledge to do to advance the cause.   

The rubric used at UC Santa Cruz similarly rewards specificity and punishes people who choose to be uninvolved or slightly involved in DEI initiatives. 

An applicant whose statement contains “little demonstrated understanding of demographic data related to diversity in higher education or in their discipline” would be ranked low in terms of knowledge of DEI. 

The rubric caught the attention of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which told UC Santa Cruz that its policy on DEI statements violates the First Amendment. 

”UC Santa Cruz cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, prescribe an orthodox position for its faculty on any question of politics or ideology,” FIRE stated. “The administratively created rubric for evaluating DEI Statements does exactly that.”

UC Santa Cruz, like several other schools, grants the highest scores to DEI statements that cover involvement with specific identity groups.  For example, Bowling Green State University awards high marks to statements in which “the applicant specifically addressed the demographic data related to diversity in higher education” and “The applicant discussed the marginalization of groups and the consequences for higher education or for the discipline.” 

Additionally, UC Santa Cruz awards top marks to statements that show “clear knowledge of and experience with dimensions of diversity that result from different identities, such as ethnic, socioeconomic, racial, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and cultural differences.”

Not all academics agree that DEI statements are valuable during the hiring process. Ryan Clark, a former visiting assistant professor at Miami University Ohio and a former adjunct professor for Liberty University, told Campus Reform that requirements for DEI statements are misguided. 

He said, “Diversity statements are an imminent threat to the quality of higher education and ultimately to the freedoms of this country. Diversity statements are a political test being used by the radical liberals to secure the hiring of fellow radicals.”

Clark continued, “University faculty are essentially being forced to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion, thereby causing a bias to develop in university community…When emphasis is placed upon diversity faculty and students are being encouraged to identify people in terms of differences, it encourages the placement of people into groups and leads to a bias being expressed in both teaching, research, and daily university business affairs.”

Based on the popularity of DEI statements among hiring committees, such requirements appear here to stay.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito