PROF. ELLWANGER: These are the secret aims of anti-racism statements

After nearly two years of my resistance, this month my English department at the University of Houston – Downtown published an 'anti-racism statement' on our website.

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.

After nearly two years of my resistance, this month my English department at University of Houston – Downtown published an “antiracism statement” on our website that purports to speak for all of our faculty. Only a few years ago, it was (correctly) assumed that every campus in America was opposed to racism. But since the Great Awokening around 2020, until you explicitly state you are ‘anti-racist,’ you are assumed to be a racist. This emotional blackmail from activist academics has coerced almost every public university in American to publish an “antiracism statement” of one kind or another.

While ‘anti-racism’ sounds innocuous to many, it actually serves as shorthand for a radical leftist agenda that assumes race is the critical lens through which all society must be viewed. The policies endorsed by ‘anti-racists’ are full of racial favoritism and demonization – essentially, they advocate a new racism where ethnic minorities are systematically privileged and cultural majorities are denigrated or disfavored.

Whenever my department discussed the anti-racism statement, I explicitly stated my opposition and suggested compromises that might allow my colleagues to craft a statement that didn’t profess to speak for everyone (which amounts to compelled speech for those who disagree). Ironically, my colleagues had precious little patience when it came to “tolerance” or “inclusion” of a minority perspective among the faculty. The result was an unhinged, hysterical statement that announces a fictional consensus.

I resisted such a statement largely because I am not a leftist and I know that the anti-racists’ claims about society are false. But those weren’t the only reasons. The problem with these anti-racism statements isn’t simply in what they say – it’s also in what they do.

[RELATED: Texas Tech removes DEI statement requirements for faculty]

At most colleges, tenure-track and tenured faculty are evaluated annually in three performance categories: teaching, the production of new scholarship, and service (clerical and administrative work in the function of the university). In the past few years, activist faculty at many institutions have tried to add a new category based on one’s fealty to, and advancement of, the principles of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion).

Some faculty have forcefully resisted these efforts, as many see them as ideological purity tests: professors become obligated to actively support the implementation of leftist policies and ideas on campus. Where enacted, this system rewards and encourages progressive faculty to amplify their activism. It also provides a mechanism to punish tenured professors and deny tenure to faculty who do not exhibit sufficient zeal for the left’s cultural revolution.

Although the attempts to attach left-ideological activism to tenure and promotion may have stalled, the activists haven’t given up: they’ve just begun to pursue their goals by different means. Anti-racism statements are a covert way to justify lowering dissenting professors’ annual scores in the existing categories of teaching, scholarship, and service, which could ultimately assist in purging the faculty of political dissidents. This is by design.

My department’s anti-racism statement asserts that “we uphold social justice in our lives and our work as teachers and scholars. We embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion.” As a member of the faculty, this “we” speaks for me. But not only do I not “embrace” these concepts (in the sense they are used on campus), I have voiced a good deal of explicit opposition to them, both as a private person and in my capacity as an academic. Given that the department has now stated openly that the promotion of these values should be manifested in “our work as teachers and scholars,” how might this effect my annual evaluation scores in the categories of teaching and scholarship?

The anti-racism statement also forces upon me many other obligations to which I conscientiously object. It says that I will “commit to doing anti-racist work that serves the whole University of Houston – Downtown community.” Against my desire, my colleagues have promised that I will resist “white supremacy and white ways of knowing and being in [my] educational practices.” The problem is that I don’t believe there is any “white supremacy” on my campus (which is also a federally-designated “minority-serving institution”). Further, whatever “white supremacy” exists in America at large is not only miniscule, it is wholly beyond my ability to change. What happens when my colleagues don’t see evidence that I am “resisting” it in my teaching materials?

[RELATED: This Washington university requires custodians to get on board with DEI]

Although the rubrics that officially determine annual evaluation scores within the categories of teaching, scholarship, and service don’t (yet) reference the anti-racism statement, I doubt this would prevent activist faculty from taking it into account in my performance review. After all, my colleagues make no attempt to conceal their intent to police the faculty and punish those who disagree: “the department community commits […] that everyone is held accountable […] in the creation of course materials, assessment, accessibility, class discussions, labor distributions and requests, and mentorship.”

Not only that, the statement warns that this “accountability” will be imposed “regardless of intent” – meaning that the worst (and most ridiculous) interpretations of one’s motives in teaching, scholarship, and service will be assumed to be true. Of course, this signals a grievous violation of my academic freedom: my colleagues not only tell me what to teach and what to say about it, they tell me how to teach.

Although academics are often zealous to “speak truth to power,” the ideological majority in my department seems quite eager to punish those who disagree – an impulse shared by authoritarians the world over. The anti-racism statement – on my campus and others – is a covert, cowardly measure used to accomplish this punishment until a formal mechanism can be added to policy.  On top of that, it’s a cheap way to signal virtue, thereby absolving activist faculty of the guilt they feel for their “privilege.”

As a tenured full professor, I have some ability to resist these attempts to make me kiss the DEI ring. But an untenured academic certainly wouldn’t, and I can’t imagine the pressure faced by graduate students who now face an excruciating choice between their own intellectual integrity and their desire for a university career. It’s a decision that no one should have to make; but sadly, it is now a common feature of life in the university.

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