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DEI: The Case for Common Ground

By University of Virginia President James E. Ryan:

Efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion on college campuses are increasingly under fire. DEI programs and offices, which have been around for decades, are now the targets of a steady stream of criticism, and legislation has been introduced in at least 20 states to limit DEI programs at public universities. Despite this swirl, I believe there is more room for common ground than might appear from news accounts.

Critics of DEI fall roughly into two camps. One embraces the basic principles that college campuses are better places if they are diverse, treat people fairly, and are welcoming to all. But the critics are concerned about overreach, especially where DEI efforts threaten academic freedom or seem designed to enforce ideological conformity.

Another camp would like to see DEI disappear altogether. Those critics assert that the programs are being used to promote a stringently liberal, if not radical, agenda — one that stands in opposition to merit and excellence and unfairly privileges certain groups over others.

The bills introduced in state legislatures illustrate this divide. Some bills, connected to those in the first camp, target mandatory diversity trainings for faculty and staff. Others, connected to the second group, seek to dispense with DEI offices and staff members at institutions, usually by prohibiting funding.

I disagree with those who would like to prohibit DEI efforts altogether. Colleges should continue to promote the core elements of DEI, as these efforts are crucial to ensuring opportunity and access, attracting and retaining the most talented people, creating a vibrant campus culture, and promoting a richer and more robust exchange of ideas. But in order to preserve and protect DEI, those of us working in higher education have to take the criticisms of DEI seriously — and do more to explain our efforts.

Read the rest of the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.