by James A. Bacon
According to a new report by the Virginia Association of Scholars, the University of Virginia in 2021 employed 77 people as part of the a vast and growing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) bureaucracy at a cost of nearly $7 million a year. Many questions arise from this revelation. What do all these people do? What are their goals? Are they improving the university climate? What is the effect of DEI on freedom of speech, inquiry and expression?
We will address these question in future posts. For now, we want to make it clear that the $7 million cost is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The authors of the VAS study make it clear that they are counting only positions that are explicitly tied to DEI-related programs, and it counts only salaries. Not benefits. Not office overhead. Not outside consultants, speakers, or events. And perhaps most importantly, not the impact on faculty productivity.
The fixation on DEI suffuses every aspect of University life. Not only does the university administration have a DEI staff, not only do each of its 13 schools and colleges have DEI staffs, but the DEI ethic permeates down to the departmental level as reflected in planning sessions, training programs, departmental-level reading groups, the hiring of new employees, and the granting of pay raises, promotions, and tenure decision-making.
An extraordinary amount of activity at UVa is devoted to DEI, and that activity sucks faculty, students, and non-DEI staff into the vortex.
In UVa’s increasingly labyrinthine DEI bureaucracy, a group referred to as the Academic Deans and Directors for Diversity and Inclusion is described as “a core anchor” for diversity and inclusion at UVa. The group has its own web page. The following bullet points, pulled from that page, suggests what the deans are spending their time on:
- strategic inclusive excellence planning;
- key learning events and D&I programming for the University;
- policy equity reviews;
- building for a cultural climate of belonging;
- student, staff, and faculty recruitment, retention, and success; and
- institutional communications focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Lots of planning. Lots of initiatives. Lots of meetings. Lots of networking. Lots of dialogue. Lots of communication. Lots of equity audits. Lots of memos and emails and updates and reports. In other words, endless bureaucratic thumb sucking. Of course, all of this activity requires “collaboration” with faculty who do things the actual teaching and research, and places demands on their time.
What the VAS study could not do is determine how much time non-DEI faculty and staff consume engaging in DEI activities. How does one even begin to measure the “trickle down” effects of the DEI mandate?
With bland bureaucratic language, the College of Arts & Sciences (A&S) website (my bold) provides a glimpse:
Diversity is critical for A&S in its pursuit of excellence, and our goal is to embed diversity considerations across the mission areas of the school. This approach is being used in the development of recommendations, initiatives, and strategies that will support and enhance diversity and inclusion across A&S.
And the School of Architecture:
Through the coordinated efforts of leadership, faculty, staff, students, alumni and allies, the School of Architecture is committed to the long term project of working together to build, promote and sustain a culture of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion — and to cultivate shared humanity through difference — within and beyond the University.
And the McIntire School of Commerce, from its Inclusive Excellence Plan 2021:
This collaborative plan outlines a series of goals and initiatives aimed at organizational change to address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), as critical to achieving excellence at McIntire. These goals were developed through a collaborative process overseen by the McIntire Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) involving students, faculty and staff which began in the Fall of 2019. This process has primarily been conducted through engagement and ongoing review with McIntire’s Diversity Advisory Committee.
And the University of Virginia Library:
We work closely with the offices of the Provost, Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer, and African-American Affairs to be educated by speakers and consultants who research and study racism.
My point in this post is not to critique the substance of the DEI philosophy as practiced at UVA or question whether DEI even accomplishes the goals it sets for itself — we will save those matters for other posts — but to suggest that DEI has become a Maoist-like perpetual struggle that engages everyone at a significant cost to productivity.
There is no indication that anyone has catalogued the direct costs of the DEI bureaucracy that has exploded on President Jim Ryan’s watch, must less the indirect costs such as those described above. It’s time UVa stakeholders — including parents, students, taxpayers and alumni — ask those questions, demand answers and then weigh the costs against the putative benefits.