In the early days of higher education, most universities were largely the domain of white males. There were, of course, some black schools and women’s colleges. Through concerted efforts, campuses have become more inclusive—though there are still clearly issues in access to higher education. This opening of the campuses has generally been regarded as a positive thing and few would now argue that blacks or women should be excluded from any campus in America. However, some think that the current push for diversity is a violation of the freedom of faculty.
One concern is that some schools require faculty to submit written statements of their commitment to diversity as part of the tenure application process, job application process and in other contexts. Some see this as compelled speech because it is forcing faculty to pledge to an ideology. Even if it is compelled speech, the First Amendment only applies to public employers—private schools are free to do as they wish since employees are free to go elsewhere. But the moral concern remains even for private employers: just because they can legally compel speech does not entail that is right to do so.
It is worth noting that even public schools can legitimately compel actual and potential faculty to provide statements in writing if they wish to advance or be employed. For example, most jobs require a letter of application, a teaching statement and a research statement. One can opt out—but this all but guarantees that one will not be hired. As another example, the applications for tenure and promotion require the faculty to provide documentation. This is, obviously enough, not a violation of the freedom of expression—even when a job applicant must present a philosophy of teaching or research. This is because they are not forced to commit to any specific philosophy. In contrast, a pledge to diversity does compel assenting to a specific set of values, which would seem to violate the right to free expression, the right to freedom of thought and academic freedom. As such, requiring faculty to submit such statements or accept such values would seem to be morally wrong.
However, a reasonable counter is to point out that faculty are expected to accept certain values when they are hired and to continue their employment. For example, they are expected to accept the rules of academic conduct and enforce them in their classes. As another example, they cannot hold to and act on the view that it is acceptable to exchange grades for sex, favors or money. As a third example, they must accept they cannot preach their religion to the class or recruit terrorists. And so on, for a multitude of moral and ideological values. As such, faculty are already expected to accept and hold to many values as a condition of their employment. It could thus be argued that requiring a statement of commitment to diversity is not an unwarranted imposition on freedom.
One obvious counter is that while faculty do have to agree to professional ethics and to follow the rules of the school, they are not required to provide specific statements of their commitment to these values—they just need to avoid (getting caught) violating them. For example, I was not required to write a statement about how I would not accept favors for grades, although I am aware that such a thing would be unacceptable and grounds for firing. Likewise, I was not required to provide a diversity statement, but I am aware that creating a hostile classroom would be unacceptable and probably result in being fired. While this is a form of tacit acceptance, it does not compel an active statement, and this can be seen as a critical difference.
Those in favor of diversity statements might contend that they are not compelled speech since they are on par with the statement of teaching philosophy and statement of research philosophy. A person is free to include in their teaching and research statements values that go against what the school is looking for. Such candidates are unlikely to get hired (or get tenure). Likewise, people are free to include in their diversity statement an argument against diversity and a statement of their opposition. But they would be unlikely to be hired if they go against the stated values of the institution.
Those opposed to diversity statements could expand on the point that these statements are different, since they have a clear and expected answer and involve a specific set of values. They could also note that unlike things like academic honesty and shaking students down for cash or sex, there is not a broad consensus on diversity, and this is a matter that divides people politically.
Proponents of the diversity statements could counter by contending that the value of diversity is on par with the established and expected academic values. They could also note there are people who sincerely hold values directly opposed to key values of the academy, such as honesty and not exploiting students, and consider these political views as well. So, if these values can be used to exclude certain people, so can the values connected to diversity. Schools obviously need to take a stand on certain values, but there is still the reasonable question about which values should be embraced.
While I do agree that campuses should be diverse in the sense that no one should be unjustly excluded nor unjustly subject to hostility, I also oppose forcing faculty to provide explicit and specific diversity statements. My main concern is this does set a precedent for forcing faculty to explicitly endorse, in writing, certain values and the next time the values could be ones I disagree with.