The Hidden Costs of DEI

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.

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Jordan Ball
Jordan Ball
4 months ago

Could someone please list the benefits of all this preoccupation with DEI? Once we know the supposed benefits we could weigh them against the costs.

walter smith
walter smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Jordan Ball

Supposedly…”equity” and “inclusivity” and “diversity” – all “good” in and of themselves.
Part of Jim Ryan’s “Great and Good” vision. But Jim’s definition of “good” does not match mine. Nor am I pleased with the inference that UVA wasn’t “good” prior to the arrival of St. Jim.
Unfortunately, “diversity” is measured entirely by race/color or a plus if female or are not hetero or claim to be trans. Those are all plusses. UVA hides the “diversity” reality behind words like “marginalized.” So, you can be a Black from an intact, high earning family, attending a good school, and you will get a preference over a white kid with better grades and SATs. Diversity does not include diversity of thought. The faculty is overwhelmingly to the Left (90-95% based on political donations) and has no problem with a “litmus test” DEI statement as a requirement for hire and in evaluation. The parallels to McCarthyism and loyalty oaths are apt, but it only matters when a Leftist’s rights are abused.
“Inclusivity” – who is against inclusivity? But how does dividing people by race or sexual abnormality or being a female in STEM make things more “inclusive?” Asking for a friend… I think it is inherently divisive, besides unfair. But let’s do our athletic teams on the same basis.
Finally, who can be against “equity?” And that is the point in the use of the word – here it means equality of results, not fairness of treatment.
The words do not mean what they historically have meant – it is Marxist, dividing the world into oppressors and oppressed and has NOTHING to do with education, ironically, but likely intentionally destroying the formerly “great” part of UVA’s reputation.

John Hunt, MD
4 months ago

I refer to it as DIE, as opposed to DEI. Bureaucracy is the death of productivity by a thousand cuts, and sometimes a machete. DIE blends denial, narcissism, marxism, racism and useless virtue signaling with a large dose of hypocrisy. Marxism is beyond stupid–it’s proven to be highly dangerous to life and dignity. Racism is stupid as well as destructive and wasteful, and a major component of DIE, about which they are in profound denial. I am glad that you are writing about this stuff. It’s a toxic poison that comes when society fails, and society is failing first in academia, a breeding ground for creating parasitic minds.

Geoffrey Close
Geoffrey Close
4 months ago

Why doesn’t the University use some of that $7 million and use it toward scholarships for marginalized students instead of adding to staff overhead? Wouldn’t that solve the problem more effectively?

4 months ago
Reply to  Geoffrey Close

Of course, but then faculty, students, and the Cavalier Daily could not say UVA promotes white supremacy.

angela box
angela box
4 months ago

You can bet your boots that the Chinese universities are not taking time away from academics for this nonsense. And they will produce a much more able graduate because of it.

4 months ago

This is intriguing because, at least to me, DEI is a good thing while additional bureaucracy is not a good thing unless absolutely necessary. The goal of DEI, by me, is to try the best we can to make sure that students succeed or fail at The University due to their abilities and efforts and not for any other reason. Data and experience shows that until recently people who were not white males, often Protestant White Males, were put at a serious disadvantage. Correcting this seems like an unalloyed good. The important question is how much the additional hires help to achieve what I see as the goal of DEI. Can you answer that? (And yes, this is very self centered. I am not even sure the rest of you are not bots or brains in vats, so I go with what I know.)