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Harvard scholar: Mandatory faculty diversity statements ‘an affront to academic freedom’

There’s a growing trend at universities nationwide to require scholars seeking a job to pledge their commitment to diversity as a prerequisite for employment. In other words, pledge fealty to the altar of progressive identity politics or find another place to work.

Now one high-profile Harvard University scholar — the former dean of its medical school — has called these so-called diversity pledges out.

“As a dean of a major academic institution, I could not have said this. But I will now,” Jeffrey Flier, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and Higginson Professor of Physiology and Medicine, recently tweeted. “Requiring such statements in applications for appointments and promotions is an affront to academic freedom, and diminishes the true value of diversity, equity of inclusion by trivializing it.”

Inside Higher Ed reports the tweet created a firestorm of controversy, both praise and criticism. Flier expanded on his concerns in an interview with Inside Higher Ed.

Flier said via email Sunday that the reaction to his initial tweet was “vastly bigger than any I had before. Most of the comments I saw were very supportive. Many new followers. Many people I greatly respect retweeted it. Many people reached out to me directly to thank me for ‘being brave enough to speak’ about this. I was very encouraged.”

As for the “expected” negative comments, Flier said he found nearly all of them “missed the point, and misunderstood why I was taking the view that I did. Also the requisite number of crazies.”

Asked whether he was bothered by the fact that diversity statements are required for many faculty candidates, or more about how they’ll be weighed by hiring committees, Flier said, “At this point nobody knows how they would be used today or in the future. I suspect in most cases they will not have much impact. Other more traditional factors will play the greatest role in decisions.”

But many professors likely “will be trying to figure out ‘what they are expected to do or say,’ to not have this held against them. That could lead to some beneficial things, and some bad behaviors.”

Flier summed up his primary objection to the “whole idea” as follows: what “should mainly be an objective evaluation of a faculty member’s accomplishments and reputation will now potentially be influenced by a politically contentious set of factors that will likely be gamed. And even more, this opens up academic assessment to even further inroads from political influences, which was well known in prior history.”

None of the above has “anything to do with support for more diversity, which I fully support,” he added.

Read the full article.

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