Diversity initiatives in America are being established
Lfour goals which is admirable in any organization; just don’t forget what’s available. Ibram X. Kendi led the first phase in promising to “solve the racial problems of our time” when Boston University (BU) was appointed in 2020. The scholar-activist – who says that racial differences are the result of racist policies, and that a policy is racist if it gives rise to racial differences – received the mandate and the money to build an academic center. He promised degree programs, racial justice training modules and more. But with piddling results, despite raising nearly $55m, his Center for Antiracist Research has laid off about half its 40-odd staff and said it will scale back.
“I don’t know where the money is,” said Saida Grundy, a sociology professor at BU who was briefly working for the center, to the Boston Globe. The university is investigating how the center uses grant money and “management culture”. Even those who supported Mr Kendi’s appointment now see the campaign as posting flim-flam on the part of BU. “We marched for change and what did we get? Wallpapers, right? The center is the equivalent of a mural,” said Phillipe Copeland, professor of social work at BU who was at the center for two years.
The dust comes amid a reappraisal of diversity, equity and inclusion (GOD) initiatives in higher education, which exploded during the presidency of Donald Trump and after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. One initiative involved hiring more administrators with a focus on diversity. In 2021 the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, found that 65 universities represented 16% of four-year students working 3.4 GOD staff for every 100 tenured faculty. Many also began requiring tenure applicants to submit statements detailing their commitment GOD.
Since the election of Joe Biden, the Democrats have been less focused on racial injustice. Meanwhile, self-styled anti-awakening politicians have pushed back. In May, Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, approved a law that banned public universities in the state from funding GOD government funded programs. Miffed students, he said, “should go to Berkeley”. In June his counterpart in Texas banned public universities there from soliciting GOD statements. The public university systems in Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin have done the same. “In states where the rollback has taken place, there has been pressure from politicians to confront too many people GOD policies,” says John Sailer of the National Association of School Students, a conservative advocacy group.
Companies are also facing pushback over their share GOD initiatives, which range from targeted recruitment to mentoring schemes for minority workers. Although the Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action in June applied only to university admissions, conservative lawyers hope their challenges to such policies in the workplace will also receive a favorable hearing. A suit founded by Stephen Miller, who previously worked for the Trump administration, has asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate more than a dozen large companies for “policies that penalize Americans for being white, Asian or male”. Edward Blum, who raised the affirmative-action case, is suing law firms over their recruiting programs.
Offering, say, leadership training only to minorities may be riskier after the Supreme Court decision, but companies should be able to defend themselves if they these opportunities are available to everyone in other contexts, says Joan Williams UC San Francisco Law. And under current law, federal contractors—which include many large companies—must take steps to improve the diversity of their workforce.
Some companies may back off GOD programs to avoid prosecution. But for others, playing up GOD efforts is good business – even if it doesn’t lead to more diversity. A working paper by Yale’s Edward Watts and his colleagues found a large and growing number of “diversity washers”: a list of companies that make hay out of their GOD commitments in financial filings despite not having many different employees. They received more money from funds focused on environmental, social and governance investment.■
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