The Effects Of DEI Policies On The Traditional Mission Of Canadian Universities

The mission of universities has always been the passing on and expansion of human knowledge, which has made universities contribute much to the historic growth in Canadian and world income.

This traditional mission is now threatened by policies designed and enforced by many employees that were recently hired by Canadian universities to work in offices called by different monikers: “Equity and Inclusion” (EI) at the University of British Columbia, “People, Equity, and Inclusion” (PEI) at Simon Fraser University, “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” (EDI) at the University of Calgary, and “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI), which is the term used at most universities around the world, and is used in this study. A critical analysis of DEI calls the workers in these offices “Diversicrats”.

The Mission of DEI Offices

The mission of DEI offices is described on the website of the University of British Columbia: “We are working to build a community in which human rights are respected, and equity and inclusion are embedded in all areas of academic, work and campus life.” The mission of DEI offices in other Canadian universities are very similar.

The key words in these mission statements are defined by the University of Toronto, which is also typical of those found in other universities:

“Equity is the promotion of fairness and justice for each individual that considers historical, social, systemic, and structural issues that impact experience and individual needs. Diversity is a measure of representation within a community or population that includes identity, background, lived experience, culture, and many more. Inclusion is the creation of an environment where everyone shares a sense of belonging, is treated with respect, and is able to fully participate.”

The Size of DEI Offices

Simon Fraser University (SFU) in 2022-23 had 32,000 undergraduate students, 5,736 graduate students, 1,039 faculty, and 2,604 non-academic staff. Maclean’s magazine has for several years named SFU the best comprehensive university of Canada. The number of employees working in its DEI office should be a reasonably good sample of all Canadian universities.

The DEI office at SFU numbered 26 employees in 2012 and grew 140 percent to 62 in 2022.  During this same decade, the number of students was unchanged, and all non-academic staff increased by 23 percent. The DEI employment constitutes a small percentage of all non-academic staff, but its extraordinary rate of growth suggests that the university considers its mission to be an important priority and that more rapid growth can be expected to take place in the future. It is also noteworthy that SFU’s DEI employment is high relative to that in the United States, where it would be in 10th place among 64 ranked universities.

The salaries paid to DEI employees in Canada is not known, but US universities pay their DEI employees on average more than tenured professors. Since labor markets in Canada and the United States are highly integrated, it seems reasonable to assume that the salaries in Canadian DEI offices are higher than those of tenured professors.

The History of Woke University Policies

Canadian activists from the political left have long been urging the adoption of a woke policy agenda, which in the extreme envisions the creation of a society operated by experts and politicians according to socialist principles. In such a society, the incomes of individuals would no longer be determined in markets and by competition.

These activists believe that one important policy needed to equalize incomes is correcting the harm done to individuals who are the victims of personal and systemic discrimination in the workplace and other aspects of life. These activists are dissatisfied with the success of past economic and social policies that have dealt with many of the problems attributed to discrimination.

For them it is not enough that progressive income taxes and social benefit programs have made incomes more equal and increased their security; that laws have reduced systemic discrimination in many areas of human endeavour; voting rights were extended to women, natives, blacks, and immigrants; human rights protect members of the LGBT+ and asylum seekers.

Women now are the majority among university students – in Canada in 2021 the ratio of women to men was 1,219 to 952 (thousand). In medical schools women were 58 percent of students on average and an extreme 74 percent in Laval University. Thirty percent of members of the 44th Canadian Parliament were women, and 19.2 percent of members of Canadian corporate boards were women in 2019. Race is no barrier to participation in sports. African Americans constitute the majority of players in North America’s top professional sports leagues: basketball (72.3%) and football (58%). There are now Canadian soccer and ice hockey leagues for both men and women.

To speed up this process of reducing discrimination, woke activists have successfully advocated the use of university admission quotas for minorities. These quotas lead to the admission of students who otherwise do not qualify based on their high-school grades, scores on standardized admissions tests, athletic records, and public service. Quotas are believed to benefit minorities because university education paves the way to higher incomes and leadership positions in private and public institutions. According to Margaret Wente: “At Canadian universities, race and gender quotas have become a way of life”.

However, developments in the United States raise questions about the future of quotas in Canada. The California system of universities was forced to end the use of admissions quotas after a majority of voters in a public referendum prohibited its use. Harvard faces litigation that has reached the US Supreme Court because of arguments made by Chinese American parents, who claim that the use of quotas prevents their children from getting admitted when otherwise their superior academic record would have qualified them.

The threat to the future use of admissions quotas in the United States and Canada is serious because the California plebiscite and the Harvard lawsuit have revealed two fundamental issues associated with their use.

First, quotas challenge an important feature of market economies, the use of merit in rewarding individuals’ record of performance. Asra Naomi argues that quotas have resulted in a “war on merit”.

Replacing merit as the determinant of income and status with other criteria not only diminishes economic efficiency and incentives to work and invest. More importantly, it provides politicians and their technical advisers with the right to reward individuals who they believe deserve it. This practice is welcome by the recipients of benefits and resented by those who are forced to pay for them. Its growing use explains the increase in political and social divisions in Canada that is deplored by many. The war on merit caused by DEI policies only increases this division.

The second fundamental problem with quotas emerged from the arguments about their use at Harvard, which ironically legitimatizes discrimination against one minority – Asian youth with high academic qualifications – when it is aimed at the elimination of discrimination against all minorities.

Bruce Pardy, executive director of Rights Probe and professor of law at Queen’s University, wrote: “Preferential measures, distinguishing between people by their colour, lineage, gender and sexuality, are becoming the order of the day. It is time to say the other quiet part out loud: Canadians have not agreed to be treated unequally.” He laments that Canadian courts have decided that the principle of equality of opportunity can be replaced by policies that create equality of outcomes if they lead to the elimination of existing discrimination.

It remains to be seen how the US Supreme Court deals with the Harvard case. In a case involving similar issues, the Canadian Supreme Court has decided that violation of the human right of patients in need of medical care can be violated if doing so advances the public good provided by universal, free health care provided by the government. Is discrimination applied to high academic achievers justifiable under human rights laws if it benefits minorities scarred by the effects of past discrimination?

DEI Goals and Policies

The activists’ push for the use of DEI policies may be seen to be a reaction to the problems encountered by the users of quotas and because they can be used to provide benefits for minority students that admission quotas can not.

The mission statement of the University of Toronto’s DEI offices presented above shows that the use of quotas is not mentioned. Instead, they outline a number of goals to be pursued, all of which represent almost universally accepted Canadian cultural and ethical values that are favoured particularly by intellectual elites working in Canadian universities.

However, the DEI offices do not list the policies needed to achieve these goals. This means that they cannot be challenged legally like quotas. Yet, of necessity, actual policies to reach these goals are enacted by DEI offices – and it is these actual policies that affect the mission of universities. Examples of these policies are listed below and allow insights into their effect on traditional university policies and institutions. Some of them describe conditions in the United States, which are likely to exist in Canada but have thus far escaped media and public attention.

Substantial financial resources are used to staff, house and operate the DEI offices, which otherwise would have gone to universities’ teaching, research, and student services.

Professors are required to provide the DEI offices with information, the preparation of which uses much time and energy – which are taken away from their traditional teaching and research responsibilities. At SFU, annual reports covering professors’ publications, teaching evaluations, attendance at conferences, and public service now require the inclusion of an essay describing how the professor has been “relating to students” and plans to do so in the future. The writing of this essay is difficult and time consuming, because the DEI office does not provide clear information on how to relate to students in practice, and because the failure to provide the proper information can have serious consequences.

 The following reports what happened to a professor in the United States who failed to meet DEI standards:

“Not playing along with the DEI protocols can end an academic career. For example, when Gordon Klein, a UCLA accounting lecturer, dismissed a request to grade black students more leniently in 2020, the school’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion office intervened to have him put on leave and banned from campus. A counter-protest soon reversed that. However, when Klein also declined to write a DEI statement explaining how his work helped “underrepresented and underserved populations,” he was denied a standard merit raise, despite excellent teaching evaluations. (He is suing for defamation and other alleged harms.) “ 

No such events have been reported in Canada, which does not mean that they do not happen, since they tend to take place without publicity to protect personal privacy.

One important goal of DEI offices is to ensure that minority students remain enrolled and meet graduation requirements. For this reason, DEI asks professors to protect these students from emotional harm that could be caused by some course contents and lead them to leave the university. For example, professors would be encouraged not to discuss the economics of slave ownership in the past in the United States presented in a book authored by Nobel laureate Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman, which suggests that maltreatment of slaves affecting their health and life expectancy led to the owners’ loss of capital and therefore was less widespread than is widely believed.

The background of minority students can easily cause them to be emotionally upset by the discussion of this and other subjects. As a result, to avoid conflict with DEI officials, some professors modify course contents significantly and neglect covering knowledge that they consider to be on the cutting edge of their speciality.

The website of Carnegie Mellon University presents information about its DEI policies, which avoids the words “admission quotas”. Instead, it states that the university:

“actively cultivates a strong, diverse and inclusive community while offering resources to enhance an inclusive and transformative student experience in dimensions such as access, success, campus climate and intergroup dialogue…Additionally, the Center supports and connects historically underrepresented students…in a setting where students’ differences and talents are appreciated and reinforced.” (Highlighting supplied).

The highlighted words suggest that the university’s admission procedures favour minorities just like quotas do, but in words that will make it much more difficult for opponents of preferential treatment of minorities to launch a lawsuit like that facing Harvard University.

DEI criteria are used in the hiring decisions for faculty and researchers in addition to traditional indicators of their academic qualifications. An article from The Economist reports on the disturbing consequences of this practice:

“In 2018 Berkeley launched a “cluster search” for five faculty to teach biological sciences. From 894 applications, it created a longlist based on diversity statements alone, eliminating 680 candidates without examining their research or other credentials.     

Research sponsored by the US Department of Energy will require all grant applications to submit plans on ‘promoting inclusive and equitable research’….Since 2021 the Brain Initiative at the National Institutes of Health has required prospective grantees to file a plan for enhancing diverse perspectives. Teams with investigators from diverse backgrounds receive precedence.”

The effect the use of DEI criteria has on the choice and design of research proposals submitted to the National Institute of Health is reported in a study which “finds that many of the scientists whose grants were criticized now engage in self-censorship. About half of the sample said that they now remove potentially controversial words from their grant and a quarter reported eliminating entire topics from their research agendas.”

It is not likely that the world will ever know how many potential Nobel laureates were prevented from working in the world’s most favorable research environments at Berkeley and the National Institutes of Health and instead worked at less well-endowed universities and research organizations. Nor will it be known how many research projects were modified to meet DEI criteria and thus no longer meet the researchers’ views on scientifically optimal design.

DEI inspired policies have changed practices and institutions of universities that have existed for very long times:

  • At SFU, student surveys of professors’ teaching performance traditionally were designed by a committee of professors and administered by them or non-academic staff. Such surveys now are designed and administered by DEI staff. According to information from a SFU professor, the survey questions no longer focus on the professors’ teaching skills and the quality of required readings but on the professor’s adherence to DEI mandated policies.
  • Admission to medical schools traditionally went to students with superior academic qualifications. Now, “Medical Schools Look for Activists, Not Healers”.
  • The lesson, “Sex and Gender Primer” for the Human Structure course at the Indiana University School of Medicine School laments that “most textbooks present sex as binary” and endorses “person-first language” such as “people with cervixes” rather than “women,” and “anatomy-based language,” such as “the testes produce sperm” rather than “the male gonad produces sperm.”
  • Graduates from the Columbia School of Medicine in 2015 were required to take an oath, which includes this passage:

“We enter the profession of medicine with appreciation for the opportunity to build on the scientific and humanistic achievements of the past. We also recognize the acts and systems of oppression effected in the name of medicine. We take this oath of service to begin building a future grounded in truth, restoration, and equity to fulfill medicine’s capacity to liberate. I make this pledge to myself, my classmates and future colleagues, and the individuals and communities I will serve.”

  • Victor David Hanson writes: “Our elite universities are now fully woke. Almost weekly, an embarrassing story further erodes their credibility and reputation.
    • Ridiculous lists of taboo words are issued on woke campuses, barring incendiary words such as “American” and “immigrant.”
    • Bragging of segregated dorms, graduations, and safe spaces recalls Jim Crow, not woke racial utopias.
    • Grades and standards are deemed counterrevolutionary, even as incompetent graduates increasingly fail to impress employers.

Policy implications

The mission of DEI offices in Canadian universities is to eliminate the injustices faced by Canadians who are members of identifiable minorities suffering from the effects of social and economic discrimination. The elimination of such discrimination is a goal which is widely supported by Canadians. However, these DEI goals can be reached only by the creation and implementation of policies, which will have many unintended, costly consequences.

The fact that DEI policies bring both benefits and costs implies the need for a benefit/cost analysis. Depending on the results of such calculations, the DEI policies should be terminated or continued.

Unfortunately, such calculations are virtually impossible since the values of the benefits and costs cannot be estimated objectively. This problem exists for most government policies, which is solved – albeit imperfectly – through public discussions that reveal Canadians’ views on the benefits and costs of these policies. In the light of these discussions, political parties promise to adopt or reject the contentious policies. The outcome of elections brings to power the political party that has adopted a platform most favoured by the majority. Such a process involving public discussions and political parties taking positions is needed to deal with the problems caused by DEI policies.

The outcome of public and political debates over DEI and other woke policies is very uncertain. Canadian university faculties, the legacy media, many politicians, lawyers, and civil servants favor them. The number of conservative politicians, academics, and the media opposing them is likely to be much smaller, though they might find many supporters among the silent majority.

Unfortunately, it is possible that the debates will never take place because in recent times, such debates have been opposed effectively by woke organizations of minorities, media, and politicians who discredited or “cancelled” individuals defending views they do not like. The freedoms and prosperity of all Canadians will suffer.

In any public and political debates about the merit of DEI policies in Canadian universities it would be useful to consider the arguments that have been made in the United States, which have persuaded legislators to act.

According to one publication:

“state lawmakers are proposing bills to limit diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at state-funded institutions. The bills could impact a wide range of initiatives, from defunding DEI offices and officers to removing diversity statements from hiring practices. More than 20 states in the U.S. have either proposed anti-DEI bills or could be in the process of drafting them.”

A map in this publication shows the states in which anti-DEI legislation in May 2023 has or is closed to being passed. These states have Republican governors and cover the centre of the United States. No coastal states other than Florida have initiated such legislation – most coastal states have Democratic governors.

Relevant to discussions about the merit of DEI policies is the fact that they have recently been used in the US military to influence promotion. In reaction, on May 16, 2023 a  large number of retired generals and other high-ranking officers of the US armed forces sent to US Congressional Committees a signed letter in which they demanded an end to the use of DEI policies in the US military. The letter contains these sentences:

“DEI is dividing…our military and society…Under the guise of DEI, some people are selected for career enhancing opportunities and advancement based on preferences given to identity groups based on race, gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, etc. .. To achieve equal outcomes using identity group characteristics, standards must be lowered to accommodate the desired equity outcomes. Lower standards reduce performance where even slight differences in capability impact readiness and can determine war fighting mission success or failure.

Meritocracy is essential for winning. In professional sports…the best players are fielded to win, no matter their skin color. If meritocracy is used in sports where the consequence of losing a game is minor, why is it not essential in the military where the worst-case consequences of losing a major war are unimaginable… Meritocracy wins games and it wins wars!”

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on Herbert Grubel’s website. It is republished here with permission of the author.

All content on this website is copyrighted, and cannot be republished or reproduced without permission. 

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