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GMU economist reported to DEI office for criticizing plan to mandate DEI courses

Board of Visitors secures more time to review proposed mandate

An economics professor at George Mason University was recently reported to its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office after he publicly criticized an effort underway to add two diversity-heavy courses to graduation requirements.

Economist Bryan Caplan posted on X his strong objection to the proposal — which is on the cusp of being implemented even as several states across the nation have enacted laws that curb diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and offices in higher education.

“George Mason University is a public university, funded by Virginians with a wide range of political views about the nature of justice. The Just Societies Initiative is a thinly-veiled effort to teach far-left (or ‘woke’) views of justice as the One True Position,” Caplan posted Feb. 20.

“Even people who agree with such views should ponder the justice of creating an official state-sanctioned orthodoxy and requiring all students to spend multiple classes feigning agreement with it.”

That post was screenshot by a student and emailed to GMU’s DEI office, flagged as troubling comments, an email Caplan told The College Fix he was CC’d on. He called it a veiled threat, but added he will not back down on his criticisms.

He said professors who would teach most of the courses that fulfill the “Just Societies” requirement “are so obviously and overwhelmingly biased that it does a disservice to the subject.”

Evidently some GMU Board of Visitors members agree with Caplan. At their Feb. 22 meeting, several pushed back on the proposal.

The plan would not add to the number of credits students must accumulate to earn a degree.

Instead it would require students take two courses that have embedded and infused DEI concepts and learning outcomes into their curricula. Professors can submit their courses to be considered for meeting the requirement.

Some board members voiced concerns about the potential bias of professors, whether students in such classes could still earn “As” if they disagree with their teachers, and if a DEI requirement is something that should be added at a time when serious questions have been raised about the ideology, according to a recording of the meeting published Monday.

“We are creating an ecosystem where you have the oppressed versus the oppressor, and that’s not what this should be about,” said Charles “Cully” Stimson, a conservative who was appointed to the board by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin last July.

Stimson called DEI too divisive, said the “Ibram X. Kendi thing is a hoax,” and objected to DEI being forced into hard science classes, among other concerns.

“Mason should be focusing on what Mason does great, which is training STEM and other really good students who can go out and get great jobs,” he said.

At the end of the meeting it was agreed that board members would review the proposal further before it’s officially enacted.

Keith Renshaw, George Mason University’s senior associate provost for undergraduate education, told board members the “Just Societies” requirement is needed for several key reasons: to teach students how to get along in a diverse world; to appease accreditation requirements; and to mimic other Virginia universities that also have DEI mandates.

“In today’s society, we are in desperate need of people who can engage with each other around areas of difference and disagreement, particularly things like justice and equity,” Renshaw told the board. “Universities need to lead in helping people engage with different people meaningfully and respectfully instead of running back to the safety of echo chambers.”

But Caplan is among several professors in the Economics Department sounding the alarm on the proposal. Professor Donald Boudreaux wrote a blog post criticizing the effort, calling it an “unjust, illiberal, and anti-intellectual requirement that new students be indoctrinated in the idiocies of woke ideology.”

George Mason University often is considered a moderate university due to the high percentage of center-right faculty in its Economics Department and law school. However, a September 2023 report from the conservative Heritage Foundation noted that “GMU has at least 69 DEI personnel.”

“A review of George Mason University websites also reveals a disturbing amount of radical content that is inappropriate for a public university supported by taxpayers. This is particularly surprising given GMU’s reputation as a center-right university,” the report stated. “GMU’s large DEI bureaucracy is creating a reality that is at odds with this reputation.”

In an email interview with The College Fix, economics Professor Tim Groseclose said the “new Just Societies requirement is definitely evidence that Mason is more woke than I thought. And perhaps it’s a sign that Mason is becoming more woke.”

Groseclose said he feels the requirement has been developed largely behind closed doors, pointing out that one of the core courses he teaches may meet the new requirement, but he has received no emails about it.

“My suspicion is that the advocates of the new requirement did not want any opponents of the measure – including people like the Mason Board of Visitors or Gov. Youngkin’s staff – to learn about the requirement,” he said.

In the final analysis, Groseclose added, the requirement seeks to force students to learn critical race theory concepts.

“Everyone can see what’s happening — that it’s just a measure to make kids take ‘studies’ classes – things like ethnic studies, gender studies, queer studies, environmental studies, etc.,” he said.

“Lots of my colleagues have criticized it because it imposes a political agenda. But my main complaint is something else. It’s that these courses aren’t intellectually rigorous,” he said.

“If you take a ‘studies’ course, it’s not like you’re writing computer code or solving differential equations. As every student knows, if you just do all the assignments and pretend like you agree with the instructor’s political views, it’s an easy A.”

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