DEI Doesn’t Work—Taxpayers Shouldn’t Pay for It

COMMENTARY Education

DEI Doesn’t Work—Taxpayers Shouldn’t Pay for It

Jan 30, 2023 5 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Jonathan Butcher

Will Skillman Fellow in Education

Jonathan is the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation.
Public money should not be used for DEI offices in public-school districts or on college campuses. Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, ironically enough, don’t make people more tolerant of individual differences.

A growing volume of research demonstrates that professional-development programs and other trainings in DEI are abject failures.

State lawmakers should ensure that no teacher or student is compelled to profess or believe any idea (especially ideas that violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

The evidence has been mounting for years: Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, ironically enough, don’t make people more tolerant of individual differences. So why aren’t the “experts” who say racism is still omnipresent calling for different solutions?

Likely because they are the ones spreading—and benefiting handsomely from—the DEI gospel.

Ibram X. Kendi, for example, whose proposed remedy for discrimination is more discrimination, makes $20,000 or more for presentations before public-school districts. He has also presented for the DEI offices at Georgia Tech, the University of Virginia, Lehigh University, the University of Southern California, UC Davis, the University of Illinois, and elsewhere. Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, who makes between $14,000 and $30,000 for her speaking engagements. She has spoken at DEI departments at Cornell, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and Seattle University. The list goes on, but, at some point, the press releases become repetitive.

Then there are the consulting companies, which can charge up to six figures for their services. The Racial Equity Institute lists dozens of colleges, K–12 school districts, and businesses as its clients, including Arizona State University, Duke Divinity School, Ben & Jerry’s, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina. In case there is any question about DEI’s roots, another training company called The Equity Collaborative has a presentation titled “Introduction to Critical Race Theory,” which was used, for instance, to train teachers in Loudoun County, Va.

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And yet, a growing volume of research demonstrates that professional-development programs and other trainings in DEI are abject failures.

The evidence is so strong that even the home of the racially obsessed 1619 Project, and mainstream outlets that have published Kendi’s commentary, are printing critiques of DEI. Last week, Jesse Singal asked in the New York Times if diversity trainings are “doing more harm than good”: “The specific type of diversity training that is currently in vogue—mandatory trainings that blame dominant groups for D.E.I. problems—may have a net negative effect on the outcomes managers claim to care about.”

Singal has long pointed out the problems with so-called antibias efforts. In 2017, he wrote in New York magazine that the “implicit association test,” launched in association with researchers at Harvard to measure test-takers’ levels of implicit bias, was not reliable. “A pile of scholarly work, some of it published in top psychology journals and most of it ignored by the media, suggests that the IAT falls far short of the quality-control standards normally expected of psychological instruments,” Singal said.

In the Washington Post, which has featured Kendi’s condemnation of federal civil-rights laws and the civil-rights movement, writer Jena McGregor also argued, back in 2016, that DEI training programs “do more harm than good.” In 2020, Education Week lamented DEI’s failings in a headline that read “Training Bias Out of Teachers: Research Shows Little Promise so Far.” In 2022, the corporate consultants at McKinsey & Co. warned executives with an article titled “Don’t Train Your Employees on DE&I. Build Their Capabilities.”

McKinsey encourages businesses to promote diversity but has also released reports that DEI programs fail at their intended outcomes. In an interview with McKinsey, Harvard professor Iris Bohnet said:

About $8 billion a year is spent on diversity trainings in the United States alone. Now, I tried very hard to find any evidence I could. I looked not just in the United States but also in Rwanda and other post-conflict countries, where reconciliation is often built on the kind of diversity trainings that we do in our companies, to see how this is working. Sadly enough, I did not find a single study that found that diversity training in fact leads to more diversity.

In my book Splintered: Critical Race Theory and the Progressive War on Truth, I reviewed Singal’s and McGregor’s sources and more, and arrived at the same conclusions.

Researchers Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, for example, surveyed nearly 700 colleges in 2016 and found that 43 percent of the schools had mandatory diversity-training programs for faculty, as well as for most freshman students. But the results of the programs were uninspiring. Hundreds of studies dating back nearly a century find that antibias trainings do not “reduce bias, alter behavior, or change the workplace,” Dobbin and Kalev wrote in Anthropology Now.

A study in the Annual Review of Psychology reviewed hundreds of studies of anti-prejudice training and found that “the causal effects of many widespread prejudice-reduction interventions, such as workplace diversity training and media campaigns, remain unknown.” Another review of the effects of antibias trainings, using the results of some 500 academic papers, finds that the trainings did not “necessarily translate into changes in explicit measures or behavior” and the “effects are often relatively weak.”

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Nevertheless, consultants and university officials are clearly doubling down on DEI. New research from the Goldwater Institute finds that 80 percent of the faculty-job postings at public universities in Arizona require applicants to include a DEI statement with their application that describes how their work would contribute to the university’s commitment to the woke orthodoxy. The report also pointed out that nearly three-quarters of the applications for positions at UC Berkeley were thrown out because the applicants did not adequately show their commitment to DEI.

What is to be done? Public money should not be used for DEI offices in public-school districts or on college campuses. For K–12 public schools, where DEI offices are becoming as common as they are in higher education, state lawmakers should ensure that no teacher or student is compelled to profess or believe any idea (especially ideas that violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Such ideas would include the notion that individuals today are automatically guilty of racial crimes committed by others decades ago who happen to share the color of their skin. In public colleges and universities, lawmakers should prohibit school officials from using DEI statements to screen job applicants. Similar prohibitions on compelled speech should also apply.

We cannot expect the self-appointed spokespersons of anti-racism to change course when their (lucrative) efforts fail to reduce bias. Their sermons that discrimination is necessary to spread guilt appealed to radical activists when they were first issued, which should have already caused us to harbor reservations. Now that we see the null effects that DEI trainings have on those exposed to them, there is one more reason to dismiss the DEI orthodoxy.

This piece originally appeared in The National Review