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.”