Who Counts As a DEI Employee?

by James A. Bacon

Earlier this month Open the Books, an organization dedicated to government spending transparency, released a study concluding that the University of Virginia employs 235 people, including interns, in roles relating to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at a payroll cost of roughly $20 million a year. Characterizing Open the Books’ numbers as “wildly inflated,” UVA officials disputed how the group counted someone as a DEI employee. Open the Books fired back yesterday with another broadside, defending its numbers and faulting UVA’s own claim that the University has only 55 DEI employees costing $5.8 million.

In June 2023, the Ryan administration presented numbers to the Board of Visitors that provided the following breakdown:

While Open the Books has been fully transparent, going so far as to publish a list of the employees, titles and salaries it is counting, UVA has not reciprocated with a list of its own.

Open the Books tried to get to the bottom of UVA’s numbers. After getting no response to its questions from UVA’s spokespersons, the transparency group filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for “records of employees [of] the University of Virginia for the year 2023, (fiscal or calendar year) whose primary or secondary role includes work on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.”

Replied UVA’s FOIA gatekeepers: “[T]he University has no records responsive to your request.”

The Jefferson Council’s take. It’s hard to know what to make of the UVA FOIA team’s assertion that the University has “no records” responsive to Open the Book’s request. Obviously, payroll records do exist. The University couldn’t function without them. I interpret this statement as meaning that the FOIA officers could identify no formal accounting of how many DEI employees the University has.

But, then, how do we explain the table displayed above, which the UVA administration presented to the Board of Visitors? Someone, somewhere, somehow, counted up the numbers and tabulated them for that graphic.

Aside from the obvious lack of transparency and possible violations of FOIA law, what we’re dealing with here is a disagreement over how to classify employees as “DEI.” Open the Books takes a broad definition. UVA, embarrassed by the numbers, seeks to minimize it. One clue can be found in the footnotes in the graphic. The UVA numbers exclude:

  • Faculty appointed to administrative roles in a DEI capacity.
  • Employees in DEI offices who play a “support” role such as administrative assistant or director of business operations who “do not do DEI work directly.”

Those are two pretty big exceptions!

Again, it’s clear that someone, somewhere, has compiled the numbers and that someone, at some level of the administration, declined to turn them over.

But there’s an even bigger issue here. The size and cost of the DEI bureaucracy only scrapes the surface. As Open the Books rightly points out, UVA’s push for racial, sexual, and gender “equity” is a billion-dollar initiative arising from the Racial Equity Task Force recommendations in 2000. It encompasses expensive measures to recruit minorities in undergraduate admissions. It extends to recruitment of minority graduate students, post docs, and tenure-track faculty. The fixation on race, sex, and gender intrudes into every school and college, every department, and every administrative office. It permeates the programs that are put on, the outside speakers who are invited, the art that is performed and exhibited, and the community outreach that is engaged in. How many employees dedicated to all of those activities are numbered as “DEI” administrators?

It works to the advantage of the Ryan administration to debate the propriety of counting the full salary of Martin Davidson, the senior DEI official in the Darden School of Business who also has teaching and administrative duties: It keeps the focus on the trees instead of the forest.

Any classification of an employee as “DEI” is to some degree arbitrary because every administrative job at UVA incorporates the DEI mission to a greater or lesser degree. Every administrator has adopted the rhetoric of DEI.

We applaud Open the Books for its extensive research and for its willingness to hold the Ryan administration’s feet to the fire over the number of DEI administrators employed by UVA. But we must remember that there is an even bigger story to be told.

3 4 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments