Critics Challenge Diversity Language in Virginia Tech's Tenure Policy

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Mar 26 13:03:00 UTC 2009

Critics Challenge Diversity Language in Virginia Tech's Tenure Policy

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Virginia Tech has come under criticism from some outside groups for a
set of new guidelines that, the critics say, appear to require faculty
members to show a commitment to diversity as part of their bids for
tenure and promotion. The critics, including the Foundation for
Individual Rights in Education, say the guidelines establish a
“loyalty oath” that violates professors’ academic freedom.

The guidelines at issue govern faculty members in the university’s
College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. They say that a promotion
and tenure committee “expects all dossiers to demonstrate the
candidate’s active involvement in diversity.”

But the university’s provost, Mark G. McNamee, says not only is the
language on diversity not really new, it is also merely intended to
encourage faculty members to pursue activities related to diversity,
not to require it.

Three years ago, said Mr. McNamee, the university began asking faculty
members to list activities they had engaged in related to diversity in
annual reports on their work that they give to department heads. He
said faculty members had asked administrators about how they might
inform the university of this work, and “we wanted people to feel it
was valued.”

The university drew up a list of activities that faculty members
should mention in their annual reports—including taking part in
diversity-awareness workshops, helping recruit and offer mentorship to
female students and those from racial minority groups, and
incorporating diversity-related scholarship into their teaching.

“The university is really committed to improving our overall profile
in diversity,” said the provost. “We want to be supportive and
attractive to people from all different groups.”

This year, when the college drew up new standards for promotion and
tenure, Mr. McNamee said, it simply included in those guidelines the
commitment to diversity that had already been present in the annual

But in a letter it sent Wednesday to Charles W. Steger, Virginia
Tech’s president, FIRE says the language on diversity amounts to
promotion of a “political orthodoxy.” “Although requiring candidates
to demonstrate 'involvement in diversity initiatives' may seem
admirable and innocuous, in practice this requirement amounts to an
ideological loyalty oath,” says the letter, written by Adam Kissel,
director of the group’s individual-rights defense program. Mr. Kissel
asked the university to revise the standards.

The National Association of Scholars has also criticized Virginia
Tech’s new guidelines in an article on its Web site. The article says
a commitment to diversity does not belong in guidelines that evaluate
a professor's bid for promotion and tenure. “‘Diversity’ is not a
category of academic accomplishment equivalent to high-quality
teaching or success in scholarly research and publishing," says the
article. “‘Diversity’ is an ideology."

In an e-mail message to The Chronicle on Wednesday, Mr. McNamee said
he would review the new promotion and tenure guidelines in light of
the letter from FIRE.

“We certainly have no interest in stepping outside the mainstream of
academic freedom,” he wrote. “We want to support faculty efforts in
the broad area of diversity, but we would not and do not want to
impede anyone's academic privileges.”

When asked during a telephone interview what would happen to faculty
members who failed to report any involvement in diversity activities,
Mr. McNamee said, “Nothing.”

[Comment: no mention of linguistic diversity here!  (HS)]

 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at


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