Report: U of M’s $85 million Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Plan

In October of 2016, the University of Michigan launched a new, 5-year long initiative named the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) plan. In an official statement released by President Mark Schlissel, the plan’s primary goal is stated as the creation of a “vibrant climate of inclusiveness” on campus. To address campus diversity, the plan pledged to increase enrollment of students from underrepresented backgrounds. These targeted demographics include the usual race and gender groups, though with a notable mention of “political perspective.” As far as equity, the plan pledged to rid campus of discrimination based on the aforementioned identities (this time without “political perspective”). For inclusion, the plan promises to foster a campus culture that celebrates diversity and welcomes different perspectives that “support innovative and inclusive scholarship and teaching.”

The DEI plan is specifically designed to achieve “progress” through tangible actions, held accountable by measurable results. Despite this “cut the BS” branding, the official materials for this plan contain an enormous amount of BS. If you are one of the unfortunate few who actually tries to read through the official DEI materials, you will soon feel overwhelmed by inspiring platitudes and glossy pictures of smiling minorities. As I noted in a previous article, our administration has a nasty habit of hiding potentially controversial policy decisions deep in a matrix of feel-good nonsense, pages and pages of rhetorical fluff. Social justice geared initiatives seem especially suspect in this regard. I get the sense that the committees who write this drivel take extreme, indulgent pleasure in phrases like:

“Your passion for making us better, your belief that all individuals deserve an equal opportunity to succeed and your unwavering dedication to the highest aspirations of our university.”

You can almost picture the Provost reading these lines back to himself, wiping a tear from his face. “I am making a difference,” he thinks, heart swelling with vain compassion, “I am on the right side of history.”

Despite its equivocating tone, the DEI plan has already succeeded in executing some of the “strategies” it promised. Many new DEI-focused positions were added to our bloated school administration, including the Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion and Academic Affairs. Robert Sellers, the current occupant of this Provost position, wrote an op-ed in the Michigan Daily this past April defending these developments. Citing the importance of DEI’s “personal, professional and educational benefits”, Sellers boasts of over 200 U of M community members “who are devoting all or a portion of their professional lives to this work.” What exactly are the “historic and contemporary contributions” these staff members provide, that we now sponsor with tax and/or tuition dollars? We are only told of “advisory boards” comprised of graduate and undergraduate students, monitoring various administrative bodies throughout the University. After hosting teach-ins (AKA preaching to the choir) and modifying curricula to be more politically correct, our now-subsidized graduate student DEI advisory board attends exclusive receptions with President Schlissel and a “team building retreat.”

A major theme of the DEI plan thus emerges: to perpetuate the existence of our school administration’s diversity industry. Committees are formed to produce unreadable diversity buzzword pamphlets, these committees recommend more committees, and finally the Diversity Provost makes sure everyone gets paid.

This self-serving cycle is most transparent in the DEI plan’s sponsorship of postdoc programs specifically geared towards recruiting diversity scholars. The LSA’s National Center for Institutional Diversity defines “diversity scholars” as academics “committed to enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education.” Yes, you read that right. Diversity scholars are tasked with propagating one particular set of educational policies, namely the exact policies that got them hired in the first place. This is equivalent to a king paying a bard to sing high praise of the crown’s glory and virtue. Granting these diversity scholars academic legitimacy is disgraceful: rather than partake in the honest intellectual pursuit required of rigorous scholarship, they simply workshop propaganda. Undoubtedly, the DEI cabal will use the scholarly works these scholars produce to justify the growth of their programs and administrative power.

The DEI plan has also implemented a new system of mandatory faculty workshops, designed to promote inclusivity and combat racism in the classroom. One might ask what value such workshops could add to the overtly progressive classroom environment most already experience at the U of M. Fortunately, LSA Dean Andrew Martin tells us that these workshops provide additional strategies to “talk to students about racial hatred in a physics class or a mathematics class.” Although students already learn about the disproved science of implicit bias in Computer Science classes, they can now hear their Calc 1 graduate student instructor awkwardly attempt to broach the topic of “racial hatred.”

The DEI plan is a failed plea, as evinced by the dissatisfied response from the Michigan community; as evinced by Schlissel’s admission that he legally and professionally cannot grant protesters what they want; as evinced by the obvious lack of justification that DEI architects so desperately try to cover up with BS.

As staff reporters at the Michigan Daily have pointed out, many students on campus see the DEI plan as ineffective at addressing discrimination on campus, namely the “racist incidents” of racial slur graffiti and alt right propaganda posters. Whether or not you believe these offensive actions were actually carried out by a covert league of racist U of M students (I highly doubt this), the DEI can’t possibly affect the situation at hand. The mythos of ‘equity and inclusion’ boils down to the fantastical assumption that a hypothetical hateful racist can be brought back into reason by their local ‘diversity peer educator.’ In fact, short of destroying student privacy and installing a camera in every dorm room, the University has very little power to stop anonymous vandalism around campus.

President Mark Schlissel chose to promote the DEI plan at a community gathering in October of 2016, wherein U of M students “shed tears as they gave their accounts of being the lone black student in a classroom, being called derogatory names and the depression they’ve experienced after incidents of racism on campus and across the country.” However, to the dismay of protestors and those who feel targeted by racial incidents, Schlissel added “I can’t legally take down a poster — I think I’d be sued and fired.” It seems, then, that President Schlissel’s stamp of approval on the DEI initiative represents an attempt at appeasing the angry mobs outside his home and #SchlisselWYA, a way of saying “we’re doing something, we’re trying.”

The DEI plan is a failed plea, as evinced by the dissatisfied response from the Michigan community; as evinced by Schlissel’s admission that he legally and professionally cannot grant protesters what they want; as evinced by the obvious lack of justification that DEI architects so desperately try to cover up with BS.

What should the University do about our racial atmosphere on campus? The answer is elusive – it feels like something SHOULD be done to stop rabble rousers peddling divisive racial rhetoric on campus. Racial slurs on dorm room doors and anti-race mixing posters undoubtedly detract from our learning environment through small-minded bigotry. However, monumentally high levels of free speech exists in this country (and on this country’s public educational campuses) for good reason, and free speech’s monumental benefits must be taken with its inherent drawbacks. Perhaps Michigan’s administration’s most ethically and intellectually sound response to ‘racial incidents’ would be the following: emphasize the right and principle behind ignoring prejudiced speech. Perhaps the best punishment for racial instigators would be to let them fester alone, to not give them the angry response they desire.

Unfortunately the Michigan administration’s choice of racial remedy, of the DEI plan’s empty gestures of appeasement, comes with the hefty price tag of $85 million. Such wasteful spending and administrative abuse of power must be opposed now, as it will not die out on its own — the nature of Michigan’s DEI institution is one of self-preservation and entrenchment. Moreover, calls for “justice” on campus will not cease; President Schlissel, in his awkward bind, will surely feel compelled to increase his appeasement expenses in the future. Without limitation it will undoubtedly grow into a much more expensive and powerful beast, one not reigned in by a 5-year plan or a single budget.

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About Amo Manuel

Amo Manuel was a contributor to the Michigan Review.