Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Institutional DEI: well-intentioned but counterproductive

Abriella Corker

Editor’s note: This column was submitted to the Texan by a member of the UT community.

Recent restrictions on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at Texas universities have ignited a lively debate about the merits of DEI programs. To appreciate this debate, we must first analyze DEI in the context of the broader university.

The proper objective of a university is to facilitate the quest for truth, the dissemination of practical knowledge and the cultivation of responsible citizens. Each program within the university should contribute to the achievement of at least one of these objectives. 

DEI certainly purports to pursue these objectives. Allowing scholars to learn, study and research without the burden of experiencing racial or gender discrimination unquestionably enhances their pursuit of truth. Moreover, affording UT community members the opportunity to better understand individuals from diverse backgrounds deepens their comprehension of reality, and learning to properly understand one’s neighbors from all backgrounds cultivates the virtues of justice, charity and prudence. 

But in practice, DEI at UT has strayed far from these goals. One concerning example of such straying is UT’s “language matters” webpage, which advocated a radical variant of critical theory. This ties into a well-documented embrace of ideological posturing over community fostering within UT’s DEI programs.

A third concerning incident involved a former assistant dean of DEI giving a diversity seminar, approvingly quoting an activist declaring that “‘an educator in a system of oppression is either a … revolutionary or an oppressor. Which one will you identify as?’” She elaborated on her quotation, stating “because we already know that our institutions in this country are systems of oppression.”  

These examples demonstrate how in practice DEI is often more about political activism than facilitating truth-seeking, with which it can sometimes even interfere.

While we should be sensitive to stories describing positive impacts of particular DEI programs, a cost-benefit analysis of the broader situation shows that eliminating these programs is net beneficial to UT for several reasons. 

First, a Heritage Foundation study of various DEI programs across American universities found the average surveyed DEI program employed 45 staff members, or 3.4 staffers per 100 tenured faculty. Despite this, these programs were not linked to a significant improvement in measures of campus climate inclusiveness or student experiences of diversity. Similarly, a 2018 Harvard study found that DEI training programs generally had no positive effect on institutional environments. The evidence is clear that DEI does not materially decrease discrimination or enhance student experiences of diversity. 

DEI is not only inefficient, it is also expensive. The University spent $13.7 million on DEI-related activities. But only $8.4 million of that was public funds as the rest came through private donations, according to information the University provided to reporters earlier this year. 

Including this private funding, this is approximately $300 per undergraduate student. If DEI were eliminated and the savings passed along to students by means of lower tuition, there are many students for whom this could be a noticeable improvement in UT’s affordability.

Finally, the legitimate goals of DEI can be addressed by other means. The fundamental truth about promoting inclusivity on campus is that it starts with us, individually, and our daily interactions. No matter how many policies and action plans the UT bureaucracy implements, no matter how many eloquent speeches our leaders make, whether UT is an inclusive campus depends on one question: whether UT is a place students, faculty and staff feel welcome, regardless of their race, gender, national origin, religion, political and philosophical convictions or socioeconomic background; and whether that is true is almost entirely determined not by overarching policy, but by social interactions with individual UT community members. 

The fact is — if we as a student body treat each other with respect, any significant DEI effort will be unnecessary, and if we don’t, they will be useless. Thus, in light of the recent legislative reforms to DEI, let us not mourn an idea whose time has passed, but seek to realize the true spirit of inclusion in every interaction with every Longhorn we meet.

Paul is a senior pursuing a BBA in Finance and co-chairman of the UT chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas.

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