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Editorial: Faculty EDI statement is half-baked solution for diversity, inclusion

By Editorial Board

Jan. 16, 2019 10:25 pm

UCLA’s diversity and inclusion strategy is inclusive of a lot of diverse ideas – even troublingly bad ones.

Earlier this academic year, the university began requiring all prospective faculty hires to fill out an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion statement, which involves applicants mentioning their past, present and future contributions to diversity and equity, which are then taken into account during the hiring process via a qualitative grading process.

UCLA does have a diversity problem: more than 60 percent of faculty are men and more than 65 percent are white. This can have trickle-down effects in retention efforts for minority students and shapes the prospects of students seeking careers in academia.

EDI statements, however, are a short-sighted attempt at a solution – if they even are one. They demand an inherently political answer and offer little use. Plans that potential hires lay out in their applications aren’t actionable, making them an inefficient way to improve UCLA’s reach to underrepresented communities.

According to the EDI Office, contributions that applicants can mention include having taught students from underrepresented communities, conducted research into barriers minority communities face, or attempted to reduce the barrier to higher education for women and underrepresented groups.

These might seem a nonpartisan examination of applicants’ commitment to diversity and inclusion. But the ideas behind increasing diversity are the same as those behind concepts such as social justice: They belong inherently to the left of the political spectrum. EDI statements encourage applicants to attempt to appear as in touch with issues of social justice as possible – a litmus test of how progressive applicants are.

Moreover, UCLA has no way to ensure hired individuals will actually follow through on the equity, diversity and inclusion plans they lay out.

The university’s evaluation template for applicant’s statements makes this evident. The evaluation form, which departments can modify, asks those in charge of hiring to grade a candidate based on arbitrary criteria, such as their potential to bring in students from underrepresented groups and their potential to engage in activities to remove barriers to higher education for these communities.

Just because a potential hire might appear likely to be inclusive toward students doesn’t mean they will actually create the change needed to make higher education more accessible. Even the EDI office acknowledged in an email statement that this new requirement doesn’t do a lot to boost faculty diversity. Instead, the office said this was a way for UCLA to live up to its ideals.

In effect, UCLA has created a dubious procedure that does almost nothing to boost inclusion and diversity on campus, but a lot to spur people around the country to denounce the idea as detrimental to academic freedom.

The university plans on adding the statement requirement for faculty promotions in the next academic year. Instead of continuing on with an ill-conceived idea, administrators need to put the onus on themselves to boost diversity on campus. That means scrapping the EDI statement and coming up with actual solutions to reduce the barriers in higher education for members of underrepresented communities, such as bolstering hiring pipelines to bring in more qualified minority applicants.

That’s not to say EDI statements are borne of malicious intent. But they’re fundamentally flawed. The way to create a representative and accessible campus is to interface with communities that have been historically neglected and dismantle structures that limit the participation of the campus’ marginalized groups.

A half-baked requirement that forces prospective hires to cook up contributions to equity, diversity and inclusion hardly fits that bill.

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