University of North Carolina eliminates DEI statements for faculty, students

DEI statements can ‘function as litmus tests for adherence to prevailing socio-political views on various matters of contemporary political debate,’ says UNC General Counsel.

Majorities of UNC system students want to see greater viewpoint diversity on their campuses.

The Board of Governors (BoG) of the University of North Carolina (UNC) system on Thursday removed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements from its hiring and admissions practices due to compelled speech concerns.

General Counsel to the UNC System Andrew Tripp proposed the change to faculty hiring in January, citing that DEI statements conflict with free speech values.

“Requiring a statement from an employee or applicant for academic admission or employment to demonstrate an ideological commitment cuts against the constitutional rights afforded within the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Tripp argues.

He continues by noting that DEI statements “could further function as litmus tests for adherence to prevailing socio-political views on various matters of contemporary political debate.”

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

The UNC system has a history with DEI and race-related policies for faculty and students.

The UNC Medical System in particular has long used DEI in its hiring and promoting practices, ranking promoting  a “positive contribution to DEI efforts” above other activities including research and professional engagement.

Additionally, prospective students to North Carolina State were required to explain how their admittance would “contribute to a more diverse and inclusive” environment on campus for the 2021-2023 admissions cycles, as confirmed by The News and Observer.

Applicants were allegedly denied admission for referencing Roland Fryer’s empirical work on DEI or President Barack Obama’s race-neutral ideas on education, according to Carolina Partners for Reform.

The BoG’s decision has reversed both of these practices.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) sees compelled speech in the form of DEI statements as comparable to censorship.

Although seemingly benign, “DEI statement policies,” according to FIRE, “often go beyond [creating a welcoming learning environment] by using politically loaded terms and frameworks to inquire about faculty members’ views, affiliations, or activities.” 

[RELATED: Required diversity statement, bias response team part of diversity strategic plan]

Removing DEI statements parallels the recent decision of the UNC system Board of Trustees (BoT) to create the “School of Civic Life and Leadership,” which is intended to “revive the academic ideal of a campus as a haven for free inquiry and debate.” The BoT created this new program with the hopes of removing political constraints on what can be taught in university classes.”

UNC students also want their school system to move in this direction. 

An August 2022 student survey conducted across eight UNC campuses “show[s] remarkably broad support” for greater viewpoint diversity on campus, and “clear majorities of students feel that there are too few opportunities for constructive engagement.”

UNC has not yet responded to Campus Reform’s request for comment, but the story will be updated accordingly.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.