Is Academia’s DEI Delusion Reaching the End of its Shelf Life?

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Is Academia’s DEI Delusion Reaching the End of its Shelf Life?
Is Academia’s DEI Delusion Reaching the End of its Shelf Life?

My email box contained an interesting bit of news this morning under the engaging title “DEI, Left to Die.” These encouraging words were from the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a right-of-center group of academics who work to retain some sanity in America’s ivory towers.

The NAS’s task is not enviable. The lounges where professors dine and socialize are often unwelcoming to those whose opinions lie outside the far left’s ideology. Undoubtedly, many NAS members are left to eat brown-bag lunches in their offices.

The Changing Role of “Higher Education”

It was not always so. Before the sixties swept over academia, colleges and universities were, literally, “the keepers of the flame.” Their professors, classes and, especially, libraries formed a kind of collective memory of everything from ancient Hebrew and Greek texts to modern scientific discoveries.

Then came the firestorm of novelty, consuming everything in its way. Multiculturalism replaced the rhythms of Western Civilization. Critical theory dislodged wisdom. Postmodernity expelled tradition.

However, movements need slogans and catchphrases that are easily remembered and employed in the battle. The most effective ones develop over time.

One such is the phrase “diversity, equity and inclusion,” often abbreviated to DEI. According to Google, which uses its immense files and computing muscle to keep track of such things, the phrase was uncommon until about the turn of the millennium. Its usage doubled by 2011 and then doubled again by 2017. It continued to rise in usage, albeit more slowly, until 2020, the last year for which they display statistics.

Defining the Delusion

I used to teach my students that it is always a good idea to define terms before speaking on any subject. This is especially true for terms that can be interpreted in various ways.

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In 2017, the business consulting firm McKinsey & Company defined DEI for ordinary people.

Diversity refers to who is represented in the workforce.” According to McKinsey, it includes four facets—“gender,” age, ethnicity and physical/mental ability.

Equity refers to fair treatment for all people.” The company carefully points out that fair and equal treatment are two different things. “While equality assumes that all people should be treated the same, equity takes into consideration a person’s unique circumstances, adjusting treatment accordingly so that the end result is equal.”

Finally, “Inclusion refers to how the workforce experiences the workplace and the degree to which organizations embrace all employees and enable them to make meaningful contributions.”

From Academia to Business

When the McKinsey staff wrote that article, DEI was just beginning to make the jump from the faculty lounge to the boardroom. Many colleges had recently decided to use their influence to adjust American business ethics.

They accomplished this by moving their substantial endowment funds into companies run according to DEI principles. They also ensured that their alumni networks—which included many business leaders and other investors—knew precisely what they were doing.

That influence was powerful. Within a short time, many of the nation’s largest companies had whole departments devoted to DEI. No aspect of corporate life, from the boardroom to product planning to marketing to personnel, was immune. Employees who argued against the DEI doctrines were consigned to interminable training sessions to help them realize that their thinking was not just mistaken; it was immoral. Only the DEI purists were sufficiently trustworthy to occupy positions of authority. All others needed to be watched, re-trained, or simply fired.

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Of course, such tyranny can only last as long as it has the force to back it up. Despite its apparent power, DEI was always a house of cards; it just needed a strong enough breeze to plow it over.

A Breeze from Bud-Land

We could argue about the direction from which that strong breeze came, but my opinion is that it originated near Saint Louis, Missouri, in April 2023. That was when Bud Light’s vice president of marketing, Alissa Heinerscheid (who actually worked from New York City), decided that the long-established brand needed a DEI makeover.

Bud Light’s marketing debacle is well known. Suffice it to say that sales plunged catastrophically and that by the end of June, the VP of marketing was, according to the New York Post, “gone, gone.”

However, the breeze coming from the brewery was not the only one. In 2023, the Supreme Court declared colleges could no longer use “affirmative action” practices to determine which students they admitted. At about the same time, the “learning loss” that stemmed from public schools’ disastrous and unnecessary closure during the COVID outbreak became more pronounced. The corruption of the “Black Lives Matter” organization—the recipient of many corporate dollars—broke into public attention. All these factors exposed weaknesses in the DEI structure.

Gauging the Wind Speed

And now, according to NAS, the converging winds of DEI defeat have even permeated the faculty lounges.

The NAS used the Google Scholar database to determine the popularity of DEI themes in academic writing. They searched for many phrases beyond the ubiquitous “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Among these were other leftist favorites like “critical race theory,” “postcolonialism,” “systemic racism” and “queer theory.” Their searches covered the period from 1998 to 2023.

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Their conclusions are enlightening.

DEI-related work grew steadily in popularity until 2012 when publication rates increased sharply. These rates jumped again in 2016. Publication rates then declined yearly until a slight uptick in 2019, followed by a massive spike in 2020. Yet after 2020 and to the present day, publication rates of DEI-related works have rapidly declined, only appearing to level off somewhat in 2023.”

In fact, the charts that accompany the NAS article indicate that the 2023 rate of usage is about the same as in 2001 when most people were still blissfully ignorant of “wokeness.”

Re-Establishment of Sanity?

Does this mean that we can expect the campus leftists to “throw in the towel” and admit that their pet ideas have been examined in the court of public opinion and found wanting? Alas, the radical grip on higher education is still far too firm for such a rapid reversal.

However, the NAS report is a most encouraging sign that a wind of sanity may be blowing into America’s colleges. It cannot arrive too soon.

Photo Credit:  © Jannis Werner –

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