You may remember the decision made by the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences to make "diversity" a litmus test for its faculty. Which a reasonable person would assume meant if you held views contrary to those outlined by the dean of the school, you had no chance at being hired or promoted. And you may have even been subject to dismissal.
An odd definition of the word "diversity," but this - the university - is the world of illusion.
You may also remember how, in April, the dean of the school, under pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, felt it necessary to clarify the school's position in memo form to its faculty (seen here as reproduced by FIRE):
Memo from Virginia Tech Dean Sue Ott Rowlands to CLAHS ColleaguesThe UniversitySpeak is annoying, but this is her world, and I'm the intruder. So this gal can speak in whatever language she wishes, as long as those to whom she's communicating understand what it is she's trying to say.
April 30, 2009
Dear CLAHS Colleagues,
In the media recently, some have mischaracterized our college's commitment to diversity as a rigid requirement for promotion and tenure. That has never been our intention and we will make sure that our P&T document makes that clear. At the same time, please know that our commitment to equity and inclusive excellence has never been stronger. One of our greatest strengths is in our commitment to embrace cultural differences, varied talents, and multiple ways of thinking and being. I particularly resonate [sic] with one of the paragraphs from the "core values" section of our soon-to-be-unveiled strategic plan. Here it is: "In the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences we strive to promote an environment in which learning, discovery, and engagement are created and sustained by a diverse body of students, faculty, and staff. The value we place upon equity obliges us to challenge systems of oppression and privilege...(Moreover) in CLAHS, service is not just a path we choose but a perspective we consciously adopt - one that enables us to discover and critique ourselves, our world, and others." We all have within us the ability to create a college that is welcoming and affirming of difference -- a place where we all can survive and thrive. Thanks for your efforts toward this end. [my emphasis]
Beyond the annoying, the emphasis on "equity" is concerning. In a memo that was written to dispel any notion that the college's commitment to diversity is "a rigid requirement for promotion and tenure" the dean makes clear that she is still "obliged" to "challenge systems of oppression" on campus. How her "obligation" to challenge oppression manifests itself isn't made clear, but if I were a conservative in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, I'd be sharpening up my curriculum vitae and packing my bags.
So, after this memo was made public and criticisms of the school's skewed definition of the word "diversity" came pouring in, the dean gave more ground.
But FIRE remains unconvinced. From its website:
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: "Diversity" Requirement for Faculty Assessment Violates Academic Freedom and Freedom of ConscienceAdam Kissel, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, has followed that up with a letter to the the university:
Since Virginia Tech first rescinded its ideological litmus test for faculty in its liberal arts college under pressure from FIRE, the school has slowly been making progress toward intellectual freedom. Most recently, Virginia Tech removed a politicized elaboration of "diversity accomplishments" from its university-wide tenure and promotion guidelines. A separate document still contains the diversity guidelines, however. The university also has yet to retract its demands that faculty demonstrate such "diversity accomplishments" when seeking raises, tenure, or promotion. These demands violate faculty members' freedom of conscience and academic freedom by politicizing the consideration of their teaching, scholarship, and personal development activities.
Mandatory ‘Diversity Accomplishments’ at Virginia Tech Violate Faculty Rights; FIRE Details Violations in 15-page Letter to Board of VisitorsSee the 15-page letter in its entirety here.
FIRE has sent Virginia Tech's Board of Visitors a 15-page letter with 13 enclosures detailing how administrators have begun to demand "diversity accomplishments" from faculty members across the university over the past several years. Professors are expected to alter their own research, teaching, and personal intellectual development in order to prove their loyalty to Virginia Tech's political agenda. Those who lack the right "diversity accomplishments" will see diminished career prospects, including for tenure and promotion. FIRE is calling on the Virginia Tech's board to rescind the coercive elements of its diversity agenda.
In FIRE's September 14, 2009, letter to John R. Lawson, II, Rector of the Virginia Tech (VT) Board of Visitors, FIRE makes clear that it has no position on the university's diversity agenda. We do, however, strongly oppose the coercive means being used to accomplish it. We also sent copies of the whole file to all VT department chairs and to several elected officials of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
FIRE first became involved in this issue in March, after a faculty member wrote to FIRE about proposed changes to faculty assessment policies in VT's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS). FIRE wrote President Charles Steger and engaged other national higher education organizations, particularly the National Association of Scholars (NAS), to fight the coercive elements of the changes. By mid-April, the proposal was withdrawn pending further review.
Further research by NAS and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni revealed that the proposed CLAHS policies were just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, we found university-wide policies that demand "diversity accomplishments" of all faculty members seeking tenure or promotion. FIRE's additional research this summer revealed a constantly increasing set of demands by Steger and VT's provost, Mark McNamee, that go far beyond the non-mandatory institutional mission that the Board of Visitors approved in 2005.
When VT withdrew the CLAHS proposal, VT stated that "The fundamental problem was a requirement to produce materials in support of diversity." (Emphasis in original.) It's now clear, though, that VT was trying to slip one by FIRE and by the public, as it maintained a similar university-wide requirement.
America has room for universities that require students and faculty members to agree to support a particular religious or political agenda. However, this power is (for good reason) forbidden to educational institutions run by the government. To its shame, VT seems to have ignored this fact. VT must stop pressuring and requiring faculty members to change their personal and intellectual work to conform to the university's diversity agenda. We look forward to seeing Virginia Tech's response.
Surreal, yes? The university, in an effort to promote diversity, demands conformity. As the dean might say, I don't "resonate" with that.
The fight continues. Stay tuned.