Monday, June 24

Lawsuit Challenging University of California’s D.E.I. Statements Is Tossed

Diversity statements — also known as diversity, equity and inclusion, or D.E.I., statements — ask candidates seeking a faculty job or promotion to describe how they would contribute to campus diversity.

In his lawsuit, John Haltigan, who has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, said he would have applied to a position at U.C. Santa Cruz, but that the D.E.I. statement made his application futile, since he is “committed to colorblindness and viewpoint diversity.” The lawsuit contended that the requirement acts as a “functional loyalty oath,” violating his rights under the First Amendment.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian group that filed the lawsuit for Dr. Haltigan, did not make him available for an interview. But in a February post on Substack, he wrote that D.E.I. statements have become “a political litmus test” that has eroded diversity of thought in academia.

“Public trust in our universities has been severely diminished as a consequence,” he wrote in the post.

Colleges that require D.E.I. statements, including the 10-campus University of California system, defend them as part business strategy, part skills assessment, helping gauge a potential hire’s commitment to teaching and supporting an increasingly diverse student body. They say that with the statements, they seek to judge applicants on their intent and actions, not beliefs.

“If someone says, ‘I don’t want to make any effort to teach a diverse student body,’ that should be something we take into account because all of us have to teach tremendously diverse students,” Erwin Chemerinsky, a First Amendment scholar and dean of the Berkeley campus’s law school, said in an interview before the decision.

But opponents say they help enforce an institutional ideology, sending the message that those who are not on board with a certain view of diversity are not welcome in the academy. They also say the statements are another tool that the savvy can use to hit the right buzzwords, rewarding performative dishonesty.

The court gave Mr. Haltigan three weeks to amend the complaint. “We will consider all avenues to vindicate our client’s First Amendment rights,” said Wilson Freeman, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

This ruling will hardly settle the debate over the University of California system’s D.E.I. requirements for faculty hiring — or the system’s diversity and inclusion efforts more broadly — but it defangs for now what experts say was among the first legal challenges to these university statements.

Some states, including North Dakota, Florida and Texas, have barred requiring them or prohibited them altogether, according to a tracker by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Universities in Arizona were recently prohibited from requiring them as well.