by James A. Bacon
A General Assembly senate subcommittee has voted down a bill that would require public Virginia colleges and universities to report the number and salaries of employees in the field of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, had sponsored the bill, SB 1197, which also called for disclosure of sums spent on lobbying and for the recording and online posting of Board of Visitors board and committee meetings.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch coverage of the subcommittee meeting reported little discussion. The closest thing to an explanation for defeating the transparency measure came from Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City. According to reporter Eric Kolenich:
Petersen questioned why colleges should be required to publish this information, which is already publicly available. Petersen called the bill “overly confrontational.”
That’s about as lame as it gets.
First point: No, actually, the information is not already publicly available — not readily.
In its recent report, highlighted on The Jefferson Council blog, the Virginia Association of Scholars (VAS) identified employees statewide racking up $15 million in salaries for DEI-related positions in 2020. Statewide figures were incomplete for 2021, but spending exploded in 2021 at James Madison University (up 121%) and the University of Virginia (up 66%). In 2021, by VAS’s count, UVA had 77 DEI employees whose salaries totaled $6.9 million.
The VAS noted that the numbers covered salaries only, not employee benefits, travel, entertainment, conferences, office overhead, outside speakers and consultants, training, or lost faculty productivity. The question of whether particular employees should be classified as “DEI” has been disputed in the one instance, at the Virginia Military Institute, in which the spending became an issue. There are no clear definitions of DEI expenditures, much less an accounting of them.
Second point: What’s “confrontational” about asking for the expenditures? Are citizens being confrontational when they ask for reporting on other categories of government spending? Since when is being “confrontational” been considered a legitimate reason for limiting citizen access to government information?
Third point: It should be obvious to all that Petersen and other Democrats don’t want the information known. The VAS report got very little establishment media attention — Kolenich’s article in the RTD is the only one that I have seen. The Dems would prefer to let Virginia universities continue expanding their DEI programs with no questions asked about their toxic ideology, compelled speech in the form of DEI statements, or whether the programs succeed in their stated goals of increasing the sense of “belonging” by minority students or instead feed a sense of grievance, victimization and alienation.
Petersen is reputed to be one of the more independent, less doctrinaire Democrats in the state senate. If his response is to curtail transparency in order to avoid having “open, candid dialogue” (to borrow a DEI phrase) about the effectiveness of these programs, then there doesn’t seem to be much hope for other Democrats.