Friday, 24 May 2024

Opinion | University D.E.I. Programs: Do They Help or Harm Education?

To the Editor:

Re “University D.E.I. Efforts Work Against Liberal Education,” by Christopher F. Rufo (Opinion guest essay, July 28):

Mr. Rufo’s call for legislators to escalate the banning of diversity, equity and inclusion programs and curriculums constitutes an existential threat to the distinctively American tradition of liberal education. Essential to our nation’s historic mission of educating for democracy, a liberal education for the 21st century requires active and ongoing engagement with difference — in people, in the curriculum, and in the intellectual, social, cultural and geographical communities in which students connect.

At a moment of burgeoning economic and racial segregation, Mr. Rufo seeks a retreat to the tweedy past when the mission of universities was to produce scholarship in pursuit of “the true, the good and the beautiful.” He ignores data demonstrating that diversity on campuses is necessary for intellectual and social development and for preparing all students for work, citizenship and life in a multicultural, globally interdependent world.

American higher education’s strength is derived in part from the fact that what is taught inside and outside of our classrooms is protected from direct government control. Mr. Rufo’s anti-D.E.I. campaign is antithetical to academic freedom, shared governance and the unfettered pursuit of the truth foundational to liberal education.

Let’s be clear: The playbook that he and his ideological colleagues are following aims to dismantle rather than reform American higher education.

Lynn Pasquerella
The writer is president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities.

To the Editor:

Christopher Rufo argues that D.E.I. programs are part of partisan politicking on campus and should be abolished, citing our research showing that corporate D.E.I. training doesn’t work anyway. Indeed, it often backfires by antagonizing trainees.

Yet Mr. Rufo also argues that we shouldn’t give up on fair treatment. In fact, corporate D.E.I. programs that simply give everyone a fair shot do promote diversity, including recruitment programs that visit Howard University as well as Harvard, mentoring programs open to every employee, skill and management training programs that anyone can sign up for, and work-life programs for all.

That these D.E.I. programs boost corporate diversity simply by opening access is proof that they provide what Mr. Rufo cherishes — fair treatment. Similar recruitment, mentoring, skill training and work-life programs can expand fair treatment to university students and faculty as well. They can thereby help universities to pursue “the true, the good and the beautiful” — Mr. Rufo’s vision for the university — in all of their complexity.

Frank Dobbin
Sandra Kalev
The writers are professors of sociology at Harvard and Tel Aviv University.

To the Editor:

A university’s mission is to look forward by training people to create a better world. D.E.I. does just that.

Two months ago, I graduated from the University of Virginia. Over the past six years, our student body has faced the violent Unite the Right Rally, the Covid pandemic, a series of hate crimes and a mass shooting. We would not have survived without leaning on, and learning from, our collective diversity in race, class, ideology and background.

I wouldn’t have even attended UVA without expanded need-based financial aid programs — programs created by D.E.I. advocates. Our diversity made us stronger, as students from all backgrounds are becoming the workers, thinkers and leaders of the future. I am proud that my university sees that as its mission.

Grady Martin

To the Editor:

Thank you for giving voice to Christopher Rufo, who has exposed the diversity-industrial-complex for what it is: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Mr. Rufo is exactly right when he says that this should not be a partisan issue.

The central purpose of universities is to pursue truth. This mission requires an environment of open debate and political neutrality.

Unlike Mr. Rufo, I am not a conservative. In recent presidential campaigns I have voted for Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. However, in the role of a college professor, my loyalties are with an altogether different ideology: the scientific value system. This ideology is inconsistent with identity politics of any flavor.

Jukka Savolainen
Chelsea, Mich.
The writer is a professor of sociology at Wayne State University and a writing fellow for Heterodox Academy, an organization promoting viewpoint diversity in higher education.

To the Editor:

Christopher Rufo avers that D.E.I. programs are biased toward the left; on this point, we agree. It is worth noting that this bias is ironic given that the core tenet of D.E.I. is fostering “inclusive” spaces where all voices can be heard. It is antithetical to the mission of D.E.I. programs to silence voices that may go against its left-leaning preferences.

I am a vocal supporter of D.E.I. initiatives. My own research examines the benefits of diversity and how to increase it. Where Mr. Rufo and I disagree is in his assertion that D.E.I. programs must be wiped from campuses. Such a stance only underscores the binary “left-right conflict” he speaks of.

Instead, D.E.I. programs should make a concerted effort to encompass ideologies from a range of viewpoints on the political, academic and socioeconomic spectrum (including those on the right). Such a shift would not only bolster the “I” in D.E.I., but also stand a chance of satisfying both supporters and critics as a compromise.

Ethan Moon

To the Editor:

I question Christopher Rufo’s dedication to what he praises as a “liberal education.” The liberal education he advocates does not merely shun “critical race theory” but prioritizes the faux hurt feelings of mythical students over historical facts and current events.

Mr. Rufo may have co-opted the phrase “liberal education” in an attempt to “own the libs,” but the curriculum he is implementing at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis is antithetical to the goals of a true liberal education.

Avoidance of inconvenient truths cannot prepare or challenge a student to “bring about the improvement, discipline or free development of the mind or spirit,” as Merriam-Webster defines a liberal education.

Asher Fried
Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

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