‘If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” This quote from the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, striking down state laws mandating the Pledge of Allegiance, states a core principle of the First Amendment: The government cannot compel individuals to express loyalty or belief in political or ideological positions.
But in the University of California system, nearly every applicant for a faculty job must pass a political litmus test and effectively state their allegiance to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) to be considered. This litmus test takes the form of a mandatory DEI statement, which vets every aspiring academic — from engineers to psychologists — on their views about issues such as affirmative action, racial affinity groups, and equity versus equality.
This may be surprising to those unacquainted with the march of DEI through America’s institutions of higher learning. This march has undermined what should be the basic function of a university — the rigorous pursuit of truth. To that end, the California Constitution promises that the University of California should be free of all “political and sectarian influence.” Universities should want the best researchers and the most capable teachers. Academics’ views on the inherently political issues surrounding DEI have nothing to do with their ability to help advance knowledge.
But to even be considered for a position at most UC campuses, applicants must submit a DEI statement which is judged — separately from their qualifications — against a demanding rubric. Candidates are scored on the degree to which they agree with prevailing DEI orthodoxy, which starkly opposes traditional American beliefs in meritocracy and equality of opportunity. My law firm, Pacific Legal Foundation — representing J. D. Haltigan, a former Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, who wants to seek a job at UC Santa Cruz — has challenged this policy as an infringement on his First Amendment rights.
In addition to enforcing political dogma, the University of California uses DEI statements to engage in illegal racial and ethnic balancing.
Since 1996, race-based preferences in faculty hiring have been illegal throughout California’s public universities, thanks to Prop. 209. However, the state’s largest public employer — the University of California system, with its over 227,000 employees state-wide — works hard to balance the race of its faculty and staff in spite of Prop. 209’s antidiscrimination mandate.
And as the UC system has discovered, DEI statements are an effective tool for racially balancing faculty, and it is open about this. In 2017, the University Office of the President explained that although “Proposition 209 eliminated some of the tools that UC had previously employed to achieve diversity in its faculty,” the university could use DEI statements to “increase[e] the presence of underrepresented minorities (African-American, Chicano, (a)/Latino (a)/Hispanic, and Native American) and women in its faculty.” The university’s experiments showed that an aggressive DEI statement policy that considers a candidate’s views on DEI before even looking at their qualifications could increase minority hiring as much as tenfold.
UC’s own DEI statement data indicate that its use of required DEI statements reliably filters out white and Asian applicants, which the university wants. A study at UC Berkeley boasted that using a restrictive DEI rubric and a DEI statement screening strategy on certain faculty positions significantly reduced the proportion of white and Asian applicants who passed through to the shortlist for consideration. Indeed, since the university began aggressively demanding DEI statements in faculty applications, Asian and white hiring has fallen, while black and Hispanic hiring has skyrocketed.
Whether for racial discrimination or to drive out dissenters from the DEI orthodoxy, DEI statement requirements are a terrible development for academic hiring. The university is essentially creating an ideological monoculture and putting racial and ethnic balancing ahead of actual diversity in “values and worldviews” that the university policy uses to justify its DEI policy.
Dr. Haltigan’s lawsuit, by contrast, stands for the principle that public universities must embrace the idea that Americans must be allowed to disagree with the administration about politically fraught questions to advance science in an atmosphere of free inquiry. Only by respecting the American academic tradition of free inquiry — and true diversity of thought — can the University of California system reclaim the credibility it has lost by its single-minded devotion to racial balancing.
This op-ed was originally published at National Review on July 14, 2023.