The END Of ‘Progress?’ Woke Tears FLOW!

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are coming under scrutiny at elite campuses.

Last Thursday, Harvard University’s Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics played host to a panel discussion on DEI bureaucracy and its role on college campuses. The four academics on the panel were in broad agreement that diversity in higher education is important, but their opinions diverged sharply over whether DEI initiatives are compatible with academic freedom.

Carleton College history professor Amna Khalid opened the debate by characterizing the current initiatives as “DEI, Inc.,” which treats education as a product, students as the customers, and diversity as a “customer service issue.” The ubiquity of the notion that students need protection from “harm” visited upon them by encountering uncomfortable facts and ideas underscores the power dynamics at play in the system, she said.

Stacy Hawkins, a law professor at Rutgers University, pushed back against Khalid’s criticisms. It’s a contradiction, she argued, to value diversity as a goal while opposing its professionalization. Hawkins pointed out that while the desire for equality and diversity in America and in American institutions has been valued for a long time, it has never been achieved. She argued that this failure is due to insufficient institutional structure and “accountability” devoted to pursuing the goal.

Hawkins was the only panelist at the event willing to defend DEI efforts. Other panelists—Ilya Shapiro of the Manhattan Institute, and Jeannie Suk Gearson of Harvard Law School—were aggressive in their condemnation of DEI. Shapiro argued that DEI initiatives foster a culture of self-censorship even when they do not censor outright, while Gerson pointed out that DEI concerns and speech taboos often hamper classroom discussions and debates. Such friction is an important feature of a legal education, she argued, as graduates will go on to spend their lives arguing cases in briefs and before judges and juries.

The panel follows significant recent setbacks to the DEI agenda nationwide.