Loyalty Oaths Return with Faculty “Diversity Statements”

One of the worst features of America in the 1940s and 50s was the persistent demand for national loyalty oaths. In those days, people were expected to declare their support for the U.S. and if they didn’t, they could be blackballed, expelled, or otherwise punished.

The ideological fervor for conformity abated for decades, but has recently returned on our college campuses in the form of mandatory “diversity statements” by faculty members and especially prospective faculty members. The difference is that instead of having to pledge adherence to America in its battle with communism, the new pledge is adherence to the “diversity” agenda in its battle against a color-blind, merit-driven academia.

This recent paper by the Oregon Association of Scholars illuminates the problem of mandatory diversity statements. While the paper focuses chiefly on schools in the Oregon higher education system, it observes that more than twenty major universities and systems across the nation now require diversity statements for hiring or promotion, including the University of California, Carnegie-Mellon University, and Virginia Tech.

Traditionally, faculty candidates have been evaluated on the basis of four documents: a cover letter, their curriculum vitae, research statement, and teaching statement. Now, a fifth document is being added—a statement in which the individual expresses his or her commitment to “diversity.” That is, how important it is to the individual, how he or she acts to further diversity, and so on.

This is not merely idle curiosity, of course. The diversity statement has a purpose. That purpose, writes the paper’s author, Professor Bruce Gilley of Portland State University, is to weed out non-leftist scholars.

At many universities, he explains, there is an unspoken ideology that “emphasizes group identity, an assumption of group victimization, and a claim for group based entitlements.” On the other hand, “Classical liberal approaches that emphasize the pluralism of a free society, the universalism of human experience, and the importance of equality before the law have been regarded as invalid.”

Scholars who don’t demonstrate enough zeal for the former or any sympathy for the latter are put under a great disadvantage. The ideological purists who often dominate in hiring and promotion decisions don’t want dissidents in their schools if they can be kept out.

They disagree with former Stanford provost John Etchemendy, who recently wrote, “Universities must remain forums for contentious debate and they cannot do so while officially espousing one side of that debate.” Contentious debate (at least over many political issues) is not what they want at all and diversity statements help them achieve that dubious goal.

What sort of statements are good in the eyes of the diversity regulators? Here is one example, from the statement of an anthropology professor. She said that she focuses “on how not to thoughtlessly reproduce the standard white and Western model of legitimate knowledge.” It’s a leftist cliché that there are other, superior ways of knowing than those of the “white and Western model,” but professing that notion does nothing to help students of any race to learn. Sadly, statements like that earn the faculty member high marks.

We have reached the point where there are workshops on how to write an effective diversity statement, one that will help a hiring committee “determine whether you are going to be the kind of colleague the department wants to have.” In an article for Inside Higher Ed, “The Effective Diversity Statement,” Professor Tanya Golash-Boza of the University of California advises candidates to focus on “racial oppression, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and other commonly recognized forms of oppression.”

But what about scholars who have just devoted their time and energy to mastering a discipline and teaching it? Golash-Boza suggests that they shouldn’t waste time trying to craft a strong diversity statement. Don’t try to fake a commitment to diversity if you don’t really have it. Unless you’re truly obsessed with the world’s problems as she sees them, go somewhere else.

Within the Oregon higher education system, the paper notes many disturbing trends involving both diversity statements and the wider ideological agenda they help to facilitate.

At the Oregon Health and Science University, faculty and prospective members are evaluated on their “cultural competency.” That is measured by the individual’s “professed and demonstrated participation in ‘diversity and inclusion’ activities, rather than by evidence of effectiveness in pluralistic settings.” And the school’s Diversity Action Plan calls upon administrators to track and report on “participation in diversity events” by members of their departments.

In 2015, Oregon State instituted a required statement from faculty on their “contributions to equity, inclusion, and diversity.” Among other things, individuals are expected to discuss their plans to spend time “advocating for normative and policy change.” The message delivered is quite clear: show that you are an enthusiastic diversity supporter if you value your job.

At Portland State, the school’s Diversity Action Council has a list of 44 questions that are to be asked of faculty applicants including “the role of diversity in shaping your social style,” and how he or she will combat “the pervasive belief that diversity and excellence are somehow in conflict.” Obviously, any candidate who answers that diversity and excellence actually can conflict has painted a target on his back.

The paper’s conclusion is strong and simple: “Universities must eschew diversity statements altogether, along with any forms of ideological signaling.”

Absolutely, but how do we accomplish that, given the fact that diversity zealots are firmly entrenched at many colleges?

Perhaps diversity statements can be challenged on First Amendment grounds. In a famous rebuke to ideology intruding on education, the Supreme Court held in the 1943 case West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette that the state could not penalize Jehovah’s Witness students for failure to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Justice Jackson’s majority opinion speaks to the same issues raised by mandatory diversity statements. He wrote:

Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good, as well as evil men…. It seems trite but necessary to say that the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings…. 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, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

Therefore, these mandatory diversity statements, which operate as methods for prescribing orthodoxy among college faculty members, might be vulnerable to a First Amendment challenge.

Rather than waiting for a legal challenge, though, this nasty phenomenon could be stopped quickly by legislation.

The Higher Education Act is currently before Congress for reauthorization and quite a few good amendments have already been suggested. (Here, for example, are several suggested by the National Association of Scholars.) We could end the use of “diversity statements” if Congress amended Title IV to say that no school that receives federal funds may require any current or prospective faculty member to declare his or her position on or actions regarding any political or social issue.

After that, perhaps the Department of Education could send out a “Dear Colleague” letter explaining what that means: no ideological screening for faculty members and a commitment to enforcing it.

In short, let’s exchange the Education Department’s vicious crusade to force colleges into using unfair procedures for handling allegations of sexual assault for a noble one to make them evaluate faculty members only on grounds that actually relate to teaching and research.

  • John G. Maguire

    Bravo, George! Great piece, and very good and useful reference to the 1943 Supreme Court case. Well stated!

    • George Leef

      Much appreciated, John.

  • Mark Pulliam

    Left-wing Groupthink engulfs the academy.

  • Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi

    What we need is a commitment to diversity of individual thought as opposed to diversity of group identity.

    • George Leef

      I couldn’t agree more. But statists hate the idea of individualism; if we stop obsessing about groups and percentages, that means less for government to do.

    • mogden

      Send this wrong-thinker off to the intellectual trash-heap at once!

  • Tamara Wilhite

    These diversity affirmations are more akin to the Soviet Union’s mandatory oaths of loyalty to the state, reinforced by constant political indoctrination classes and political officers/checkists, just today done by Human Resources departments out of the name of feelings instead of power and strength of the state. Warm and fuzzy fascism in the name of feelings is still fascism.

    • bdavi52

      “I, a citizen of the Union of Diversity Champions, joining the ranks of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Progressive Army, do hereby take the oath of allegiance and do solemnly vow to be an honest, brave, disciplined and vigilant Social Justice Warrior, to guard strictly all secrets, to obey implicitly all Progressive regulations and orders of my commanders, commissars and superiors.

      I vow to study the duties of a soldier conscientiously, to safeguard the People’s property in every way possible and to be true to my fellow Diversicats, my Multicultural Motherland, and the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government to my last breath.

      I am always prepared at the order of Those Who Know Best to come to the defence of my Motherland – and, as a fighter of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Progressive Army, I vow to defend her courageously, skilfully, creditably and honourably, without sparing my blood and my very life to achieve complete victory over the enemy (and we all know his name, gender, color, and political affiliations)

      And if through evil intent I break this solemn oath, then let the stern punishment of the Soviet law, and the universal hatred and contempt of the working people, fall upon me.” 1939, J.Stalin (with some minor editing)

  • BaconLovingInfidel

    All hail diversity! Let no man speak ill of this god of progress and justice.

    First one to stop clapping starves to death in the gulag.

  • bdavi52

    If I had ever been here before
    I would probably know just what to do
    Don’t you?
    If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel
    I would probably know just how to deal
    With all of you…

    Insane. This is nothing short of insane. And tragically this is an insanity roundly embraced by Those Who Know What’s Best for Us.

    Truly — it has all been said before:

    “All men are enemies. All animals are comrades”

    “Four legs good, two legs better!”

    “No one believes more firmly than Dean Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”

    That we have invited such a worm into the very heart of the academy, fed it and fattened it, and encouraged its loathsome ways is unforgivable. We should be ashamed but clearly that would take actual self-awareness and some sense of humility. And there’s precious little of either left in these hallowed halls.

  • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

    Fascinating history for this topic.

    After the Financial collapse, MBA schools like Harvard proposed an oath as well — their graduates helped to engineer the devastation of retirements and pensions for everyone. We need to include MBA oaths as well.

  • The old “loyalty oaths” are widely misrepresented. They did not require “support for the U.S.”. Rather, they required the professor to *not* support the violent overthrow of the U.S., which is very different. A peaceful socialist, or a Mexican, or a Mennonite, could sign in good conscience. A Stalinist could not. Nowadays, an Islamist could not, but 99% of campus radicals could, I think (revolution has gone out of style in the Left). Here’s what Wikipedia says:

    Typically, a loyalty oath has wording similar to that mentioned in the U.S Supreme Court decision of Garner v. Board of Public Works:
    I further swear (or affirm) that I do not advise, advocate or teach, and have not within the period beginning five (5) years prior to the effective date of the ordinance requiring the making of this oath or affirmation, advised, advocated or taught, the overthrow by force, violence or other unlawful means, of the Government of the United States of America or of the State of California and that I am not now and have not, within said period, been or become a member of or affiliated with any group, society, association, organization or party which advises, advocates or teaches, or has, within said period, advised, advocated or taught, the overthrow by force, violence or other unlawful means of the Government of the United States of America, or of the State of California.

    • Eupseiphos

      The “loyalty oaths” of the 40s and 50s are peanuts compared to the current rage for SJ ideological conformity. 99% of applicants would easily pass a test to pledge not to conspire to overthrow the US. But forced pledges of fealty to leftist ideology filter out huge numbers of people so we are left with the True Believers and the Disingenuous who can fake a passable statement. Absolutely appalling. Fascism is coming, but not from the Trump side.

  • Ah, ain’t Cultural Marxism grand?

  • Of course this diversity garbage is fascism,

    But, Dr. Leef, those loyalty oaths weren’t what you are implying. There is a need for real, objective scholarship on this history.

  • VoteOutIncumbents

    I have a close friend who is an administrator and grad school teacher at a mid-sized university in the Midwest. He tells me that if his provost ever found out he’d voted for Trump his contract would not be renewed. They wouldn’t fire him outright because he’d sue…they would just allow his current contract to expire.

    I believe him. Things have gotten nuts on many university campuses.

  • But wait….what about qualities like:

    > Honesty
    > Knowledge
    > Integrity
    > Experience
    > Morality
    > Trustworthy
    > Quality
    > Education
    > Principles
    > Truthfulness
    > Independence
    > Decency
    > Standards
    > Perspective
    > Reasonableness
    > Dedication
    > Loyalty
    > Thoughtfulness
    > Respect
    > Discipline
    > Fidelity

    Oh….silly me…..I’m so unfeeling….so uncaring….so uneducated.

    Daniel http://www.knowingforyourself.com