May 19, 2022

Faculty Freedom of Speech and Diversity is Threatened at the University of Washington

For a university to serve its community, produce new knowledge, and educate its students, the faculty cannot be afraid to speak freely.

For a university to provide a place where knowledge and ideas are freely shared and debated, faculty must be shielded from outside political pressure, and diversity of viewpoint must be protected for both faculty and students.

As I will describe below, there are serious threats to faculty diversity and freedom at the University of Washington.  Threats reminiscent of the loyalty oaths of the late 1940s and early 1950s.  Subtle and overt pressure against faculty holding the “wrong views”, with University faculty increasingly pushed towards a monoculture of political correctness.

This is not simply a faculty issue.  It will influence which students are admitted to the UW and the type of education they receive.


Should All University Faculty Be Required to Actively Support A Diversity/Equity/Inclusion Agenda?

During the next few weeks, the University of Washington faculty will vote on a requirement that mandates a statement demonstrating concrete action in support of a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) agenda.

This proposed new mandatory statement would be in addition to the current requirement that faculty demonstrate progress in teaching, research, and public service. The faculty code already states that contributions to diversity and equality of opportunity can be cited for supporting promotion;  it is just not required.

Establishing DEI requirements is the current rage among major coastal universities, particularly those in blue-leaning states.  It is highly political, with strong support among many progressives, but with far lesser support among those with more moderate viewpoints. 

 A key issue is the term “equity”, which DEI supporters generally see as meaning equal outcomes for all groups in society.  In contrast, a more moderate, traditional viewpoint generally highlights equality of all individuals, with each given equal rights and opportunities, but no guarantees of success.  In a university with “equity”, preferences are often made for specific groups, such as for admissions or providing special aid and support for certain “underrepresented” populations.   


Requiring that all faculty support a social/political agenda favored by one segment of society not only politicizes the university but represents “compelled speech”, a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  It is probably illegal.

But the situation at the UW is even worse than that.  There is no guidance on what DEI activities would represent acceptable faculty progress:  the decision is left to each department or unit on campus.  This pushes the door of potential abuse wide open.

Although most faculty just want to get on with their research, teaching, and service, there is a vocal minority of faculty and university administrators that are pushing their departments and the university to take on an activist, politicized, progressive agenda.  These individuals, many of them idealistic and well-meaning, wish to mold the world towards their vision of social justice.  And in their self-righteous worldview, it is fine to suppress the viewpoints of others, push out “unbelievers”, and discourage those with different political viewpoints.

They love to talk about diversity, but their diversity is narrow and only includes individuals with similar beliefs or members of favored groups.  And I note there is no definition of what diversity and inclusion means in the new faculty requirements, again leaving the potential for abuse.

Washington State is highly diverse in the viewpoints of its citizens. This map shows the party vote in a recent presidential election (blue Democrat, red Republican).  

A Serious Threat to Faculty Freedom and Diversity at the University of Washington

With no overall guidance for the mandatory DEI requirement for faculty advancement, faculty ideologues, gaining chair or other influential positions in a department, could demand that other faculty “bend the knee” to their political or social agendas by defining the DEI requirements for advancement to match their own viewpoints.  This is extremely dangerous and concerning.

Is this a theoretical threat?  Unfortunately not.  Some faculty advocates for politicized actions are already working to punish and suppress those that disagree with them—and this serves as a stern warning of what might happen if the mandatory DEI statement passes.

For example, during the past few weeks, a faculty DEI advocate in a STEM department pushed to find a junior colleague “unmeritorious” for a pay raise because the junior faculty member opposed the DEI initiative mentioned above.  Fortunately, other department faculty came to the defense of free speech.

Or consider the case of the faculty listserv run by the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).   The AAUP listerv, which is the largest faculty platform for online discussion (distributed to several thousand faculty and administrators), is moderated by two far-left faculty members that facilitate messages reflecting their viewpoints;  they frequently reject messages from those who don’t subscribe to their ideas.     In the case of this DEI requirement, the AAUP moderators have rejected many messages from faculty that criticized the DEI plan, including my own.  For example, AAUP moderator Amy Hagopian (who is running for a new faculty regent position), provided this rationale when she rejected my message criticizing the mandatory statement:

Our concerns remain about giving so much air time to those who seem to be hostile to the university’s attempts to amplify diversity, equity and inclusion.”

A transparent attempt to suppress diversity of viewpoint that differs from her own.  

There was a time when the AAUP fearlessly defended faculty freedoms and speech, such as its heroic efforts to stand against the loyalty oaths of the 1950s.  No longer.  Captured by a  contingent committed to a certain brand of politics, AAUP now suppresses free speech while it pushes a politicized agenda.

The undemocratic academic loyalty oaths of the 1950s were wrong.
Required politicized DEI attestations are equally as wrong in 2022.

I could provide many more disturbing examples of attempts by faculty political activists to publicly shame or attack other faculty with different viewpoints (including what happened to me when I did not support initiative 1631).   Members of my department and others have told me they were afraid to express their ideas on socially charged issues, and both graduate and undergrad students have said the same thing.

Faculty and students should never fear expressing their viewpoints in a university, where ideas should be debated, questioned, and discussed.  

Discomfit at the Top

It is clear that the UW administration is nervous about this DEI requirement.   UW President Ana Mari Cauce, has shown herself willing to make hard decisions to protect freedom of speech, and her statement to the University of Washington faculty Senate made clear her concerns about the proposed legislation.   President Cauce’s family was forced to leave a communist nation, and as with many of her history, she energetically defends essential democratic freedoms.   But in this case, she is powerless if the faculty votes to put on the political shackles.


What Can You Do?

The threats to faculty freedom of speech and diversity of viewpoint emanating from the proposed faculty DEI requirement are clear.  Demanding that faculty agree with and support a particular ideological viewpoint is not only illegal but would diminish the university in profound ways. 

It will inevitably and profoundly alter the attitudes of the faculty over the long term.  Would a prospective faculty member who valued freedom of expression and true diversity of viewpoint want to come to the University of Washington?    The changes have already begun but will accelerate if this measure passes.

The University of Washington should serve all citizens of the State, of all backgrounds and political viewpoints.   Prospective students should know that their admission to the UW will not depend on their race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or politics, but on their abilities and past efforts.  They should know that they will be instructed by faculty who welcome differing viewpoints.

You should be concerned, no matter your political orientation.

So how can you help?

If you are a faculty member, please vote against the proposal.

If you know a faculty member, please talk to them about it.

If you are a donor or supporter of the UW, please make your views known in whatever way you see fit.

20 comments:

  1. DEI efforts are laudable, but need to executed with care. Punishing faculty for expressing their concerns is not a good look, and certainly will lead to a failed launch.

    For my part, having worked for the past 10+ years at one of UW's partner institutions, I was skeptical of DEI efforts, but the policies, practices, and frameworks were crafted and executed more thoughtfully, and as an employee I actually benefitted from what it offered; my eyes were opened quite a bit more than they already were. Credit goes to hiring the right people to head the department.

    I'm glad UW is putting work into DEI (as an alumnus myself), but they need to hire the right people and adequately address concerns.

    As to the map you show: most of that dark red is sparsely populated.

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    1. You can dress up DEI with as much lipstick as you like, but it's still an enormous pig. Orwell would have recognized the unrelenting speech codes going on in our country over the past decade as outright fascism, witness the recently announced "Disiniformation Office" under the tender auspices of the DHS. This is an exact copy of Orwell's "Ministry of Truth, period, full stop. The STASI of the old East Germany communists would be so proud of how well their erstwhile acoloytes have infiltrated every aspect of our society, replect with neighbors, friends and even families turning each other in for any deviation from the mob rule of the day.

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    2. These activists are not the brightest lights in the room. Lets not give them too much credit for being anything but third rates in the game of ideas. Their smiles look polished and they act like they have it together to some extent, but they are mixed up inside and use scare tactics to intimidate people who oppose their agenda. Glad I dont encounter them in my daily travels. Dr Mass on the other hand is first rate all the way in his ways.
















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  2. Witness the beginning of the new Dark Ages. It will take a very long time to re-learn all that is being lost. Such is the human condition.

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  3. I fully support equality and think that no one should be discriminated against for any reason, race, gender, religion, sexuality, whatever. However, equity is a different thing altogether, another name for it is Marxism. It has the potential to destroy our country. If outcome is pre-ordained and one cannot distinguish oneself by being the best at something then there is no reason to try to better oneself. Wake up people!

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    1. Also known as the "everybody on the team gets a trophy" syndrome. We have a whole generation now coming into power who were raised that way. What could possibly go wrong?

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    2. You assume that nobody wants to better themselves for no reason other than "to be the best" at whatever it is they're doing. Not all aspects of life must be competitive. Wake up!

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    3. Not nobody but I would say most people will not work extra hard if there is no reward for doing so.

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  4. Thanks for standing up...greatly appreciated and needed.

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  5. If you are not a faculty member, do not know a faculty member, are not a donor, and not a supporter (do not all WA citizens support UW through state taxes?), can you offer any means of affecting this? I'm just a dumb slob who lives in Washington state. Please don't suggest walking in a protest march because I'm sure that I won't do that.

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  6. You say: "Although most faculty just want to get on with their research, teaching, and service". I say: Then get back to it! There will always be many many administrative agendas at any University.

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    1. I believe you are highlighting precisely one of Dr. Mass's concerns.

      If a faculty member does not demonstrate the required non-academic involvement, or perhaps even expresses a viewpoint that is contentious and which those policing the diversity, equity, and inclusion effort decide in their own opinion undermines the effort, will they be able to get back to their research, teaching and service? Will they be passed over for advancement or tenure? Will they even be terminated?

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  7. You mention admissions. Admissions is a mystery machine. Getting into the UW is murkier with no SAT scores. Getting into many majors is also a mystery because they use "holistic" admissions. So a big question is how will this affect admissions, both to the UW as a whole and to specific majors? If a faculty member thinks admissions is not being implemented correctly, because of any reason, will they then be labeled as anti whatever if one of the outcomes is, in the opinion of some people, reduced equity as those people define it? I think in that case, the UW is setting itself up for lawsuits and potential funding impacts.

    Specifically, I know a very qualified applicant who wrote in his application essay about being conservative. The specific prompt was "how will you contribute to the diversity of the UW" or something along those lines, a few years ago. I will always wonder if he'd had a different answer, would he have been admitted? This student entered college elsewhere with a full year of college credit from UW in the High School, AP, and community college classes. Supposedly the UW admissions cares a lot about strength of schedule. Hardly anyone at his school had a harder schedule. That essay response .....

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  8. Whatever it takes to keep Nazis and their ilk from polluting the public discourse- I'm for it.

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  9. True diversity is supposed to include ALL views, but sadly we're seeing less and less of that these days. When I was in college (Florida State, class of 1998), I was in my late 20s when I graduated so I had a few years on other students. The radicalization of colleges started in the 60s, where a decidedly liberal slant took hold and it was clear hadn't gone anywhere when I was in school. Talking with others who have recently gone to universities, I'm hearing disturbing things. "Safe spaces" are in effect to ensure that only those of a CERTAIN mindset are protected. Naturally, if you're of that mindset, it all sounds just and correct. But think of in the far past where the opposite was in effect, where strongly conservative mindsets were considered to be the ONLY mindset to have, conformity was the rule and you dare not speak otherwise. We have the same thing, but now for a liberal mindset and equally staunch "my way or the highway" enforcement. Either way, that's sad. Universities are supposed to be about LEARNING, and how can one really learn if you insist on being only around those who think as you do? How can anyone really get a broad-spectrum education like that? I actually liked hearing the more liberal slant on things when I was in school (as I was there to get a better idea of a bigger world), but not to be shoved down my throat and to be told to not question anything.
    Hey, wasn't the whole "don't question anything" mindset a primary reason that liberalization became common? It's just like these ANIFA folks who think they're against fascism and yet demand that nobody else gets a say (therefore becoming the fascists themselves) if they don't agree with it.
    Seriously, how can people NOT see this happening? Some do, but it is human nature to think that when your side is catered to, then all is good in the world and to heck with anyone else.

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    1. I think the reason that people can not see this happening is because our society has become so tribal, you're either in this camp or the other camp and there is no in between. You're either with us or you're the enemy.

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  10. Mandatory DEI statements contradict free speech and could trigger a challenge all the way to The Supreme Court of the United States.

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  11. A few thoughts:
    1) I think you need to find the right venue for your arguments--wherever the power structure is. At my alma mater, there was a handful of heavy hitters at the alumni association--people they named buildings after. If you could get them involved, miracles would occur. Compared to them, students, faculty, and the administration were peons.
    2) If there is any US taxpayer money going there, as there surely is, you may may be able to find a congressman who would be happy to talk about this on Fox News, or a senator willing to filibuster a budget bill until Uncle Sam stops underwriting a discriminatory institution. Make UW's policy the equivalent of Yale's halloween costume fiasco.
    3) You may have in mind just striking that "demonstrated commitment" language. That's fine, but it would be stronger if you had something to replace it with, head to head, like "demonstrated concern for student welfare, understanding and support of federal anti-discrimination statutes, and a commitment to developing students to become full participants in community and professional life."

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  12. Folks who are interested in how they might push back against this stuff may be interested in reading the book Counter Wokecraft.

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Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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