DEI, Inc.

When Stanford law school’s DEI dean, Tirien Steinbach, took to the mic to stand up for the students who silenced invited speaker Judge Kyle Duncan, she was suspended from her position and roundly castigated for both failing to enforce the law school’s policies as well as encouraging the heckler’s veto to silence free speech. What, I pondered, did the deans and pundits expect a DEI dean to do? Wasn’t this her job?

[H]ow could it be that well-trained DEI Deans at elite institutions can have such a fundamentally flawed vision of the purpose of an academic institution? And what are these DEI staff teaching law students? Indeed, Steinbach doubled-down on her position in the WSJ:


Diversity, equity and inclusion plans must have clear goals that lead to greater inclusion and belonging for all community members. How we strike a balance between free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion is worthy of serious, thoughtful and civil discussion. Free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion are means to an end, and one that I think many people can actually agree on: to live in a country with liberty and justice for all its people.

Whether it’s put into warm and fuzzy words, as Steinbach attempted, or challenged as contrary to what is otherwise understood as the educational mission, except for CUNY law school (which is no Stanford law school, but still), the question remains what’s to be expected of the burgeoning DEI bureaucracy. As Conor Friedersdorf writes, it might be nothing more than self-perpetuation, the establishment and growth of a new career path for the woke elite that contributes little if anything to actual diversity, equity and inclusion, whatever that means.

So how strange––how obscene, in fact––that America’s professional class largely reacted to Floyd’s murder not by lavishing so much of the resources spent in his name on helping poor people, or the formerly (or currently) incarcerated, or people with addictions, or the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers, or children of single mothers, or graduates of underfunded high schools, but rather by hiring DEI consultants to gather employees together for trainings.

Overnight, it seems, an industry bloomed out of nothing to tell corporations and universities how to “be” diverse. I put “be” in scare quotes because its utility and efficacy was almost wholly untested and unproven. At the same time, this was not an inexpensive proposition, and suddenly an enormous amount of money, what is generally considered a scarce resource, was funneled into DEI, its consultants, staff and bureacracy, all dedicated to doing what?

At best, these outlays symbolize something like, We care about DEI and we’re willing to spend money to prove it. A more jaded appraisal is that they symbolize not a real commitment to diversity or inclusion, let alone equity, but rather “the instinctive talent that college-educated Americans have for directing resources to our class in ways that make us feel good.”

The monies poured into DEI could have been used to pay the salaries of newly-hired minorities, or the job-training of the underprivileged. It could have been used to cover the tuition and living expenses of students unable to afford a college education, or even the cost of textbooks for poor schools. But no, no, no. People like Tirian Steinbach were hired instead. People like Ibram Kendi and Robin Diangelo were paid stunning sums to “train” staff about how horrible and racist they were.

Whether the funds could have, would have, been put to better use is a variable that may never been known. After all, hiring a DEI guru is a whole lot easier than actually being diverse. When you have a DEI dean or executive vice president for DEI, you have someone to point at to demonstrate your virtue and dedication to addressing the problem of systemic racism, whatever that is. Not actually being racist gives you no one and nothing to point at to prove that you’re not the bad guy.

So what, pray tell, does a DEI consultant or EVP or dean do? First and foremost, get paid. Beyond that, nobody really knows, and it’s unclear whether anybody really cares as long as they create the appearance of trying to “do better.”

12 thoughts on “DEI, Inc.

  1. Guitardave

    Hey now, take it easy, Boss…people with collage degrees who can’t produce anything of real value need jobs too.

  2. Elpey P.

    “So what, pray tell, does a DEI consultant or EVP or dean do?”

    Protect and advance right wing (i.e., corporatist and identitarian) interests by coopting and dismantling authentic progressive interests.

  3. Chaswjd

    “We don’t measure our success by results but by activity.” Yes, Minister, The Compassionate Society.

  4. B. McLeod

    As far as the actual “function,” a high school dropout could be hired to perform it. Basically, it amounts to downloading the current dogma from the Internet and regurgitating it to staff and “trainees.”

    The reason companies did not hire high school dropouts was, I believe, the implicit understanding that these posts were supposed to instantly advance “diversity, equity and inclusion” by providing very high salaries to “DEI officers” who were LGBTQ+ and/or ethnic “minorities.” Articles in the business press suggest that the concept has already died on the vine among for-profit companies, but it has been protected in academia due to the pen-and-phone influence of entities that regulate, fund and accredit.

    Is it actually useful? Are the educational institutions actually useful? Does anybody even expect any vestige of usefulness from academia?

  5. SA

    They do lots of things:
    1) They act as a rallying point for the more radical workers/faculty/staff to demand more things for themselves, usually some form of more $$ and less work
    2) They monitor for noncompliance (for instance, using a term on the Stanford watchlist in a Slack discussion) and threaten consequences
    3) They influence hiring by reminding people that the wrong kind of hires (e.g. ask Harvard about who they consider low in “leadership and personal qualities”) will be punished, while the right kind will be rewarded
    4) They are conveniently pushed in front of the cameras/journalists whenever there’s an on-campus crisis, like a student is upset about their grade or someone with clout is upset about not getting a promotion
    5) They can hire more DEI staff in response to later requests from the activists in the organization to join them, providing a ready-made option to satisfy the hungry radicals
    6) They can work on their own private DEI consultancy, which they might even spend more time on than their ostensible full time job
    7) In case of a lawsuit, they can specifically be pointed to as part of an attempt to defend against claims of a hostile environment (though whether or not this actually works seems doubtful)

    I would be most curious about #7 though since that’s one that I’m not sure about the legal side of things. Has claiming that one has a DEI officer/consultant/training actually helped in court cases?

  6. Mike V.

    It’s what organizations do when they want it to look like they are doing Something, without really doing anything. Because really doing something like job training programs, or helping failing schools actually takes work, not platitudes and slogans.

  7. Jake

    During the freewheeling days of my misspent youth I flipped burgers or humped bundles of shingles up ladders for beer money. In those days I didn’t even know what the word diversity meant. Now I have to sit through DEI training every couple of years but the money is a lot better and the risk of injury much lower among the highly educated, elite technology workers so I can tolerate it.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    DEI officer is newspeak for political commissar. Like the Zampolit of old they collect a fat salary for looking progressive and canceling the occasional apostate while quoting White Fragilityinstead of Mao.

  9. Anonymous Data Scientist

    I have worked in tech companies for most of my life, and they jumped early on in the DEI bandwagon.

    One of our first trainings was on microagressions, and one of the first topics was that it was bad to tell people that their English was good. The training said that that was an agression, because it implied you thought that the person could not speak English properly, based on what you knew about them up to that point.

    After the training, we can still think the people that look a certain way are not expected to speak proper English. We were just trained not to let it on.

    In any case, English is my third language, and I always appreciate when people tell me I don’t suck at it, I never felt I was being assaulted. I guess I’ll never hear that again.

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