NIH prioritizes schools with diversity statements in doling out grants

The National Institutes of Health's 'Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation' initiative favors medical researchers who affirm their support for DEI.

Some schools funded by FIRST penalize potential new hires for expressing commitments to 'treat everyone the same,' writes NAS senior fellow John Sailer.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has made diversity a key consideration in giving grants to medical researchers at schools across the nation, encouraging many to craft statements “describing their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusive excellence” in order to qualify for funding.

NIH recently announced a third round of funding for its Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) initiative for Fiscal Year 2023. The program’s stated scientific parameters extend to “all biomedical research areas within the NIH mission,” including research into the “causes, diagnosis, prevention, and cure of human diseases,” as outlined in the NIH’s list of goals and missions.

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FIRST classifies applications from research institutions into one of three categories for the sake of record-keeping: “Highly Resourced Institutions” (HRI), “Limited-Resourced Institutions” (LRI), and “Partnerships,” denoting a hybrid application from two or more schools.

In order to qualify as an LRI, an institution must meet certain criteria, such as “[having] a historical and current commitment to educating underrepresented students,” and further, “if institutions provide clinical health care services, those services must be provided to medically underserved communities.” 

The abstract for the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Tuskegee University’s joint FIRST partnership exemplifies such commitments. The initiative’s “overarching goal,” according to the project description, is to “create systemic and sustainable culture change to further support inclusive excellence in research at both institutions.”

Many have taken issue with the manner in which FIRST conditions research grants based upon DEI-related criteria. In a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, National Association of Scholars senior fellow John Sailer described research projects funded by FIRST at a number of schools, including Cornell University, the University of California, Berkeley, Northwestern University, and others. 

Sailer’s piece details how researchers at Berkeley used part of an earlier FIRST grant to onboard several new faculty. The rubric used to evaluate potential applicants penalized those who intended to “treat everyone the same.” 

Other schools, including the University of South Carolina and the University of New Mexico, used nearly-identical hiring criteria, he alleges.

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NIH launched FIRST in 2021, with each round of funding granting up to $2.8 million to eligible recipients. A full list of participating institutions can be found here.

Campus Reform has contacted the National Institutes of Health for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.