AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Last Month, American Enterprise Institute Scholar and Economics professor Mark J. Perry made a startling revelation. While reviewing Ohio State University’s financial disclosure forms, he discovered that the university had over 130 “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) employees. Their combined salary commanded $13.4 million of the university’s budget – enough to fund the in-state tuition of more than 1,100 students. Three administrators alone currently make over $250,000 each. These administrators do not teach classes, coach, or assist in the educational pursuits of the student body. Their sole responsibility is the promotion of “diversity” and “inclusion”– without much of an explanation at all for what that really means. But as controversial as that may seem, Ohio State is far from an outlier among universities, underscoring a far more prevalent problem in higher education.
According to a recent Heritage Foundation report, the average university has more than 45 individuals focused solely on DEI issues. Some schools have even more DEI administrators than Ohio State – the University of Michigan has 163. Overall, in a study of 65 schools, DEI staff outnumbered history professors by 40 percent. For every 100 tenured or tenure-track professors, there were 3.4 people working to promote DEI. At the University of Virginia, that number is 6.5. At the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, there are 13 people devoted to promoting DEI for every one person devoted to assisting people with disabilities – something that is actually required by law. Moreover, these figures don’t even address the astronomical sums spent on so-called “DEI initiatives” at universities each year.
While promoting diversity of thought and supporting historically underrepresented students is a noble and admirable goal, the reality is often far from this ideal. DEI offices in recent years have found a calling in targeting conservative speakers and viewpoints on campuses, in some cases banning them outright. As one current Ohio State student detailed in an article for National Review, the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion has funded a “Black Lives Matter public art initiative” in the form of murals in the school’s library, sent out an email discouraging students from attending a lecture by prominent conservative thinker Ben Shapiro, and advised students not to interact with a gun rights group that came to campus to inform students about the Second Amendment. Last fall, DePaul University banned Shapiro from speaking at all in a pre-scheduled campus event. A Wall Street Journal article from last year further detailed how “DEI monomania” is affecting professors as well. Now, the most important hiring consideration isn’t someone’s research credentials or teaching record, but rather their ability to speak to how they “support diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.”
But the worst indictment of the mission creep of college DEI offices might be that they don’t even appear to be helping minority students have a better college experience or even graduate in higher numbers. Several schools with the largest number of diversity administrators report the lowest levels of minority student satisfaction.
One new report even suggests DEI offices are harming minority students far more than they’re helping. According to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, none of these programs substantively moved “the needle on graduation rates at 4-year public colleges.” Ironically, they’ve done the opposite for minority students; these ever-growing diversity administrators constitute a significant expense in the already bloated budget of American colleges. Those expenses get passed down to students via increased tuition costs. These increased costs make college less accessible for minority students who disproportionately face economic challenges. By one estimate, “a $1,000 increase in tuition and fees caused the racial and ethnic diversity of first-time, full-time freshmen to decline by 4.5%.”
Administrators will defend their schools’ high tuition prices by assuring students that they can seek financial aid. However, even those students who do manage to meet the diversity criteria necessary to receive such aid will still likely find themselves saddled by thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, in student loans.
Ironically, as the price of education has increased over time, the value of that education has decreased. A recent study found, in what seems a paradox, that college graduates were less civically intelligent than high school graduates. With a growing shortage of skilled trades, many young people who choose to forego college in favor of trade school or another employment opportunity now find themselves better off than their college-bound peers. With all this in mind, it’s no wonder that college enrollment is on the decline.
College administrators know the value of their degrees is plummeting. Yet, if they raise the academic standards, enrollment will suffer heavily. Perhaps this is why most schools don’t advertise the educational value of their institutions. Instead, they promote the “experience” and the “culture” of higher education. For liberal college administrators, DEI offices are a convenient way to claim their “commitment” to diversity. However, if they actually want to improve the student experience, they might consider following Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s lead in ditching all the “equity” labels in favor of another word that would be a far more admirable and legitimate pursuit – “opportunity.” That is, after all, what higher education is supposed to provide.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.