David Randall, Ph.D. | January 12, 2023
DEI and freedom cannot coexist. It’s time for Oklahoma leaders to act.
David Randall, Ph.D.
The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents has adopted the Chicago Statement, which an OU news release refers to as “an overarching set of guiding principles that reinforce the importance of safeguarding freedom of expression on college campuses.”
This is good so far as it goes—but it does not go very far.
The committee that recommended adoption of the Chicago Statement is OU’s “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Freedom of Speech and Inquiry Committee.” That’s quite a mouthful. The very presence of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” on a committee putatively dedicated to “Freedom of Speech and Inquiry” signals OU’s severe and continuing limits on real freedom.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), after all, is the illiberal ideology that has grown up to suppress all speech that opposes race quotas, as well as any speech that opposes any component of the radical “social justice” political agenda. Our universities, and far too much of our businesses, our government, and our civil society, have established DEI offices, committees, and bureaucratic procedures as a political commissariat to subordinate all policy decisions to DEI ideology and to restrict all staffing to DEI advocates—or at least to compliant careerists willing to sacrifice conscience to success. DEI and liberty cannot coexist.
OU’s adoption of the Chicago Statement means almost nothing so long as OU’s DEI bureaucracy continues to animate and to control OU’s actual administrative policy. DEI-infused mission statements, hiring preferences, cluster hires, teaching rubrics, general education requirements, funding decisions, disciplinary procedures—all of these practically govern OU. The Chicago Statement by itself means almost nothing.
Almost nothing. Because a pro forma commitment can be built on. The DEI bureaucracies, after all, originally grew upon equally pro forma commitments to diversity, which DEI advocates could use to pressure university administrators to live up to their theoretical commitments. To do the job in reverse is a harder job, because now a DEI bureaucracy exists that depends upon the maintenance of authoritarian illiberalism, and which is aware of the means it used to secure power.
But citizens and state policymakers can still use a theoretical commitment as a means to pressure university administrators. Practically, they can condition taxpayer support for public universities on the universities adopting the panoply of administrative procedures needed to put into effect their theoretical commitment to liberty.
What to Do
Here’s what Oklahomans who wish to champion liberty could do. Call on OU and other Oklahoma public universities to adopt not only the Chicago Statement but also the Kalven Report, which commits universities to institutional neutrality. Call for these institutions to adopt statements that explicitly dedicate or rededicate them to intellectual diversity, the freedom to learn, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and due process. Finally, call on the universities to affirm that these values take priority over any other value—explicitly including DEI, social justice, and any such ideology.
Specifically, call on OU to put these commitments into effect by:
Revising its mission statement to commit itself to these principles.
Revising its strategic plan to articulate how it will achieve these principles.
Creating offices dedicated to each of these principles, none of whose staff has any institutional commitment to DEI or kindred ideologies.
Forming committees dedicated to each of these principles, none of whose members has any institutional commitment to DEI or kindred ideologies.
Engaging in cluster hires to hire faculty committed to these principles and who will bring intellectual diversity to OU’s ideological monoculture.
Stating institutional commitment to these principles in all job advertisements.
Requiring experience in achieving these principles in all appointments for university presidents, provosts, deans, and assistant deans.
Including commitment to these principles in promotion rubrics.
Including commitment to these principles (particularly intellectual diversity) in teaching rubrics.
Including commitment to these principles (particularly intellectual diversity) in course selection for general education requirements.
Removing all bureaucratic components that work against these commitments by forwarding DEI, social justice, and other illiberal ideologies.
Establishing assessments to provide information about how well each component of the university has executed the university’s commitment to these principles.
Reporting annually to state policymakers about how well the university has executed the university’s commitment to these principles.
This bureaucratic to-do list essentially mirrors the means that DEI advocates are using to transform OU into a woke seminary. Their job is easier because large numbers of OU administrators and faculty wish to serve as enthusiastic enforcers for their revolution, while the number of advocates for liberty in OU is dwindlingly small. Any such initiatives would require vigilant oversight by Oklahoma citizens and policymakers, to make sure that OU carried out these detailed commitments in a proper manner. But such vigilant oversight could indeed make possible a counter-revolution at OU and establish on campus a beachhead of liberty.
This task is difficult—but necessary. OU will not be made free just by pro forma commitments to liberty, but by a thousand small administrative procedures and staffing decisions that give flesh and bones to freedom. Oklahomans must work steadily toward that goal if they wish to free their campuses of authoritarian, illiberal ideologies such as DEI.
For now, getting OU to commit itself to a broad array of freedoms is a necessary first step. Once OU’s leaders have done that, Oklahomans can make sure they honor their commitments.
[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]
David Randall, Ph.D.
David Randall is the research director of the National Association of Scholars. He earned a Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University, an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Columbia University, a master’s degree in library science from the Palmer School at Long Island University, and a B.A. from Swarthmore College. Prior to working at NAS he was the sole librarian at the John McEnroe Library at New York Studio School.