DEI: The Conversation Continues
Early in the week I published a blog piece on DEI (“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”) and its present ascendency in the academic world. Some of you said you found it “confusing.” I took your comments to heart and later in the week edited that piece for clarity. The edited version appeared yesterday at Post Alley.
Meanwhile, David Brooks took up the same topic and themes in his Friday column at NYT, as he tried to understand how the academic world has become a hotbed of anti-semitism and intimidation. Here’s a link to that piece, and the following excerpt:
“One passage from a D.E.I. curriculum guide symbolizes for me the way ideological activism is replacing intellectual inquiry as the primary mission of universities. It’s for the faculty at California Community Colleges, and it advises: ‘Take care not to “weaponize” academic freedom and academic integrity as tools to impede equity.’ In other words, spreading a specific ideology is more important than academic integrity.”
Meanwhile, I spent the week in Vancouver, B.C., where we were doing a training and team-building event for our Field Education supervisors at the Vancouver School of Theology. VST is on the campus of the University of British Columbia.
Overall, it was a good event. But, as if on cue, two of our presenters, who are themselves based in academia though not at VST or UBC, turned us to “The Wheel of Privilege” chart. I have no doubt that their intentions were good. But it was a further indication of the way the ideology of DEI has become pervasive in academia. One is encouraged to be aware of your “privilege,” and to confess one’s sin of privilege and atone.
In some ways, DEI is the mirror-image of another pernicious ideology, that of meritocracy. The idea there is that all those who rise to the top in wealth, power and status deserve their elevated position. They’ve earned it through their hard work and smarts. Full stop. Here’s a bit from Michael Sandel’s 2020 book, The Tyranny of Merit, in which Sandel critiques that ideology.
“In an unequal society, those who land on top want to believe their success is morally justified. In a meritocratic society, this means the winners must believe they have earned their success through their own talent and hard work.”
The ideology of merit has no place for sheer luck, grace — or privilege. Or the idea that maybe those who find themselves in some elite maybe have some reason for humility, as well as a sense of responsibility for the common good and to those who are less fortunate than they.
A point Jesus made a while back, saying, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12: 48)
Both the ideology of meritocracy and the ideology of privilege, are guilty of the same failure. They take a partial truth and claim for it whole and complete truth. Which is, as I have pointed out here before, the classic definition of a heresy. Heresies are never completely wrong. They are onto something. But instead of contributing a corrective or leavening to the loaf, they claim to be the whole loaf.
The ideology of privilege also makes a mistake that one sees often in the liberal and progressives churches. You tell people how bad they are (for being moderately successful, privileged, white, etc.) and then expect them to do good. Or as one pastor put it, “You tell people over and over again that they are the problem, and then expect them to change the world. How does that work?” Perhaps not the best motivational technique?