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A debate on DEI will be held at MIT. The university’s DEI deans refuse to participate.

ANALYSIS: ‘There is a sense that this is an issue that is kind of above being debated, and that is a big part of the reason why we wanted to have this debate’

A debate on diversity, equity and inclusion is scheduled to soon take place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

An esteemed panel of scholars will tackle the question: “Should academic DEI programs be abolished?”

One group of individuals who will not be defending DEI at the upcoming event is the phalanx of highly paid diversity, equity and inclusion deans at MIT.

They were asked. They declined.

Among the nearly 100 MIT scholars asked to participate were: Alana Anderson, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing; Nandi Bynoe, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in the School of Engineering; Kuheli Dutt, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in the School of Science; Tracie Jones, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences; Monica Orta, assistant dean for diversity, equity, belonging and student support in the School of Architecture and Planning; Bryan Thomas Jr., assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in the MIT Sloan School of Management; Ray Reagans, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the MIT Sloan School of Management; and Beatriz Cantada, director of engagement for diversity and inclusion for MIT’s Institute Community & Equity Office.

But these MIT DEI deans will not be defending DEI at the upcoming debate, and none of them responded to a request from The College Fix seeking comment on why, either.

The April 4 debate, co-hosted by the MIT Adam Smith Society and MIT Free Speech Alliance and to be held in the Wong Auditorium, will instead feature an esteemed panel that includes pro-DEI debaters to be brought in from outside the campus community.

Arguing against the resolution “should academic DEI programs be abolished” will be Pamela Denise Long, CEO of Youthcentrix Therapy Services and a contributor to Newsweek, and Karith Foster, founder of INVERSITY Solutions and a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging specialist.

Supporting the resolution will be Heather Mac Donald, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute and author of the forthcoming “When Race Trumps Merit,” and Pat Kambhampati, a professor of chemistry at McGill University who has written extensively on DEI issues.

The debate will be moderated by Nadine Strossen, past president of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Although the DEI deans did not respond to a request for comment, their reasoning for refusing to debate the topic on their own campus may have been spelled out by John Dozier, MIT’s chief diversity officer.

“We also learned of a debate that will be happening on campus in a few weeks over what I think is an utterly false binary of ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ versus ‘merit, fairness, and equality.’ A number of people, including me, were invited to participate in this event last year. We declined based on the framing, but it fueled our thinking about how to set the right conditions for a discussion — avoiding simplified versions of issues and concentrating on a format that will broaden attendees’ perspectives rather than on having one side ‘win,'” Dozier said in a March 15 news release announcing his own set of conversations to be held on campus.

Called “Dialogues Across Difference,” the new campus series “intends to inspire conversation about building community across the Institute,” the release stated.

In an interview with The College Fix, Charles Davis, president of the MIT Free Speech Alliance, said his organization just wants more speech, not less. The group does not have a position for or against DEI, it just wanted to offer a topic that is pressing within higher education, he said.

“Freedom of expression is a necessary prerequisite for any meaningful diversity,” he said.

Davis declined to discuss why MIT’s DEI deans declined to participate in the debate.

Peter Bonilla, executive director of the MIT Free Speech Alliance, told The College Fix in a telephone interview that of the dozens of MIT scholars invited to participate in the debate, one professor did agree, however necessary travel plans ultimately made him unable to take part.

Asked to speculate on theoretical reasons why DEI deans would not want to defend DEI on their own campus, Bonilla said “there is a sense that this is an issue that is kind of above being debated, and that is a big part of the reason why we wanted to have this debate.”

“Our particular issue isn’t DEI,” he added, “…but we are here to promote free expression and the way to do this is to stage a debate where the issues can be rigorously argued from both the defenders and critics.”

The MIT debate registration page states that DEI “policies and practices are among the most debated and contentious issues in higher education today.”

“Universities have invested significant resources in DEI programs and staffing in recent years, and while these efforts enjoy significant levels of support, they have also faced mounting criticism – including from policymakers who want to ban such programs entirely. Whether DEI programs in higher education should be abolished is hardly an idle question — it’s one being actively debated around the country, with significant implications for the future of higher education.”

The MIT debate will also be livestreamed.

MORE: LGBTQ slurs found at MIT done by students protesting school’s new pro-free speech efforts

MORE: MIT faculty adopt free expression statement that protects ‘offensive’ speech

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.