DEI Bloat at UVA and VA Tech

September 17, 2021
2 alumni make largest donation in University of Virginia history

James Paul and I had an op-ed yesterday based on our study of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) staff at universities. This piece features results from the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, which have two of the largest DEI staff in the country. Here are some highlights:

Hiring people to address problems related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has also built an army of political activists who demand that ever more positions be created. Not only has this vicious circle bloated the higher education bureaucracy, it has also strengthened a narrow and divisive vision of racial politics on campus.

Rather than being inclusive to students from all backgrounds—the ostensible goal of DEI—this has made campuses less welcoming.

We recently studied the number of DEI staff at 65 of the nation’s largest universities and found that two of the largest DEI bureaucracies can be found at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

We did not count faculty in ethnic or gender studies departments, whose primary responsibility is in the traditional areas of teaching and research, nor did we count staff required for compliance with federal civil rights legislation. We focused solely on discretionary positions—staff that universities choose to add, often in response to activist complaints.

The University of Virginia has 94 people with formal responsibility for promoting DEI. Only the University of Michigan has more.

To put that in perspective, U.Va. has more than 10 times as many DEI staff as it has staff devoted to providing services to students with disabilities—something universities are required to do by law. There are 6.5 DEI staff for every 100 UVA professors.

Virginia Tech’s DEI bureaucracy is nearly as large. Blacksburg’s 83 DEI staff is 4.6 times larger than its staff providing disability services. It boasts 5.6 DEI staff for every 100 professors.

The titles of these DEI officials is a shuffle of the same words, making it unclear how their responsibilities are not simply being duplicated.

For example, in addition to its “vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion, and community partnerships,” U.Va. also has a “senior director for equity and inclusive excellence” and an “associate dean of students and director, multicultural student services,” each with an assortment of assistants, coordinators, and communication directors.

This university-wide DEI infrastructure is then replicated within almost every college in the university.

U.Va.’s Darden School of Business has an “assistant dean for global diversity, equity, and inclusion” as well as a “senior associate dean & global chief diversity officer.”

The school of law has an “assistant dean for diversity, equity, & belonging,” while the schools of medicine and of nursing each have an “associate dean for diversity and inclusion.”

The College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has an “associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion” along with a paid “director of diversity, equity, & inclusion” in each of its 33 academic departments.

Despite nearly 100 DEI officials with this word-salad of titles, 49 percent of U.Va. students reported in a 2020 survey that they personally experienced or witnessed racial/ethnic harassment or discrimination.

After reviewing a number of student satisfaction surveys, we found that in general, universities with larger DEI staffs did not report better campus climates than at universities with smaller DEI staffs. If anything, the institutions with large DEI staff had worse climates.

None of this should be surprising when we remember that hiring staff is just the way many universities mollify angry constituents. It doesn’t mean the bureaucracies they create are efficiently designed to actually solve problems.

State legislators, boards of trustees, tuition-paying parents, and other stakeholders should demand accountability for these symbolic hiring sprees. They should insist that universities produce evidence of the effectiveness of maintaining an army of DEI staff or cut those headcounts to lower university costs.

We suspect that lower tuition would do far more to promote diversity and inclusion on campus than massive DEI staffs with important-sounding titles.


School Choice and Viewpoint Diversity, the Conclusion

September 10, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Heterodox Academy carries the conclusion of my exchange with Robert Pondiscio on the relationship between school choice and how classrooms handle viewpoint diversity.

I go through Robert’s essay point by point, but I would say this is the nut of my response:

Robert seems to think he is disagreeing with me when he says that “viewpoint diversity within schools, not merely between them, is indispensable,” but that is exactly what I said in my essay. My argument is that political conflict is undermining schools’ — especially public schools’ — ability to provide this. I support choice not only because it is necessary to serve students who have diverse needs and preserve a diverse society — because pushing all families into culturally homogenized schools, in obedience to what Charles Glenn calls “the myth of the common school,” entails the suppression of cultural minorities — but also because it is necessary even to preserve viewpoint diversity within the classroom. The attempt to force families that do not share one another’s beliefs and educational priorities to share culturally homogenized schools breaks the bond of trust between parents and schools, and forces parents into a permanent state of political war (such as the one we are now experiencing over critical race theory) for control of the schools that are forming their children. Teachers and schools will not feel safe allowing real viewpoint diversity to happen in their classrooms unless they know parents trust and support them. 

Of course, Robert also gets his innings against me. Go give HxA a click and find out what he has to say! Then let both of us know what you have to say.

I’m grateful to Robert for the opportunity to exchange views on this important – and increasingly so by the month – subject.


School Choice and Viewpoint Diversity in K-12

September 8, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Heterdox Academy carries part one of a two-part debate between me and Robert Pondiscio on whether school choice would contribute to better handling of viewpoint diversity in K-12 classrooms. I argue yes:

From top to bottom, our school system is built on the idea that every child in a given location ought to attend the same school and be educated according to a uniform, standardized curriculum and pedagogy. But if one size must fit all, it seems impossible to avoid endless, educationally destructive culture wars about which way is the “One Best Way.” Certainly the long track record of political firestorms about the content of education over the past century does not justify much hope for a standardized, uniform education that isn’t a subject of constant culture war….

Educators, wanting to avoid getting entangled in political conflicts over their classrooms, are highly incentivized to reduce this politically radioactive element of the curriculum to a minimum. K-12 public school teachers in Wisconsin, and in any of the growing number of states where these conflicts are emerging, risk becoming a legal test case or a social media scapegoat if they prioritize open and free exchanges of opinion in the classroom. The only safe thing to do if you’re a teacher in this environment is to cover the touchy subjects as quickly and as superficially as possible, with minimal opportunity for potentially dangerous critical thinking or open discussion, and move on….

School choice would get political culture wars out of the classroom. When people are convinced that all children — and especially their own children — are being indoctrinated into the other side’s propaganda, no force on earth will stop them from fighting tooth and nail to seize political control of education in order to prevent this indoctrination. But if different schools could take different approaches, with parents able to decide which schools their children attend and thus the approach under which they are educated, schools would be free to educate independently of culture-war pressures.

Robert demurs:

This betrays a view that the only stakeholder in a child’s education is the child and their family. It elides almost entirely the fact that the cost of educating the nation’s children is socialized. You pay school taxes, directly or indirectly, whether you have one child enrolled, 10, or none at all. This is a feature, not a flaw, of our system. It reflects the belief that a free country depends on a well-educated citizenry capable of self-government. We are literally invested in the outcome of all children, not just our own. 

That shared stake in the education offered to all students is also an argument for at least some shared curriculum across even schools of choice, again something Forster demonstrates no patience for. Instead, he indulges perhaps the greatest misapprehension about American education: the assumption that children move in lockstep through a state- or district-mandated curriculum. Forster creates a strawman of it, contrasting choice with “One Best Way” schooling, even capitalizing it to ensure the derision is lost upon no one….

Not incidentally, the strongest argument for common curriculum has nothing whatsoever to do with political indoctrination or a desire to tamp down viewpoint diversity. For more than 40 years, E.D. Hirsch Jr. has demonstrated convincingly that language proficiency in a diverse society rests on a shared body of knowledge, cultural allusions, and idioms. Perhaps for this reason, the common curriculum Forster disdains is a standard feature of pluralist systems.

Part two, in which I reply to his reply, and then Robert replies to my reply to his reply, is coming your way on Friday.

Meanwhile, you can reply to all these replies right now. Create some viewpoint diversity and let us know what you think!


School Choice Saves Money for Government Schools – and Governments

September 2, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my latest on how school choice saves money for government schools, as well as state budgets:

That choice “drains money” from affected government schools is a canard. If I choose to have my appendix taken out at St. Paul’s Hospital, I am not “draining money” from the budget at St. Peter’s—not robbing Peter to pay Paul, as it were. If the government sues my business for declining to make a wedding cake for a man who’s marrying a shoe, and I choose to hire Atticus Finch to defend me, I am not “draining money” from Perry Mason. The government school monopoly is the only place anyone ever thinks of people as “draining money” from every service provider they don’t choose to work with.

Many JPBGers will be familiar with the reason choice typically improves the budget situation in affected government schools: variable costs, which go down when a student leaves, are much larger than variable revenues. This means that when schools lose a student, while their revenues go down, their costs go down even more.

A large body of empirical research confirms this. See this recent major study by Marty Lueken.

There are, of course, a few provisos and a couple of quid-pro-quos:

Whenever a choice program is enacted, education special interests wail to the cameras about the enormous proportion of their budgets supposedly made up of fixed costs, which remain in place when students leave. It’s a funny thing, though; when state legislative committees get together every year to set funding formulas for state support that’s based on enrollment, those same lobbyists suddenly get a strange form of amnesia. They wail to the committees about their need for big per-student allotments from the state to cover their enormous variable costs….

It’s also true that children who enter a choice program when they are beginning school for the very first time do not save government schools money, although they do save states money (because they never enter the more-expensive government school system). The evidence finds this isn’t a big enough effect to remove the net savings. Also, if a choice program gets high participation, we can expect local governments eventually to adjust their tax burden—but that’s very unlikely either to happen quickly or to remove all the savings.

Above all, you know who is in the details. The specific design of each choice program determines how much is saved. Some programs are revenue-neutral for schools and/or states. A few even cost small amounts rather than saving money, because the program design didn’t prioritize savings.

This is yet another reason to favor ESAs, which – unlike vouchers or tax-credit scholarships – allow us to know in advance precisely how much money each participating child will cost, thus allowing us to exert very fine control over the fiscal impact of the program when we design it.

It will cost you nothing to let me know what you think!


The Real Danger of Universities Growing Non-Instructional Staff

August 25, 2021

At Daily Signal I have a piece about the new ACTA report on the huge increase in non-instructional spending at universities. The ACTA report emphasizes how non-instructional spending is driving tuition higher without improving student outcomes. That is true and worrisome.

But the larger danger of hiring an army of non-instructional staff is that they fundamentally distort the mission of higher education. Rather than focus on the pursuit of truth through open academic inquiry or the development of capable young adults ready to assume their responsibilities as citizens and in the economy, non-instructional staff are restricting academic freedom while infantilizing students.

The only solution, I suggest, is to cut back significantly on federal subsidies for higher education. Only financial scarcity will allow tuition-payers and state legislators to exercise influence to get universities to shift the focus back to professors and classes rather than baby-sitters and political commissars.


Daniel Buck Mischaracterizes My Views

August 19, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In a post that ran today on Gadfly, Daniel Buck attributes to me views that I do not hold, and mischaracterizes the content of the articles he links to by myself and Neal McCluskey.

I reached out to Fordham to ask for an opportunity to run a response, but they refused. I even offered to revise my response to meet concerns they might have, but they refused to allow me to run any response.

The premise of Buck’s article is that “the essential question” under debate in the exchanges he links to is: “Is school choice sufficient to reform American education?” However, the only people he names or links to on the side that supposedly answers “yes” to this question are Neal and myself. Buck links to one article by Neal, two articles by me, and a tweet by Neal. He neither names nor links to any other sources. And neither Neal nor I asserted that school choice is sufficient to reform American education.

In fact, I asserted the opposite. In both of the articles that Buck links to, I argued that one of the primary reasons school choice is so valuable is that it greatly increases the political leverage of other efforts to reform the government school monopoly. Obviously this is premised on the view that other reform efforts are necessary and good, a view that I explicitly endorsed repeatedly in both articles.

Buck is just making false statements about what Neal and I said.

In one paragraph, Buck describes views held by “libertarians” who are “disciples of Milton Friedman.” He does not name any names, and links only to an article by me. But I am not a libertarian. The libertarian idolatry of “markets” that Buck describes, in a paragraph that links to me as its only example, is actually a view that I have been arguing for some time the choice movement needs to move away from.

I will plead guilty as sin to having known, admired and loved Milton Friedman. But, as Milton would have been the first to insist, that does not make me his “disciple.”

Anyone can make an innocent mistake. I’ve made tons of mistakes in my career that were far more humiliating than this one. The best policy is to be willing to admit a mistake when you’ve made it; I hope Fordham adopts that policy soon.


Dishonesty in Nudge Experiment on Dishonesty

August 18, 2021

If you needed any additional evidence to treat evidence on the benefits of nudge interventions more skeptically, check out this detective work that appears to find dishonesty in a behavioral econ experiment on how to improve honesty. The widely-cited experiment by high-status researchers claimed to find that people were more likely to report the mileage on their car odometer more honestly if they had to sign at the top of the form affirming the veracity of their report rather than at the bottom of the form.

This study fueled the Obama Administration’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Team in their effort to construct a nudgocracy run by people who are way smarter and better than everyone else. It’s for your own good that the nudgocrats shove, er… I mean…, nudge you into doing things that they’ve decided are better for you. To oppose this is to deny science.

But it turns out that nudge research, like a lot of other research in social science, is plagued by problems with replicability and applicability when tried on scale in the real world. As readers of JPGB may remember, texting nudges meant to improve educational attainment by disadvantaged students ended up reducing their likelihood of completing college. Another nudge intervention meant to increase savings by making contributions to retirement plans the default ended up reducing net savings by encouraging people to take on greater debt.

As a recent review concluded, “nudges fail more often than is reported.” Nudges fail for many reasons, including the fact that it is extremely hard, even for very smart and well-intentioned people, to anticipate how others will respond to seemingly innocuous and subtle interventions. Even worse, many failed nudges are never published, contributing to an over-confidence in the effectiveness of policies shaped by behavioral economics. Researchers simply assume they must have designed the intervention wrong when they get the unexpected result, discard the finding, and try again after tinkering with the nudge in the hopes that it will be more effective. They repeat until they get the desired result and then proclaim eureka!

But the nudge on honestly reporting odometer mileage appears to have gone wrong in a less innocent way. With some clever sleuthing, these investigators uncovered evidence that data were fabricated and otherwise manipulated to get the desired result. Given how difficult and unrewarded this type of detective work is in academia, who knows how widespread these less innocent causes for flawed research really are.

Before the nudgocrats expect us to obey them, they might want to invest considerably more in strengthening confidence in their work. Perhaps we need to shove, er, I mean, nudge them into greater humility about the policy utility of behavioral economics.


The Diversity Fundamentalism of Morty Shapiro

August 16, 2021

Northwestern University’s president, Morton Shapiro, was interviewed by my old friend, Larry Bernstein, on his show, What Happens Next in 6 Minutes. Shapiro has a new co-authored book that he was promoting, Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us, which argues that we need to be less dismissive of other points of view. In the interview Shapiro summarizes the book:

We argue in the book that fundamentalism hits us across a wide spectrum of areas, not just religion, and that’s where the term comes from, but in my field, economics and politics, culture, the academy, and the like. And we worry in conclusion here now that we fear for democracy…. Almost exactly half of Americans said that they would label their political rivals not as opposing rivals, but as enemies, and that speaks to this rise in people screaming at each other.

And later in the interview he describes a course he taught with his co-author that helped motivate the book:

And that’s the mantra for the course we teach together. You get graded by how well you can present the other view. Now, you want to present your view pretty well, you better present the other view extremely well. And we never thought about grading that way 12, 13 years ago, because that was more the norm. But now everybody vilifies each other, and your opponents aren’t, again, misguided, but they’re the embodiment of absolute evil. That’s important. So, I think academe has a role to play there. We all have a role to play in our own personal lives. And that’s why I think recognizing, looking in the mirror and saying, “What are you fundamentalist about?” And then trying to realize it, and then try to get out of your comfort zone. I watch a lot of Fox News now, I never used to until we started writing this book year and a half ago. It’s very different. In some cases, it’s infuriating, in some cases it’s much better than the CNN I’m used to. I’ve really learned from that. So, I think trying to get out of your intellectual comfort zone. We live in echo chambers, right Larry? When I grew up, if you watched ABC news, CBS, NBC, and whether it was Brokaw or Jennings or Rather, it’s pretty much the same sort of news. And now, we compartmentalize and we live in silos, and we hear our words and thoughts echoed off, and that makes us feel really good. It’s really bad for democracy.

Between these two admirably open-minded and intellectually heterodox statements, Larry asked Shapiro about the study James Paul and I wrote for the Heritage Foundation on how large and unhelpful diversity, equity, staff are on university campuses:

Jay was my high school debate partner, and he’s now at the Heritage Foundation. He asks a question about diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucracies. He says that the average university now has a staff of 45 DEI, and Northwestern is now at 52. You have more people in your DEI than you have as faculty in your History Department. Why is it growing, and does it make sense? Morty.

Suddenly, Shapiro adopts an angry tone and deviates from his message about not being dismissive to other perspectives:

I think that that comparison in how you count versus History is absolutely borderline ludicrous if not completely incorrect. I hate to say that to a loyal listener of yours. But we had not sufficiently engaged with diversity, inclusion, and equity questions in the academy. We’ve done a much better job in diversifying our student body at all levels than we ever had in making them feel welcomed. And there’s ample evidence, all you have to do is look at, say your alma mater there, Larry and Josh, at Penn, and look at who at senior, just stick to the undergrads who say that they had a great experience at Penn or at Northwestern or at Yale where Saul went or anywhere else that we happened to have taught or have gone that, would you do it again? Would you recommend it to somebody else? And it varies greatly. Affluent Caucasians see these institutions very, very differently than the rest of the group, and we really have to address it. And I don’t know if counting numbers how you decide what… Do you have either the word D, diversity, equity, or inclusion in your title? I don’t know how you count that. But I don’t lament that we put some resources into this. It was long overdue.

Note that after signaling that the question was out of bounds by expressing outrage, he then shifted the topic to whether diversity and inclusion were desirable goals. That does not address whether having larger bureaucracies of DEI staff help achieve that goal or how large of a bureaucracy is a reasonable allocation of resources relative to other goals. Why have 52 DEI staff? Why not 520?

The titles of DEI officials at Northwestern suggest a considerable amount of duplication. There is a “Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, an “Assistant Provost, Diversity and Inclusion,” a “Manager, Diversity and Inclusion,” an “Executive Director, Campus Inclusion & Community,” a “Director, Social Justice Education,” an “Assistant Director, Social Justice Education,” an “Assistant Director, Multicultural Student Affairs,” an “Associate Director, Multicultural Student Affairs,” an “Associate Dean for Leadership Development and Inclusion,” a “Vice Dean for Diversity and Inclusion,” an “Assistant Dean, Diversity & Inclusion,” a “Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Outreach,” and so on.

I could continue listing the word salad of all 52 DEI staff people’s titles at Northwestern, but I think you get the idea that there is a very large bureaucracy with what seem to be overlapping responsibilities devoted to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Does this army of DEI officials help? Our examination of student surveys suggests that students feel no more welcome or included on campuses with large DEI staff than at ones with smaller staffs.

One might think that a president of a major university when asked about how he allocates resources in the midst of promoting a book on being open to criticism and different perspectives might not have been so dismissive. It would have been nice if he had taken the question seriously and provided his rationale for why it is good for Northwestern and good for the goal of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion to have 52 people with nearly identical sounding titles.

Shapiro’s actual response is disappointing. The hypocrisy of dismissing alternative perspectives while promoting a book on being open-minded suggests that even university leaders who make rhetorical commitments to heterodox academic inquiry do not really mean it in practice. It is extra disappointing because Shapiro seems like a good guy and capable university leader. I’ve been particularly sympathetic to him because he has been the target of the progressive cancel mob in his own right. But perhaps that is why, to protect himself, he must have his own fundamentalism that he defends to stave off those who have been pushing to drive him out

America is losing confidence in the ability of higher education to stay true to its core mission of pursuing truth through open academic inquiry. This interview with Morton Shapiro did nothing to restore that confidence.


Choice Improves Government Schools, Part MMDCCLIX

August 6, 2021
Everybody sing along! Come on, you remember the words! “This finding’s been replicated…”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article on why a universal ESA is the way to go if you want to improve outcomes in the government school system:

We’ve tried lots of strategies for getting better outcomes out of the monopoly school system. We’ve tried spending an endless geyser of additional money—Oklahoma school spending went up from $3,771 per student in 1970 to $8,735 in 2016 (in inflation-adjusted dollars), and has continued to increase, hitting a record total this year. We’ve tried high-stakes testing. We’ve tried raising teacher pay. Other states have run major experiments with everything from smaller classes to merit pay for teachers to mandatory graduation exams.

Here and there, a few of these efforts have produced local instances of success. But none of them has worked consistently at scale. And even the local success stories have a tendency to fade over time, as school leadership inevitably gets passed on to a new “pharaoh who knew not Joseph.”

What works? School choice, according to a large and consistent body of empirical research.

Some people simply can’t wrap their heads around the idea that government schools would be improved by taking the handcuffs off parents and allowing them to leave the system. They’re so busy “strengthening” the system that they can’t see they’re really weakening it. They’re denying it the one thing it really needs: healthy accountability. Bob Dylan was right—you gotta serve somebody.

This is sometimes called the “paradox of intention.” It happens when people are so monomaniacally intent on achieving a goal that they lose perspective on the big picture, and as a result, do things that are counterproductive even for the goal they’re obsessed with. We’ve all seen the guy who wants a date with a particular girl so badly that he acts stalkerish and creepy around her. In every war, there are leaders who want to capture a particular position so badly that they don’t have the patience to wait for the right moment to strike. We keep shoving bigger subsidies at colleges because we want to make tuition affordable, and as a direct result, tuition keeps climbing into the stratosphere.

Come for the overview of school-choice research, stay for the snappy C.S. Lewis quote at the end!

Exercise your right to hold others accountable through choice by choosing to let me know what you think.


Everything Old Is New Again

August 5, 2021

I stumbled across a piece I co-wrote in 2008 that I had completely forgotten about. I was struck by how that old piece is almost identical in its message and methods to the study James Paul and I just wrote for Heritage.

In the 2008 article, Catherine Shock and I argued that ed schools pay a disproportionate amount of attention to diversity relative to math in courses offered to prospective teachers. We identified a set of 77 leading ed schools and searched their course catalogs for terms related to diversity as well as terms related to math. Here’s what we found:

The average ed school, we found, has a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 1.82, meaning that it offers 82 percent more courses featuring social goals than featuring math. At Harvard and Stanford, the ratio is about 2: almost twice as many courses are social as mathematical. At the University of Minnesota, the ratio is higher than 12. And at UCLA, a whopping 47 course titles and descriptions contain the word “multiculturalism” or “diversity,” while only three contain the word “math,” giving it a ratio of almost 16.

We then considered reasons for this disproportionate attention to diversity:

Several obstacles impede change. On the supply side, ed-school professors are a self-perpetuating clique, and their commitment to multiculturalism and diversity produces a near-uniformity of approach. Professors control entry into their ranks by determining who will receive the doctoral credential, deciding which doctoral graduates get hired, and then selecting which faculty will receive tenure. And tenured academics are essentially accountable to no one.

On the demand side, prospective teachers haven’t cried out for more math courses because such courses tend to be harder than those involving multiculturalism. And the teachers know that their future employers—public school districts—don’t find an accent on multiculturalism troubling. Because public schools are assured of ever-increasing funding, regardless of how they do in math, they can indulge their enthusiasm for multiculturalism, and prospective teachers can, too.

Accrediting organizations also help perpetuate the emphasis on multiculturalism. In several states, law mandates that ed schools receive accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). NCATE, in turn, requires education programs to meet six standards, one entirely devoted to diversity, but none entirely devoted to ensuring proper math pedagogy. Education schools that attempt to break from the cartel’s multiculturalism focus risk denial of accreditation.

And compare how similar these conclusions are. From the 2008 piece: “The issue isn’t whether we should be teaching cultural awareness in education colleges or in public schools; it’s about priorities.” And from 2021: “Universities—especially those that are publicly funded—should be welcoming to all students, and it is admirable that inclusion is a priority for so many institutions of higher education…. High DEI staffing levels suggest that these programs, like many other administrative initiatives at universities, are bloated relative to academic pursuits.”

Everything old is new again.