From Affirmative Action To DEI

There was a time, not very long ago, when it was regarded as insulting, even racist, to describe someone as an “affirmative action hire,” even though everyone knew when affirmative action hires were in fact affirmative action hires. That seems to have changed.

Notes of a DEI Search Chair,” which appears in this morning’s Inside Higher Ed by Abena Ampofoa Asare, an associate professor of Africana Studies and History at Stony Brook, begins by asking, “What do you do when you become a co-chair of a diversity, equity and inclusion search committee charged with increasing faculty diversity?”

Leave aside the legal question of how a public university can create an affirmative action committee charged with making affirmative action hires. And also leave aside what Professor Ampofoa Asare did on her search committee or thinks all such committees should do — primarily, make sure the affirmative action hires are given comparable salaries, work loads, etc., with tenure track faculty.

What I find striking about this article is that it takes as an unchallenged given — without the need to defend or disguise —  that of course the purpose of DEI search committees is to hire on the basis of race. Here is one of her “principles” for such committees:

Given the current popularity of the DEI faculty search as a feature of university hiring, we must articulate a few clear principles.

  • It is crucial that DEI faculty positions are compensated at a wage that is equal or comparable to incoming tenure-track positions at the university.
  • It is crucial that DEI faculty positions have job duties, including teaching loads, that are equal to or better than incoming tenure-track positions at the university.
  • It is crucial that DEI faculty positions have access to the same institutional support and job protections as tenure-track faculty.

Without those three conditions, a DEI search amounts to a public devaluing of scholars whose research, teaching and service interests have historically been marginalized within the American academy. What is the message sent to students, colleagues and the candidates themselves when DEI positions are posted with terms that are inferior to the terms of the institution’s tenure-track positions? The higher education landscape includes a number of DEI searches structured as postdoctoral positions with the potential of conversion to a tenure-track line. Postdoctoral positions simply do not have the same institutional investment and the many privileges of a tenure-track position.

There is no recognition here that, even aside from salaries, duties, etc., the fact that DEI hires are DEI hires sends “the message … to students, colleagues and the candidates themselves” that they are inferior to other faculty.

The name may have changed, but they are still affirmative action hires.

Say What?