George Mason’s Orwellian “Just Societies” Requirement

Courses that take DEI principles for granted cannot be intellectually honest.

I recently discovered that George Mason University, where I teach, plans to adopt a “Just Societies” course requirement. “Students entering Mason in Fall 2024 or later will be required to take two Mason Core courses that have the Just Societies flag.”

If you read any closer, you unsurprisingly discover that this is a thinly veiled woke-indoctrination requirement. Students are not exploring substantively different views on justice; they are hearing about “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” in all its Orwellian wonder. As the official website tells us,

Upon completing a Just Societies course, students will be able to demonstrate the following two competencies.

1. a) Define key terms related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, as related to this course’s field/discipline and
b) Use those terms to engage meaningfully with peers about course issues

This competency focuses on ensuring students (a) have an accurate understanding of terms that have become commonly used in today’s workplaces and society and (b) are able to use these terms accurately and meaningfully, while respectfully engaging with other students around course content.

2. Articulate obstacles to justice and equity, and strategies for addressing them, in response to local, national, and/or global issues in the field/discipline

This competency focuses on the capacity to evaluate and work toward solving such complex problems as obstacles to justice (fair and impartial treatment for individuals) and equity (freedom from bias or favoritism, such that all individuals can achieve their full potential and contribute to society).

What’s so terrible about the Just Societies framework? Let me count the ways.

First, the requirement plainly takes the correctness of the DEI view of justice for granted. How can you possibly “ensure an accurate understanding” of DEI while granting that it might be a smokescreen for horrible injustice? Are we supposed to imagine the professors declaring, “Let’s respectfully engage with the view that I’m engaged in radical leftist indoctrination”? Can you seriously imagine the faculty musing, “Maybe DEI itself is the obstacle to justice and equity we need to address. Maybe the best way to address these obstacles is to get rid of classes like mine. Let’s consider the arguments”?

Taking the correctness of the DEI view of justice for granted would be bad even if the DEI view turned out to be correct.Second, taking the correctness of the DEI view of justice for granted would be bad even if the DEI view turned out to be correct! When deep controversies exist, an intellectually serious class starts by frankly acknowledging them and trying to resolve them. What alternatives, you ask? Let’s start with color-blind meritocracy, which, by the way, is a lot more radical than it sounds.

Third, the DEI view of justice turns out to be fundamentally incorrect. My book Don’t Be a Feminist: Essays on Genuine Justice explores why. So do a long list of other books. Long story short: In the First World, the primary cause of unequal success is not unfair treatment but unequal performance—and the main exception to this rule is mandatory discrimination driven by the ideology of DEI itself. This is all pretty obvious, but DEI uses severe intimidation to make unbelievers feign assent, which is, by the way, highly unjust.

Fourth, the Just Societies requirement reflects a deeply anti-intellectual approach to “justice” that willfully ignores thousands of years of relevant philosophical debate. Debates like: “Is morality objective or subjective?” “Are morality and religion connected, and if so, how?” “Is the fundamental principle of justice utilitarianism, egalitarianism, libertarianism, virtue, or something else?” The Just Societies requirement doesn’t just pretend like the latest fashion is on par with serious philosophy; it pretends like the latest fashion is the only serious philosophy.

Finally, most critics of the Just Societies initiative would probably settle for a compromise that keeps the basic idea but removes objectionable DEI language. I say there is a deeper lesson: The political bias of the humanities and social sciences is so egregious that it’s silly to ask them to teach any politically controversial subject. Imagine a world where 95 percent of history teachers are fervent Jesuits. In such a world, mandating a “History of Religion” class amounts to mandating Catholic indoctrination. And if you look at academia’s Democrat/Republican ratio, 20:1 is about where we stand. Whatever the official description, mandating a Just Societies class is tantamount to mandating leftist indoctrination.

Last week, I posted a digest version of the preceding critique on GMU’s official comments page, then shared my comment on X. This led to a series of surprises:

First, the tweet got a lot of attention.

Second, the tweet led a GMU student to email our DEI office to alert them to my thoughtcrime. How do I know? Because I was cc’d! To its credit, the DEI office did not respond.

Third, my tweet came up at GMU’s latest Board of Visitors meeting. From the transcript:

It seems to a lot of us that this whole DEI infrastructure is embedded throughout every course and it is inconsistent with the Chicago principles. And in fact when you look at some of the public comments, [for example of] Bryan Caplan, faculty member, the Just Societies initiative is a thinly veiled effort to teach far left or woke views of justice as the one true position.

The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the meeting, and the College Fix reported on the whole affair so far. The verdict, for now: The Board of Visitors will reconsider the Just Societies mandate in three months. (However, according to my colleague Tim Groseclose, the proposal has technically already been approved and will happen unless the Board of Visitors officially kills it.)

If you object to mandatory indoctrination at public universities, we shouldn’t have the Just Societies requirement or anything remotely like it.During the meeting, the board agreed to form a committee that would look more in-depth at the requirement. Stephanie Aaronson, the George Mason spokesperson, said in an email that the committee includes two board members and four faculty and staff members who will “continue the conversation and report back with recommendations” in May.

While my dear friend Don Boudreaux is celebrating cautiously, I’m not even ready to do that. No one needs three months to “look more in-depth at the requirement.” If you object to mandatory indoctrination at public universities, we shouldn’t have the Just Societies requirement or anything remotely like it.

Some final thoughts: Strategically speaking, you’d think that woke academics would keep their heads down until the Harvard-Hamas-plagiarism scandals faded away, especially in a purple state like Virginia with a Republican governor. My best explanation for their strategic missteps: They’re in such an airtight echo chamber that they can’t fathom how negatively the non-academic world sees them.

This is quixotic, I know, but let me try to break through the woke academic echo chamber with some harsh truths. If you promote DEI for a living, the reality is that normal, apolitical people see you as a racist, sexist, censorious fanatic. They don’t say so publicly … because they are afraid of you. They don’t tell you privately … because they are afraid of you. But when they’re speaking to people they trust, they vehemently disagree with you—and yearn to see you all fired.

Contrary to woke dogma, racism does not mean “prejudice plus power.” Yet the phrase still nicely captures what normal, apolitical people detest about DEI promoters. Namely: DEI promoters are exemplars of powerful, prejudiced people. After all, they get paid to make baseless accusations of moral failing against their co-workers—day in, day out. If you work in DEI and want to see people who need to learn about the just treatment of others, spare us another self-righteous lecture and look in the mirror.

Bryan Caplan is professor of economics at George Mason University and a New York Times bestselling author.