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Merit-based hiring needed to improve ‘diversity of thought’ at UMich: higher ed groups

UMich faculty applicants must be ‘judged on academic merit,’ higher ed group says

The University of Michigan’s promise to protect “diversity of thought” and “freedom of expression” must include real action, including prioritizing merit in hiring, according to higher ed reform advocates.

The comments come in response to College Fix questions about how the university can implement its new statement titled “Principles on Diversity of Thought and Freedom of Expression,” approved at the most recent Board of Regents meeting.

A university spokesperson deferred to the original news release when asked for comment on implementation of the resolution.

“By bringing together individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints-and supporting and empowering them to use their voices and share their views-we make our community stronger and advance our mission,” the resolution states.

The last similar statement was made in 1988 when the university issued a policy titled “Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression.”

But statements are not enough, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which provided input on the latest resolution.

“Schools adopting free expression statements can’t stop there — they must continue to foster a community that supports free speech through programming throughout students’ time on campus and collect data on how successful those efforts are,” Laura Beltz, FIRE’s director of policy reform, wrote in an email to The Fix.

“The university should examine whether all of its policies and practices align with these principles on freedom of expression, including whether faculty applicants are judged on academic merit, as opposed to alignment with university-approved viewpoints,” Beltz said.

Beltz praised the university’s action towards implementing their new principles thus far: “The University of Michigan seems to be taking the right steps here by adopting a panel to recommend ways to put the principles into practice to ‘continuously engage’ students on these issues,” she said.

There will also be a “second panel to evaluate how effective that has been and to make recommendations for the next academic year.”

MORE: UMich now has more than 500 jobs dedicated to DEI, payroll costs exceed $30 million

A former Villanova University professor who now works at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni shared similar comments.

“The University of Michigan should make a concerted effort to hire faculty and staff and admit students based on merit without applying any sort of ideological litmus test,” Steven McGuire, a campus freedom fellow with ACTA, told The Fix via a media statement.

“The university should certainly reevaluate its hiring policies and procedures, in addition to many other policies, to make them consistent with this new statement,” McGuire said. “The goal should not be to hire conservatives per se, but to build a campus culture that is as open to conservatives and libertarians as it is to scholars of other political persuasions.”

A positive free speech environment must also come from the top, McGuire said.

“University leaders should embrace the statement and host programming on campus to promote and celebrate it,” McGuire said. “They should feature it prominently on the university’s website, refer to it when addressing the university community, and include presentations on it in new student, staff, and faculty orientations every year.”

Regent Ronald Weiser said it is up to the “executive officers to execute the policy” when asked during a phone interview about plans moving forward. He said the university is “looking forward and not backward,” when The Fix asked about revisiting past cancellations of professors and hiring practices.

Weiser himself has been targeted for cancelation by some in the university community for allegedly not condemning the violence on January 6, 2021 enough.

Specifically, The Fix asked about Bright Sheng, a UMich professor who faced an investigation, but ultimately no sanctions, after he showed a movie that included a character in blackface.

The University of Michigan hosted a “diversity of thought” panel that focused on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” and excluded conservative viewpoints. The university created the panel after controversy when a pro-life medical school professor faced criticism, but was not canceled, after the school asked her to give a speech to new med students.

However, the subsequent panel only included liberal viewpoints, according to a Fix analysis.

When asked about the university’s past “diversity of thought” events Weiser said “aggressive policies” must be followed, but did not elaborate further.

He said the resolution is not necessarily new, but “reinforc[es] a policy that was put in place many years ago which people have forgotten by now,” Weiser said.

Thanks to the new statement, “people will be much more cognizant of it than they would have been otherwise if we hadn’t redone it again.”

MORE: UMich looks to advance DEI in every part of university over next 5 years

IMAGE: Ken Wolter/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author
Mary Noble -- Christendom College.