New York Times “DEI” Article Prompts Questions About Ryan’s Views

Bert Ellis. Photo credit: New York Times

by James A. Bacon

Kudos to Stephanie Saul for her front-page article in The New York Times this morning. She quotes Bert Ellis and me accurately and in context in an impressively even-handed account of the brewing controversy over Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the University of Virginia.

Followers of Bacon’s Rebellion will find that the article, which explores DEI issues at UVa through the prism of Ellis’ appointment to the Board of Visitors, covers familiar ground. However, it does contain nuggets of news, mainly by putting UVa President Jim Ryan and other university officials on the record on issues about which they have been largely silent so far.

Most astonishing are the quotes from Ryan, who comes across as totally clueless about the aims of his critics.

James E. Ryan, the university’s president, said he believes the majority of alumni feel the way he does — that diversity is desirable and needed.

“I haven’t heard anyone say we should have a community that is monolithic, unfair and unwelcoming,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Ryan said he wonders about the motives of the critics.

“Whether this is an effort to focus on the aspects of D.E.I. that seem to threaten academic freedom and push toward ideological conformity, or whether it’s an effort to turn back the clock to 1965 — it’s hard to know,” he said in an interview.

It is breathtaking that UVa’s president should have such a skewed conception of what his critics are saying. It suggests that he is not dealing in the realm of reality.

First point: he states that a majority of alumni feel the way he does — that diversity is desirable and needed. The insinuation is that his critics do not believe that diversity is desirable. He has zero justification for such a belief. When he speaks of “diversity,” of course, he is referring to demographic diversity. Ellis and The Jefferson Council support demographic diversity as long as it is consistent with the principle of “equality of opportunity” rather than “equality of outcomes.” The possibility that we have different visions of “diversity” eludes him.

Second point: he states, “I haven’t heard anyone say we should have a community that is monolithic, unfair and unwelcoming.”

That’s true. No one says that. To the contrary, The Jefferson Council’s critique of Ryan’s DEI regime is that it has accelerated UVa’s drift toward intellectual conformity, creating a leftist monolith. By harping on the themes of racial, sexual and gender injustice, the administration has fashioned an environment in which moderate, libertarian and conservative students and faculty members engage extensively in self-censorship and, to borrow a phrase, feel “marginalized,” powerless, and unrepresented within the university community.

Third point: Ryan doesn’t come right out and say explicitly that his critics want to “turn back the clock to 1965,” but he clearly suggests that they might — he finds it “hard to know.”

Our goal at The Jefferson Council is to make the University of Virginia the most exciting place in the 21st-century United States to learn, teach and pursue the creation of knowledge. We believe that creating a suffocating cultural and intellectual climate thoroughly dominated by leftist views about “social justice” is inconsistent with that aim.

Another interesting revelation is a statement by Kevin G. McDonald, the University of Virginia’s vice president for diversity, that UVa’s DEI apparatus numbers only 40 employees — half the number cited in studies by The Heritage Foundation and the Virginia Association of Scholars. This is the first time a university official has publicly uttered such a number, as far as I know. The difference, I suspect, is in how one defines “DEI employee.” We look forward to hearing MacDonald’s presentation to the Board of Visitors on how he came up with that particular number.

Finally, Saul quotes university spokesman Brian Coy as saying that diversity statements are not required. Saul herself notes that several job postings she reviewed do, in fact, ask applicants to submit diversity statements. Likewise, The Jefferson Council has provided documentation that diversity statements are required in job-performance reviews and in student admission applications.

The Jefferson Council would welcome a formal statement from President Ryan that diversity statements are not required in job applications and performance reviews — and to see that policy reflected in actual job postings and performance evaluations.

James A. Bacon is executive director of The Jefferson Council.