Study shows diversity heads don't actually help diversity

A recent study conducted by professors at Baylor University in Waco, Texas suggests there is no “significant statistical evidence” that chief diversity officer positions on college campuses result in their intended effect at all.

“We are unable to find significant statistical evidence that preexisting growth in diversity for underrepresented racial/ethnic minority groups is affected by the hiring of an executive level diversity officer for new tenure and non-tenure track hires, faculty hired with tenure, or for university administrator hires,” the study, which was published last month, states. The four authors of the study - Steven Bradley, James Garven, Wilson Law, and James West - surveyed 462 U.S. universities with enrollments of at least 4,000 students. 

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“With faculties less diverse than their student bodies, universities have sought programs and policies designed to better increase faculty diversity. Advocates for greater diversity have argued that a higher-profile executive-level Chief Diversity Officer, preferably one who reports directly to the university president, can more effectively promote and encourage diversity at the highest level of university governance compared with lower level diversity-focused offices and organizations such as multicultural and diversity centers,” the study states. 

The study added that in 2016, “more than two-thirds of the major U.S. universities we study had a CDO in place.” 

However, it continues, “it is not immediately clear how much influence an executive level CDO can exert upon faculty hiring decisions made by individual departments.” 

“Importantly, we are unable to find evidence that preexisting patterns in diversity hiring are altered by the hiring of an executive level diversity officer at the faculty or administration hiring level,” it adds. 

When asked by the Chronicle of Higher Education about whether universities have chief diversity officers for optics, West responded, “The figures in the paper tell an interesting story, but I’m not sure what is it.” 

“For instance,” West said, “the proportion of underrepresented faculty hired is actually higher for institutions that have no CDO,” a finding West later described as “not very nice.” “Does that mean that CDOs don’t work, or is this the mathematical compositional effect? The whole lesson of this is complicated,” West added. 

But, West also acknowledged how CDOs could affect faculty diversity as they are generally intended.

“I could see how a diversity officer – if they set a positive tone or a tone that underrepresented-minority faculty members viewed as positive – that could affect attrition,” West told the Chronicle. 

In an article published last summer, Campus Reform highlighted how much some chief diversity officers make. The article explained that “on average, each [diversity-related] administrative position, generally identified as some variation of a chancellor, provost, or dean, earns $175,088—though at least 15 such officials earn well over $200,000 annually, including two administrators who earn more than $300,000 annually.” 

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The article states, “In total, state flagship universities spend a combined $7,528,821 annually on such administrators, enough to pay the average tuition (based on the combined average for out-of-state tuition) of 257 students.” 

As Campus Reform also reported last year, a community college in New York was in search of a chief diversity officer, ready to pay the right person a 6-figure salary.

“The new recruit, who will earn a starting salary of at least $102,296 and a generous benefits package that includes health coverage and a pension plan, must hold at least a Master’s degree and seven years of related experience in academia,” the job post stated.