Category Archives: Colleges & Education

Defense As Offense? University of Arkansas Dissolves its DEI Program

Dissolving a DEI Office to Save DEI

The University of Arkansas is reallocating all DEI staff and resources to other campus offices. Is it a capitulation to right-wing demands or a savvy defense tactic?

A dark-skinned man in a suit and tie and glasses speaks in front of a red curtain

University of Arkansas chancellor Charles Robinson is eliminating the campus’s diversity and inclusion office and redistributing its funds and staff as political attacks against DEI intensify in red states.

Russell Cothren for the University of Arkansas

Lawmakers in Florida, Texas and Ohio have passed bills this year requiring their public institutions of higher education to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion offices. The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville didn’t wait on legislative mandates; last week, the university dissolved its DEI division on its own.

But the DEI office’s staff and resources will be retained and reallocated to other offices, primarily in human resources and student success. Mark Rushing, associate vice chancellor for university relations, said administrators were discussing what that relocation would look like with the affected employees, including the current vice chancellor of diversity, equity and inclusion, Angela Mosley Monts.

In a letter announcing the decision, Chancellor Charles Robinson stressed that it was made not in response to political pressures, but as the first step in a strategic plan to emphasize student success and faculty recruitment.

“Supporting equal opportunity, access and belonging are critical to our land-grant mission and university values,” wrote Robinson, Fayetteville’s first Black chancellor and former vice chancellor for diversity. “It is my belief based on my experience … that we can accomplish better outcomes by reallocating resources into these essential areas.”

The university is the first public higher ed institution in the country to dismantle its DEI offices voluntarily, and without a mandate from its Board of Trustees—the University of South Dakota replaced its DEI offices with “opportunity centers” last January, but it was following direct orders from the state’s Republican governor.

Stealth Tactics

Responses to the University of Arkansas announcement were mixed and, at times, confused. Some saw it as a victory in the intensifying war against DEI in higher ed, some as a capitulation to right-wing political bluster and others still as a defensive measure or sleight of hand to dodge lawmakers’ scrutiny while continuing the work and ethos of the office under different names.

“The chancellor has been very clear about doing this for months, reframing the debate around diversity, equity and inclusion—because that’s what it has become, a debate—as one about student success,” he said. “This topic is so charged that when you say, ‘We’re dissolving DEI,’ half the people hear, ‘The University of Arkansas hates Black people’ and the other half say, ‘What are you doing? This is a travesty!’ Neither of those two sides realize what’s actually happening, which is that all of the people on our campus doing that type of work are going to stay and will continue doing that type of work, just reporting to different people.”

Rushing said the relocated employees would not have the same responsibilities they did under the DEI division, and that their new roles would “now support all students and employees.”

“In an environment that is so highly politicized right now, colleges, universities and systems are at a point where they feel the need to change,” she said. “It’s more out of political expediency than a result of anticipating that this will be the best approach for the institution.”

Legislative attacks on DEI have intensified in the past year; in red states, institutions as well as individuals committed to DEI work have been planning for the worst.

Caldwell said that while he couldn’t know for sure what motivated university leaders to restructure, political attacks on DEI were part of the conversation about this change when he discussed it with Robinson in the spring semester. Whether the threat is an outright ban on DEI, like in Florida, or attempts to defund DEI through budget cuts, a tactic currently on display in Wisconsin, Caldwell said, anticipating those attacks in Arkansas—especially in the wake of Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s recent passage of a bill targeting “critical race theory” in K-12 schools—became increasingly important.

“I’m assuming the Arkansas Legislature is going to come after higher education eventually. They just ran out of time in the spring session,” he said. “But in light of what’s going on nationally, it makes a lot of sense for us as a public university to plan for these inevitabilities … if [Robinson] had done nothing, it would have left us open to a much worse scenario where dozens of people would have to be fired or funding cut.”

Adapting to a ‘Post-DEI Environment’

Caldwell also said he supported Robinson’s thesis that decentralization would actually improve the university’s DEI outcomes.

There may be grounds for that argument. Last week a survey found that students trust their professors to respond effectively to systemic racism more than they do DEI officers. And higher ed researchers have challenged the effectiveness of a centralized approach to DEI for years.

One of those researchers is Adrianna Kezar, director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California. She said cutting back on official DEI administrative offices and positions can make DEI not only harder to target, but also more successful. One such approach calls for shared equity leadership (SEL), which Kezar said means creating fewer—if any—formal DEI-focused positions while dispensing more training and responsibilities across existing academic departments, student-facing offices and administrative roles.

But Granberry Russell said eliminating central offices and authority could make oversight and accountability more difficult. She said the proliferation of chief diversity officers and DEI divisions in higher ed over the past three years has been significant—NADOHE membership grew by nearly 200 percent from 2020 to 2023—and that she would be disappointed to see that progress evaporate.

“We developed these central offices for a particular reason: because the institutions were not having the success, nor was the work done in ways that achieved the goals that the institution had set for itself,” she said. “Are we to a point where we can anticipate that the integration of this work will be successful? I think that’s yet to be seen.”

Kezar said that while she was in favor of a more decentralized DEI method, she wasn’t sure the situation at Arkansas was an example of adopting shared equity leadership or any other earnest DEI strategy. Rather, she said it was likely an act of self-preservation, and that she was concerned about its potential impact on the university’s DEI efforts.

“I suspect that they’re just saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going to fire you; you can do some other work around the campus.’ But I think what they’re saying is it can’t be diversity, equity and inclusion work,” she said. “I guess they have less controversy if they don’t fire everyone, but it sounds like they’re letting go of the equity goals, which seems problematic to me.”

Rushing said that the relocated employees would not have their performance measured by the same DEI-related metrics as before, but they would be fully incorporated into different offices and divisions—seeming to suggest that DEI work will be, if anything, a voluntary and tangential part of their new roles.

Kezar said that wasn’t an inevitability, though, especially if enough staff and leadership were committed to continuing to strive toward DEI goals.

“The work does not have to go away just because the office does,” she said.

In an ideal world, Caldwell said, that would be the case at the university, especially as it becomes a test case for a potential strategy in the national fight over DEI. He hopes to be part of setting that example.

“Arkansas, as far as I know, is the first to do this voluntarily. But institutions are always looking at others for benchmarks, and I’m curious to see how we set the national benchmarks here, especially in the SEC and for those Southern system flagships,” he said. “I think we’re starting to approach a post-DEI environment, where now it’s all of our responsibility on campus. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

A Great, Substantive Read: Henry Louis Gates Jr. on the Return of the “Lost Cause” Censorship, nd the Need for Real Debate on Black Issues in America

[NOTE: Henry Louis Gates could well be the best professor I never had.

I was first knocked over by his intellect and insight when I found his 1993 article that challenged the use of what was then newly-called “Critical Race Theory” as justification for repression of free speech by essentially private, often mob action, now often referred to as deplatforming.

The title of his article essentially sums it up: Why Civil Liberties Pose No Threat to Civil Rights. Let Them Talk. It was calm, thorough, clear, erudite and for me utterly persuasive. It was published in The New Republic, but an unpaywalled version of it is online here. 

Gates predicted failure for this movement,  and one could debate whether that failure has come about thirty years later. For me his most prophetic note was struck in this concluding paragraph:

And yet the movement will not have been without its political costs. I cannot put it better than [law professor] Charles Lawrence himself, who writes: “I fear that by framing the debate as we have–as one in which the liberty of free speech is in conflict with the elimination of racism– we have advanced the cause of racial oppression and placed the bigot on the moral high ground, fanning the rising flames of racism.”
In 2023, news from many states would seem to be confirming this ominous forecast daily.
Gates has also courted controversy with articles that argue against the deep complicity of many African groups and peoples in the Atlantic slave trade, which was accurate but elicited howls of invective. 
“People wanted to kill me, man,” Gates says of the reaction to that op-ed. “Black people were so angry at me. But we need to get some distance from the binary opposition we were raised in: evil white people and good Black people. The world just isn’t like that.”
He was also pilloried for suggesting that the issue of reparations brings with it many complexities, few yet worked out satisfactorily. Gates last year waded into the debates over reparations, stating in a New York Times Op-ed that “There are many thorny issues to resolve before we can arrive at a judicious (if symbolic) gesture to match such a sustained, heinous crime,” in particular the pervasive involvement of other indigenous Africans in kidnapping and selling as much as ninety per cent of those who forced into the Middle Passage nightmare.

“The African role in the slave trade,” Gates wrote, “was fully understood and openly acknowledged by many African-Americans even before the Civil War. For Frederick Douglass, it was an argument against repatriation schemes for the freed slaves. 
[NOTE: These “repatriation” or “colonization” schemes were, by the way, long supported by many Quakers.]

“The savage chiefs of the western coasts of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily accept our moral and economical ideas than the slave traders of Maryland and Virginia,” Douglass warned. “We are, therefore, less inclined to go to Africa to work against the slave trade than to stay here to work against it.”

Now, only this week, Gates has taken up his Op-ed pen again, in a long but incisive exploration of two related concerns: one is the burgeoning zombie apocalypse of school and state censorship of serious educational exploration of racism and other freighted current issues. The other is the need for Black Americans, scholars, teachers and others concerned with justice and equity, to face up to the task, particularly in dealing with whites (both friends and critics) with the long and continuing history of vigorous, often intense debates among Blacks over many key issues they faced.

Gates says,

It is often surprising to students to learn that there has never been one way to “be Black” among Black Americans, nor have Black politicians, activists and scholars ever spoken with one voice or embraced one ideological or theoretical framework. Black America, that “nation in a nation,” as the Black abolitionist Martin R. Delany put it, has always been as varied and diverse as the complexions of the people who have identified, or been identified, as its members. . . .

Why shouldn’t students be introduced to these debates? Any good class in Black studies seeks to explore the widest range of thought voiced by Black and white thinkers on race and racism over the long course of our ancestors’ fight for their rights in this country.”

I’ll stop quoting here, and below let Gates make his own case, which he does best.

I believe there are very important implications in these passages for predominately white groups who want to be active allies to Blacks in their struggles. The call from Gates to these whites is for a reckoning with the deep shortcomings of too much of what has for too long passed as trendy “anti-racism” in their circles.

It’s time for serious attention to grappling with and relating to the long history and active presence of many sharp debates over differences and debate among Blacks. This is needed both because it is a mark of real rather than token, masked condescension, and as a basis for overdue reassessment of the mixed and even counterproductive results of many so-called anti-racism or DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) programming, and not least, a reconsideration of strategy and priorities.

And not least, it’s a damn fine read. So sit back, put your feet up, and dive into this monumentally enlightening article


Who’s Afraid of Black History?

Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Gates’s pioneering (and controversial) textbook describing and sampling the intense and extended debates on major issues of freedom and equity among Back Americans — many of which continue, abiding issues expressed in contemporary vocabulary.

“We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them,” Governor DeSantis said. He also decried what he called “indoctrination.”

School is one of the first places where society as a whole begins to shape our sense of what it means to be an American. It is in our schools that we learn how to become citizens, that we encounter the first civics lessons that either reinforce or counter the myths and fables we gleaned at home.

Each day of first grade in my elementary school in Piedmont, W.Va., in 1956 began with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, followed by “America (My Country, ’Tis of Thee).” To this day, I cannot prevent my right hand from darting to my heart the minute I hear the words of either.

Continue reading A Great, Substantive Read: Henry Louis Gates Jr. on the Return of the “Lost Cause” Censorship, nd the Need for Real Debate on Black Issues in America

Academic Tenure Will Soon Be Gone — Unless . . .


[NOTE: one scholar cited here says that the number of tenured professors ballooned after World War II, when more Amerians, especially veterans, went to college, got advanced degrees and stayed on to teach.

Today, student body numbers are falling, but grad schools keep churning out new PhDs. So  there’s a glut, too many carrying big debt loads, faced with vanishing tenure prospects and exploitive work conditions. Because most are also more or less liberal, this makes the academy an easy target in the culture wars. Continue reading Academic Tenure Will Soon Be Gone — Unless . . .

After Buying the Supreme Court for Rightwing Catholicism — Why not Add a Few Universities? Deal!

[NOTE: Some readers might wonder: why does this Quaker blogger post so often about Catholic church issues & development?

Is it just because I was raised RC? No doubt that upbringing left its marks. [If you’re interested, this background is explored in my memoir, Meetings.]

But there are broader reasons. Here are a few:

— The RC church is the biggest Christian denomination

— In the U.S., it is run increasingly by a rightwing, clerico-fascist faction of the church.

— That faction has become a major pipeline of authoritarian influence in key American institutions, supposedly public and secular (eg., the Supreme Court).

–This authoritarian & theocratic drive has been increasingly effective, with continuing impact far beyond the RC church, on many other groups, many of whose adherents don’t even realize it–

–That would include Quakers.

Perhaps the most important independent watchdog on all this is the National Catholic Reporter. I don’t agree with all their perspectives (having long since left most RC dogmas behind); but their work is the best we’ve got.

This deep report outlines the impact of one key activist rightwing Catholic, Leonard Leo. He was once aptly described by justice Clarence Thomas as “the No. 3 most powerful person in the world,” and readers can get a better understanding here of the Catholic side of that quip.

It matters.]

Leonard Leo has reshaped the Supreme Court. Is he reshaping Catholic University too?
National Catholic Reporter — December 15, 2022 — News

by John Gehring

[John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life and author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church.

Leonard Leo

During a June gathering inside a century-old gothic building at the Catholic University of America, mingling among the crowd gathered to say farewell to departing president John Garvey was one of the most powerful men in Washington.

Leonard Leo, the chief adviser to Donald Trump on Supreme Court nominations, listened as one of those picks he helped secure on the bench, Amy Coney Barrett, delivered remarks praising Garvey, her longtime mentor and former law professor at the University of Notre Dame. Leo and Barrett’s presence together that night reflects the rising influence of conservative Catholics on the law at a time when the Supreme Court’s rightward transformation is reconfiguring American jurisprudence on issues of abortion, voting rights and religious liberty. Continue reading After Buying the Supreme Court for Rightwing Catholicism — Why not Add a Few Universities? Deal!

The U. S. Higher Ed Crisis: How it Happened, How to Fix It


How college became so expensive, and how we can turn it around, according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist

  • How college became so expensive, and its consequences on families and U.S. society, are the issues explored in Will Bunch’s new book, After the Ivory Tower Falls.
  • “The impact of this decision to privatize higher education, which was done with shockingly little public debate, has been enormous,” Bunch said.
The average cost to attend a private college in 1970 was about $3,000 a year. Today, it costs more than $50,000.
How we got to this point, and its seemingly endless consequences on families and U.S. society, are the issues explored in Will Bunch’s new book, “After the Ivory Tower Falls: How College Broke the American Dream and Blew Up Our Politics―and How to Fix It.”

Continue reading The U. S. Higher Ed Crisis: How it Happened, How to Fix It