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A psychology professor who applied for a tenure-track position at UC Santa Cruz is suing the campus and UC for first amendment violations over a requirement that faculty applicants submit a statement detailing their experience with “diversity, equity and inclusion,” or DEI statement. Specifically, UCSC’s prompt stipulates that faculty applicants must provide examples of past contributions to diversity, showcase an understanding of diversity and equity issues in their field or higher education and discuss their vision for future contributions to diversity. A DEI statement is the minimum benchmark to ensure that applicants provide a transparent declaration of their intention to uplift underrepresented groups to the hiring committee.

In a press release, the Pacific Legal Foundation, a right-leaning organization representing the UCSC applicant, John Haltigan, expresses that the DEI statement “is nothing more than a rebranding of the unconstitutional loyalty oaths that proliferated during the Cold War.” Haltigan himself is a strong proponent of “colorblind inclusivity” and “merit-based promotion,” which he contends is anathema to principles espoused by the DEI statements. 

A requirement by the UC for faculty applicants to submit a DEI statement does not inherently violate the First Amendment a university has the authority and responsibility to establish certain workplace standards and objectives for its faculty members. To claim that the DEI statement violates the First Amendment is to misconstrue the nature of the amendment itself. The First Amendment protects individuals’ right to free speech, but it does not grant an absolute right to employment without evaluation of the standards the organization is supposed to set. 

Moreover, the DEI statement does not selectively target or penalize particular ideological tenets. Universities have the delicate task of balancing free speech rights with fostering an environment that protects the rights and dignity of all community members. Arguments contending that a commitment to diversity and inclusion encroaches upon personal liberties are rooted in fallacies. Opposition to the DEI requirement arises from a reactionary perspective akin to outcries of reverse racism and endorsing colorblindness. The concept of colorblindness assumes a post-racial society, disregarding the ongoing racial injustices that persist in various aspects of contemporary life. It is invoked to broadly silence discussions of race. By ignoring the systemic biases ingrained in American institutions and everyday interactions, colorblindness allows these injustices to perpetuate.

The UC has made significant strides in creating a diverse and inclusive educational environment. In 2022, the university admitted its most diverse freshmen class in history, with 43% of students coming from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. However, UC reports that African American and American Indian graduate and professional students are still less likely than other students to feel cultural respect on campus. 

According to a survey polling over 1,000 university students, a resounding majority think that racial and ethnic diversity improves schools’ social and learning environments. Fifty-six percent of students think institutions should be held accountable for boosting the student representation of historically marginalized groups. This student endorsement for a DEI-compliant learning environment accentuates the value that students place on embracing a plethora of perspectives crucial to a multifaceted education. 

Diversity on college campuses chariots a breadth of tangible benefits supported by empirical evidence. Research findings demonstrate that enrolling in a more diverse college is associated with higher earnings and family income, as students from diverse colleges are expected to earn more by more than 5%. Additionally, studies indicate that Black students with same-race instructors achieve higher test scores and are less likely to drop out. Diversity in education contributes to higher academic success and holds significant long-term economic benefits for students. 

The substantial and enduring disparities in educational achievement among different socio-demographic groups underscore the imperative for institutions to prioritize investment in historically disadvantaged communities, particularly racial minorities. The DEI statement serves as a fundamental starting point for faculty members who will engage with a diverse range of college students. While it is essential to have ongoing discussions and debates about the objectives of DEI initiatives, it is crucial to differentiate between the legitimate exercise of free speech and the reasonable expectations placed on faculty members within the context of their professional responsibilities.