Advice & News

June 5, 2024

Are Diversity Statements a Thing of the Past? Harvard is the Latest to Drop This Requirement for Job Applicants

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Multiple news outlets -- including The New York Times, Harvard Crimson, The Boston Globe, Fox News, National Review and Washington Times -- reported in recent days that Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences would no longer require diversity statements for job applicants.

The move follows a similar announcement in early May that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) would do away with these statements from job applicants more broadly. And it's been more than one year since the University of Missouri System said it would halt the use of diversity statements.

According to The New York Times, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences is the largest at the university and the move marks "the latest shift after months of turmoil over its values and the role of equity initiatives in higher education." The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is the home of the university's undergraduate and doctoral programs, encompassing 40 academic departments and more than 30 centers.

The decision was announced in a June 3 email sent by Dean of Faculty Affairs and Planning, Nina Zipser.

In the place of the diversity statement, the division will require a statement about an applicant's "efforts to strengthen academic communities" according to news outlets.

Not the End of DEI

Eliminating the use of the diversity statement may not be a total loss, as some critics argue that it has flaws.

On May 19, the Editorial Board at The Washington Post issued a call to end the practice of requiring diversity statements due to vague criteria. Job applicants "who disagree with the ideological premises of such inquiries have an overwhelming incentive to suppress their true beliefs, or pretend to have the 'right' ones, lest they be eliminated from consideration," the authors said.

Reconsidering the use of these statements could strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion by creating a more intellectually and politically sustainable environment, they wrote.

As HigherEdJobs readers know, DEI initiatives have been under fire for some time now. In states including Florida and Texas, governors have prohibited colleges and universities from spending state and federal dollars on DEI programs. To date, there are now at least nine states that ban the use of diversity statements in the hiring process, and more may follow suit.

Though diversity statements may be falling by the wayside, it seems that DEI remain a top priority in higher education. As noted in a previous HigherEdJobs article, recent events are forcing schools to get creative in their efforts to promote DEI. The work may look different, but it can still be done -- and many campus leaders remain committed.

The University of Utah, for example, discontinued diversity statement practices in all hiring units earlier this year, shortly before the state's diversity statement ban was signed into law. Yet, in his letter to the university community, President Taylor Randall wrote, "As the University of Utah strives for excellence in education, research, patient care, and service to community, we remain steadfast in our belief and actions that we must have a dedicated team of individuals from every walk of life to help us achieve that goal."

Recent research has also found that a key component in helping staff thrive is the extent to which people are treated equitably and diverse perspectives are valued on campus.

At the University of Iowa, a pilot initiative to create a more inclusive faculty search process and, by extension, a more diverse faculty was so promising, it was recently implemented across the entire campus.

As the authors noted when describing the Path to Distinction program, by challenging norms, adopting research-informed strategies, and embracing inclusivity, they are fostering a future where academia reflects the diversity of the world it serves. So, whether a statement is required, or a formal program is housed in the university, diversity, equity, and inclusion still has its place in academia.

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