Engage in higher ed’s conversations about racial equity and inclusion. Delivered on Tuesdays. To read this newsletter as soon as it sends, sign up to receive it in your email inbox.
From: Katherine Mangan
Subject: Race on Campus: What Exactly Is a 'DEI Bureaucracy'?
Welcome to Race on Campus. Florida’s governor has vowed to eliminate them, to make them “wither on the vine.” Abolishing them is the No. 1 priority of model legislation making its way around some statehouses. But what are the “DEI bureaucracies” that are increasingly in the crosshairs of critics of campus diversity efforts? Our Katherine Mangan looked into it. If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write to me:
We're sorry. Something went wrong.
We are unable to fully display the content of this page.
The most likely cause of this is a content blocker on your computer or network.
If you continue to experience issues, please contact us at 202-466-1032 or email@example.com
Welcome to Race on Campus. Florida’s governor has vowed to eliminate them, to make them “wither on the vine.” Abolishing them is the No. 1 priority of model legislation making its way around some statehouses. But what are the “DEI bureaucracies” that are increasingly in the crosshairs of critics of campus diversity efforts? Our Katherine Mangan looked into it. If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Brief History of the ‘Vast DEI Bureaucracy.’
They’ve been blasted as “divisive ideological commissariats,” threatened with extinction by the governor of Florida, and said to “live parasitically off universities whose actual purpose is scholarship.”
Those are just a few of the ways critics of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs have ramped up their assaults on what they increasingly refer to, simply, as “the DEI bureaucracy.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican and possible presidential candidate for 2024, warned last month, “We are also going to eliminate all DEI and CRT bureaucracies in the State of Florida.” He didn’t explain what he meant by those bureaucracies, but he vowed that, without funding, their initiatives would “wither on the vine.”
In an issue brief last month, the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, outlined model legislation that listed, as its top priority, abolishing “DEI bureaucracies.” It said they “operate as divisive ideological commissariats, promulgating and enforcing Critical Race Theory and related political orthodoxies as official campus policy.”
It got us at The Chronicle wondering what exactly is meant by DEI bureaucracies, and why critics of campus diversity efforts have zeroed in on that phrase. I asked Ilya Shapiro, director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute and one of the authors of the proposed legislation.
The term, he said, reflects what he and the other authors see as the ballooning infrastructure surrounding DEI efforts on campuses, where dozens of employees may work across multiple offices promoting policies that he believes stifle debate.
“It doesn’t seem the fact that these DEI offices and officials have proliferated has had any positive effect,” Shapiro said in an interview. In fact, he said, “they increase racial and social tensions and detract from universities’ educational missions.”
Shapiro has had his own run-in with a university’s diversity office. In his case, it was at Georgetown University, where his controversial tweet about President Biden’s stated plan to nominate a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court prompted Shapiro’s suspension before he’d even started the job. He was later reinstated but quit anyway, telling The Chronicle he wasn’t prepared “to walk on eggshells to try to avoid any sort of inadvertent offense.”
In Florida, where DeSantis asked public colleges to detail their diversity spending, a Chronicle analysis found that none of the four-year universities reported spending more than 1 percent of their budgets on such efforts.
“The reality is that DEI work is vital, but too often, the people leading those efforts are under-resourced,” said Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. “They’re often tasked with achieving unrealistic goals. That’s reflected in the high turnover rates we’re seeing in the profession.”
By repeatedly raising the specter of an army of DEI crusaders intent on stifling debate and brainwashing students, “It’s clear that the goal is to attack the work, attempt to dismantle the infrastructure, and silence the voices across the country” promoting the benefits of more diverse and inclusive campuses, she said. In a message posted on the association’s webpage, she said her association would work with diversity officers and national groups to explain and defend their work.
The term DEI bureaucracy has been around for a while. Five years ago, the columnist George Will bemoaned “the ever-thickening layer of social-justice crusaders and orthodoxy enforcers who, nationwide, live parasitically off universities whose actual purpose is scholarship.”
The Heritage Foundation, in a 2021 report, described a “vast DEI bureaucracy” that appears to “increase administrative bloat without contributing to the stated goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Of the 65 universities the authors contacted, the average one had 45 people promoting DEI, the report said. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, it said, had 163.
“Employing dozens of DEI professionals — in the form of chief diversity officers, assistant deans for diversity, and directors for inclusive excellence — may be better understood as jobs programs subsidizing political activism without improving campus climate,” the report stated.
Tabbye M. Chavous is the chief diversity officer and vice provost for equity and inclusion at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. In 2016 the university started its first five-year strategic DEI plan. It tapped into strategies of 50 DEI plans in 19 schools and colleges, student life, athletics, medicine, and other offices.
The 163 or so employees whose portfolios include some kind of diversity work are a tiny fraction of the Ann Arbor campus’s approximately 50,000 employees, she said. And the $17 million a year the university spent during the first five years of its DEI plan also represents less than 1 percent of the university’s annual operating budget of $2 billion.
In a highly decentralized university, “Having people who are embedded in these spaces allows the work to be done most effectively and efficiently,” Chavous said. Over the past several years, the university has hired more diverse faculty and staff, increased the number of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and incorporated diversity-related material across the curriculum.
Instead of criticizing a bloated bureaucracy, she said, the focus should be on “the fact that we’ve been able to show such significant outcomes by spending a very tiny fraction of our university’s operating budget.”
- Ruth J. Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University, abruptly announced she will leave her position at the end of February, months before her planned June 1 departure. Simmons wrote that she was recently informed that she could continue with “limited presidential authority,” and added that she “would not agree to being president in name only.” (Houston Chronicle)
- A new program at Tennessee State University and three other colleges is partnering with the National Park Trust and the organization HBCUs Outside to get more students at historically Black colleges to enjoy the outdoors. (NPR)
- The College Board, which develops Advanced Placement courses, spoke out against Gov. Ron DeSantis’s move to cut the nonprofit organization’s new African American-studies course in Florida. (Politico)