PROF ELLWANGER: DEI is a wolf in sheep's clothes

It’s not enough to dislike DEI: Americans must actively resist it.

Adam Ellwanger is a professor of English at the University of Houston - Downtown. His primary areas of expertise are rhetoric and critical theory. He writes political and cultural commentary for outlets like Human Events, Quillette, American Greatness, The American Conservative, New Discourses, Minding the Campus, and many more.     

A recent op-ed column from the Los Angeles Times caught my eye because of its ludicrous title: “Republicans, Don’t Fear DEI: Offices like Mine Could Only Hope to be That Influential.” The piece was written by Mitchell J. Chang, who serves as the “Interim Vice Provost for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” at University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA). It the most recent example of a popular journalistic subgenre in which experts and reporters insist that all the recent evidence of institutional leftism is nothing but the stuff of conservative fever dreams and hallucinations.

But it’s critical that the public is not lulled to sleep by reassurances like Chang’s. It’s not enough to dislike DEI: Americans must actively resist it, and Chang’s article shows why. Deliciously, he unintentionally proves not only that DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is profoundly influential on higher education, but that DEI offices are at the center of the administrative network that disseminates radical leftist ideology on campus.

Where to begin? Chang’s credentials themselves are telling. “Vice Provost” is one of the highest academic positions that exists at any university. The mere existence of a Vice Provost of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is a new phenomenon. The fact that UCLA created such a high-level position for a non-academic initiative speaks volumes. It indicates that Chang – and by extension, DEI – plays a critical role in a very small group of bureaucrats who make the biggest decisions about institutional policy.

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Chang boasts that he has spent “over 30 years studying higher education,” but he curiously notes that he has only worked in UCLA’s DEI office for two years. Later, he reassures readers that in the University of California system, “only 20% of chief diversity officers” have served in that role for longer than five years. Why could that be? Obviously, it’s because over five years ago, DEI played a marginal role on most college campuses.

So, what happened between, say, 2018 and 2023 that might have caused such a rapid development of the DEI industry? Everyone knows the answer. The DEI Industrial Complex exploded overnight in response to the death of George Floyd and the ensuing political violence and race riots that continued throughout the summer and fall of 2020. Since that time, nearly every public university in America has created an office devoted to DEI. At the schools that already had one, the funding and staffing increased significantly after 2020. Thus, it’s no surprise that Chang is relatively new to the DEI game. Everyone is. DEI is the recent result of a desperate, hurried effort to exploit a crisis to make the political Left’s de facto control of higher education official.

Where was Chang prior to his new gig as Interim Vice Provost? In UCLA’s School of Education, of course. “Education” is widely known to be one of the most ideologically-compromised fields, surpassed only by disciplines like English and [Enter Identity Group Here] Studies.

Maybe Chang was the exception to the rule? Just another disinterested researcher seeking to disseminate truth? No. A quick look at his publications shows that his “scholarship” always neatly aligns with his role in the university’s administrative bureaucracy. There’s his essay “Tracing Institutional Change: How Student Activism Concerning Diversity Facilitates Administrative Action” (2022). He also contributed a chapter to a book called Taking it to the Streets: The Role of Scholarship in Advocacy and Advocacy in Scholarship. And let’s not forget “Beyond Magical Thinking: Doing the Real Work of Diversifying Our Institutions.”

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In other words, Chang has spent decades trying to influence public policy by exploiting citizens’ misplaced confidence in the neutrality and veracity of “peer-reviewed research.” By passing off his activism as scholarship, he provides the raw materials that institutions throughout society use to justify their DEI initiatives. His position as Interim Vice Provost of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is a (temporary?) reward for his devotion to the cause. Hiring in DEI works this way across higher education.

For all these reasons, it’s pretty rich when a left-wing activist like Chang takes to the pages of a major newspaper to assure the nation that he and his fellow DEI officers have no power to enforce left-wing orthodoxy on campus. Commendably, though, his article’s subtitle openly admits that he wishes they did have that power: “Offices Like Mine Could Only Hope to Be That Influential!”

Sadly, the fact of the matter is that they are “that influential,” and Chang knows it. So does any faculty member who, like me, has dealt with DEI bureaucrats in fighting false or frivolous Title IX complaints. So do Jewish students who have looked on in horror as open anti-Semitism has recently exploded on elite campuses, all while administrators look the other way and extol their newfound appreciation for the First Amendment. All this, to say nothing of the myriad other ways that DEI’s tentacles shape campus life, deform curricula and academic standards, and weaponize sectarian grievances to advance the causes of the radical Left.

Students, parents, and the broader public need to understand that when activist-administrators like Chang promise that DEI is simply a way “strengthen the fabric of democratic society,” they are lying to you and laughing at you. They’re exploiting the public’s good will as they covertly remake the mission of the American university.  That project is nearly complete. The time for resistance is now.

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.