Diversity, equity and inclusion offices become weapons to intimidate and limit speech
Critical race theory is becoming institutionalized across American universities, and a major reason is the educational bureaucracy.
Most universities now have offices for diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, that exercise a broad writ on campus and act as speech police within the university.
That power was on ugly display last week at Stanford Law School, where a mob of law students shouted down Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kyle Duncan in a spectacle unfit for any institution of higher learning. (Judge Duncan relates his experience nearby.)
Heckling unpopular speakers is common on campus, but what makes this episode stand out is the role played by administrators. As the room grew unruly, Judge Duncan asked that a college official step in. The law school’s associate dean for DEI, Tirien Steinbach, took the podium. “Me and many people in this Administration do absolutely believe in free speech,” the dean said, but then went on to ask if “the juice is worth the squeeze”—that is, whether tolerating free speech is worth the pain it causes.
Ms. Steinbach characterized the judge’s speech as something “that feels abhorrent, that feels harmful, that literally denies the humanity of people.” And she lectured Judge Duncan: “Do you have something so incredible and important to say about Twitter, Guns and Covid that it is worth the division of these people?”
Her remarks were not off-the-cuff. Ms. Steinbach had riled up protesters before the event with an email alerting them that “Numerous senators, advocacy groups, think tanks, and judicial accountability groups” opposed Judge Duncan’s nomination because of his legal advocacy “regarding marriage equality and transgender, voting, reproductive, and immigrants’ rights.”
The federal judge has caused “upset and outrage,” she continued, and has “repeatedly and proudly threatened healthcare and basic rights for marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ people . . . prisoners, Black voters, and women.”
Stanford’s president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, and Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martinez later apologized to the judge. But on Monday students lined the halls to protest Ms. Martinez for apologizing. No one expects Ms. Steinbach will face discipline for her role in the fiasco, and the school is still offering her further involvement to help with university healing.
The dean of students emailed the Federalist Society students who had invited Judge Duncan to offer support and counseling—including from Dean Steinbach. The email also encouraged them to “consider pausing their student organization social media accounts until this news cycle winds down” and “try your best not to engage on Twitter.”
In other words, respond to an attempt to stifle your speech by stifling your speech.
The Stanford blowup shows how the culture of DEI, and especially its accumulation of power in the bureaucracy, has become a threat to free speech.
Students who gather to jeer disfavored speakers and intimidate and harass fellow students use the authority of DEI offices to sanction their behavior.
Rather than promoting diversity, DEI officers enforce ideological conformity.
Jay Greene of the Heritage Foundation reports that the average major university now has 45 DEI personnel.
The University of Michigan has 163 DEI officers.
Ohio State and the University of Virginia each have 94.
Georgia Tech has 41 DEI personnel but only 13 history professors.
All of this has understandably produced a political backlash. Texas lawmakers this month introduced a bill to eliminate DEI offices on public university campuses, except those working solely to ensure compliance with state and federal anti-discrimination law.
The bill also seeks to remove the ideological loyalty oaths that many schools now demand of faculty. A similar policy recently passed at the University of North Carolina. The Texas bill says universities should also incorporate into their bylaws the University of Chicago’s principles on freedom of expression.
We can hope this helps in Texas, but the tyranny of DEI has spread across far too many American institutions. The DEI movement may have started with good intentions, but across government, education and American business its functionaries have too often become ideological enforcers.
DEI officials have a vested interest in ensuring that the grievances of identity politics continue lest the offices have no reason to exist.
As the Stanford experience shows, they promote racial division rather than redress it, and institutions need to rethink their value.
What Happened to Stanford? (Victor Davis Hanson)
. . . Note these were ostensibly not teenaged undergraduates. Instead, they were wannabe adult professionals, in law school to learn jurisprudence and to enter the elite American legal system that is supposed to have protocols separating it from the mobocracies prevailing abroad. . . .