Guest Column: Deemphasizing DEI At UW Was the Right Decision

Guest columnist Ray Hunkins writes, "The decision to eliminate the Office of DEI at the University of Wyoming is welcome news to many university supporters, myself included. The considerable money spent on DEI and its bureaucracy can now be spent on academic programs, UW’s core mission."

CSD Staff

June 11, 20246 min read

Ray hunkins headshot cropped
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Three cheers for the University of Wyoming and its Board of Trustees. They did the right thing in decommissioning The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at UW, thereby deemphasizing “DEI” and relegating it to a less prominent place in University of Wyoming affairs.

In actuality what was accomplished was removing an irritant, that being the Wyoming Legislature’s (and public’s) negative perception of DEI and what DEI might portend at UW.  

The UW Administration and Board may have been compelled to take the action, but they took it nevertheless and deserve credit for doing so.

What became clear by the public discussion of the issue is that in many instances, both the proponents and critics of removing the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion from the University, were “shadow boxing."

That is, proponents and critics alike were not dealing with what the UW DEI office was actually doing, but rather with the national perception of DEI.

The university administration’s recommendation to eliminate the Office of DEI, and the board’s decision to adopt the recommendation, resulted from what amounted to a directive by the Wyoming Legislature, a directive that came about because of DEI’s negative reputation.

DEI has become a pejorative in the minds of many conservatives concerned about the performance and direction of U.S. higher education.

Though the DEI office at UW uses 200+words to define diversity, equity and inclusion, the definitions boil down to this: “Diversity” is defined as unlike or different. “Equity," a legal term, means the act of being fair and impartial. “Inclusion” means the act of being included, accepted and even embraced.

Most would agree that diversity, equity and inclusion are aspirational and who could argue with such aspirations? No one I know disavows diversity, equity or inclusion as those terms are defined above.

The reason the acronym and its constituent words are viewed negatively by many and specifically the Wyoming Legislature, is because those fine words have been hijacked to disguise a number of programs at elite universities, programs to which there are justifiable objections.

The concern about indoctrination to radicalism and promotion of radical causes associated with DEI, as well as processes of selection based on “diversity”, has manifested itself across the country.  

For instance, recently the Washington Free Beacon reported that half a dozen top doctors and admission officers at UCLA’s medical school, are desperately trying to blow the whistle on DEI sabotaging the competency of doctors graduating from the prestigious institution.

It is not “DEI” that is objectionable, but what has been proposed and implemented under its rubric – a sort of no boundaries approach to programmatic selection, including admission standards.

In many institutions of higher learning, the argument has become, “as long as it’s in furtherance of DEI its justified.” No matter that DEI programs may be divisive, exclusionary and disrespectful or lead to incompetent graduates.

So, who decides what’s good and what’s not?

When imagining DEI programs and activities, who decides if there are boundaries or standards that should not be transgressed?

If there are boundaries, where are they? Do DEI programs follow cultural norms or not? If so, whose culture? Do diversity and inclusion include deviancy? Is diversity a more important quality than merit?

According to many proponents of DEI, the answer to these questions depends on “equity”, the second leg of the three -legged DEI stool. Equity is fairness, but who decides what is fair? Now we are getting to the nub.

The answer to the question, “Who decides what is fair?”, is what makes DEI objectionable in the eyes of many.

The judge of fairness as to matters of diversity, inclusion and social justice (a term used interchangeably with “equity” by DEI activists) are most often the activists who populate the offices, divisions and departments – the bureaucracy - wherein DEI programs are imagined, planned and implemented.

Critical thinking about supervision of DEI programs and departments is difficult because:

1) there is a constituency for every initiative;

2) The very subject matter is fraught with public relations peril and often emotionally charged; and,

3) often the supervision of DEI activities is by DEI activists.

Wyoming is not the first state and the University of Wyoming is not the first institution to discard or deemphasize DEI.

State lawmakers in nearly half the states are proposing or have proposed, legislation to curtail DEI programs and offices at public institutions.

A number of universities have moved in that direction, the most recent being the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

There the UNC Board took the DEI budget of $2.3 million and moved it to public safety on the UNC Campus. One Board member indicated he considered the UNC DEI program to be, “disharmonious”, saying, “I think that DEI in a lot of people’s minds is divisiveness, exclusion and indoctrination.”

Earlier another UNC Board member wrote, “Though guised as a student success support system, the reality is that on some campuses, the DEI regime has become the enforcement mechanism with which to push radical ideology. Under the auspice of righting past wrongs, it has been weaponized to allow discrimination, and it pits races and genders against each other.”

It should be obvious that DEI at each institution manifests in different ways with varying degrees of objectionable and non-objectionable content.

UW’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s website displays the following 12, “Offices and Initiatives”: Accessibility Committee, Inclusion Council, CDO’s Outbox, Diverse Grad Student Network, Diversity Resources, Diversity Staff, Employee Networks, Equal Opportunity Report, Fairness; Hiring and Training, Search Equity Advisors and Social Justice Research Center. Looking at this, it is not difficult to see how an idea becomes a bureaucracy.

The decision to eliminate the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Wyoming is welcome news to many University supporters, myself included. For one thing, the considerable money spent on DEI and its bureaucracy can now be spent on academic programs, UW’s core mission.

An irritant has been removed.

Meritocracy has been reaffirmed to the end that all faculty, staff and students should be assured of  nondiscriminatory practices where all are afforded the opportunity to succeed in accord with their imagination, skill, talent and ability.

Ray Hunkins is a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Wyoming and of its College of Law.

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CSD Staff