IHE: DEI Admins Frustrated, Leaving in Droves Even as New Jobs Pop Up

Started by Wahoo Redux, February 03, 2023, 09:25:18 AM

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Wahoo Redux

Our last, very toxic uni in the cold north hired a "Diversity Officer" a year after the uni hired a person-of-color as president.  The diversity officer appeared to be a very nice person, a former dean of students, but no one could figure out what hu did.  We had a slew of "campus climate" surveys which, despite a plethora of problems with the campus, focused entirely on race.  And, surprise, our percentage of people of color on campus actually went down by the time we left. 

The real controversy, of course, had to do with salary.  We were the lowest paid uni in the system, some of us hadn't gotten raises in years, facilities were crumbling (the library literally had a bucket suspended under a hole in the ceiling), and the new diversity officer was being paid something like $130K a year.

Anyone have any idea what DEI professionals are supposed to do on a college campus?

IHE: 'Shouting Down an Empty Hallway'

Lower Deck:
Quote
Demand for diversity, equity and inclusion specialists on campus is high—and so is turnover. Many in the field say the work can be isolating and support from top leaders is rare.

Quote
The departures at Princeton are part of a pattern in higher education, according to nearly a dozen college and university DEI administrators and staffers who spoke with Inside Higher Ed. While some institutions have elevated their highest-level DEI officers to senior positions or even president, the employees interviewed for this article said that more often, university leaders show a lack of appreciation and support for their work, leading them and many of their colleagues to leave higher ed burned out and disillusioned.

Compounding those challenges is an increasingly aggressive political attack on DEI initiatives by conservatives across the country. Texas lawmakers have proposed legislation to ban DEI work in public higher ed outright. Last week, Oklahoma's new Republican superintendent of public instruction issued a letter requiring the state's public colleges to account for "every dollar spent" on DEI in a potential effort to curb that spending. And on Tuesday, Florida governor Ron DeSantis announced plans to defund all DEI offices across the state's higher education system, the latest in a long string of political maneuvers that includes the recent appointment of two vocal anti-DEI activists to the New College of Florida's Board of Trustees.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.

marshwiggle

Quote from: Wahoo Redux on February 03, 2023, 09:25:18 AM
Our last, very toxic uni in the cold north hired a "Diversity Officer" a year after the uni hired a person-of-color as president.  The diversity officer appeared to be a very nice person, a former dean of students, but no one could figure out what hu did.  We had a slew of "campus climate" surveys which, despite a plethora of problems with the campus, focused entirely on race.  And, surprise, our percentage of people of color on campus actually went down by the time we left. 

The real controversy, of course, had to do with salary.  We were the lowest paid uni in the system, some of us hadn't gotten raises in years, facilities were crumbling (the library literally had a bucket suspended under a hole in the ceiling), and the new diversity officer was being paid something like $130K a year.

Anyone have any idea what DEI professionals are supposed to do on a college campus?

IHE: 'Shouting Down an Empty Hallway'

Lower Deck:
Quote
Demand for diversity, equity and inclusion specialists on campus is high—and so is turnover. Many in the field say the work can be isolating and support from top leaders is rare.


It's not really that surprising. It's like a government ombudsman, or an internal affairs officer in law enforcement; it's someone whose position exists to criticize the institution - i.e. to bite the hand that feeds them. It's understandable that institutional support is low. And as has been pointed out many times about civil rights activism over the past few decades, the more an institution does to fix problems, the more trivial the problems that are "identified" will have to be to justify the DEI officials' jobs. And since "issues" can happen between any two levels of the organization, and with the possibility of a member of some special group in either of those positions, there is no natural "constituency" for DEI to look to for support; anyone could be in the cross-hairs of their investigations, so people anywhere in the institution may be wary of them. (Contrast this with, say, union officials, who have a very specific group who they can count on to support them almost universally.)




It takes so little to be above average.

apl68

DEI specialists seem to be very passionate about what they do.  They want to be agents and architects of radical change on campus.  Yet they mostly seem to be hired by university leaders who are trying to check a box and show that they care about DEI.  Their attitude may not be as cynical as all that, but they're not trying to shake the whole university from top to bottom the way the DEI specialists seem to want to do.  This ends up creating a collision of expectations that is highly frustrating to the DEI officers. 

I don't know that most DEI specialists see their roles as negatively as Marsh puts it.  I'm sure they think of themselves as being there to help, not merely to hector and scold.  But...they've got some very definite ideas on certain social issues, and to the many people who don't see the same issues the way they do, they can come across that way.  And that leads to pushback against their efforts, and then they get frustrated, and a lot of bad feeling ends up being created all around.

I am curious as to what DEI specialists are supposed to do, and how they're supposed to do it.  What they're trying to accomplish, and how they can get there--and what evidence there is that the things they're doing are going to help.  And how quickly they think they can reasonably attain their goals of changing institutional culture.  Do they have any real success stories at specific universities to point to?  Things that actually seem to work that might be replicated elsewhere?  Of course, that begs the question of how one would define "success"--I suspect that this is one of those areas where simple quantification isn't really adequate.

If any will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.
For how does a man profit if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?

Hibush

Anyone whose charge is to hector and scold people will be ineffective. DEI offices set up on that model won't get far. (Chemical-safety offices have found the same.)

There are more collaborative approaches that work better. And university people are basically sympathetic to the DEI goals. Nevertheless, having someone come to say that you should make their thing your highest priority instead of your own isn't going to go over well. Especially when people are feeling really stretched thin.

It is a big job to identify which inequities an instutution wants to address, come up with a good plan for changing programs and policies, and then the really big job of implementing that change with buy in from the entire community. You can't hire a DEI VP or even a whole DEI office and expect it to succeed at the task.

I suspect that is what is happening and both the institutions and the people hired wiht impossible expectations are getting frustrated.

The schools that come up with successful models will presumably reap the benefits.

Wahoo Redux

But what does a DEI officer actually DO?

When they come into their offices in the morning, what tasks do they perform?  What meetings do they attend by the end of the day?  How do they come to their decisions and implement change?  How could any one person, no matter how talented and capable, affect people with racial prejudice anyway?  As with our rural toxic uni up north, how can a DEI person increase the number of minority students, especially in a profoundly white community of farmers?
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.

spork

In ten years the former DEI professionals will be transitioning into the new hot fields of Student Discomfort Avoidance Strategy, Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Parsing, and Trauma-Informed Administrator Equity Advancement.
It's terrible writing, used to obfuscate the fact that the authors actually have nothing to say.

apl68

Quote from: Wahoo Redux on February 03, 2023, 09:54:40 PM
But what does a DEI officer actually DO?

When they come into their offices in the morning, what tasks do they perform?  What meetings do they attend by the end of the day?  How do they come to their decisions and implement change?  How could any one person, no matter how talented and capable, affect people with racial prejudice anyway?  As with our rural toxic uni up north, how can a DEI person increase the number of minority students, especially in a profoundly white community of farmers?

I have to admit that I'm still unsure of the answer to this question.  They seem to be mostly identified with mandatory diversity training initiatives.  Which seem to be hugely unpopular, and and have been widely questioned.  The Opinion section of the Sunday, January 22 NYT carried a column entitled "What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?"  The author describes them as another manifestation of pop-psychology fad fixes that keep popping up.
If any will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.
For how does a man profit if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?

marshwiggle

Quote from: apl68 on February 04, 2023, 06:29:44 AM
Quote from: Wahoo Redux on February 03, 2023, 09:54:40 PM
But what does a DEI officer actually DO?

When they come into their offices in the morning, what tasks do they perform?  What meetings do they attend by the end of the day?  How do they come to their decisions and implement change?  How could any one person, no matter how talented and capable, affect people with racial prejudice anyway?  As with our rural toxic uni up north, how can a DEI person increase the number of minority students, especially in a profoundly white community of farmers?

I have to admit that I'm still unsure of the answer to this question.  They seem to be mostly identified with mandatory diversity training initiatives.  Which seem to be hugely unpopular, and and have been widely questioned.  The Opinion section of the Sunday, January 22 NYT carried a column entitled "What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?"  The author describes them as another manifestation of pop-psychology fad fixes that keep popping up.

Quote from: Hibush on February 03, 2023, 06:57:42 PM
Anyone whose charge is to hector and scold people will be ineffective. DEI offices set up on that model won't get far. (Chemical-safety offices have found the same.)


Health and safety officials provide a good illustration of the problem with DEI "officials". There are government regulations about matters like chemical storage, firs safety, and so on that institutions have to be in compliance with. Having someone on campus to ensure that regulations are being followed (and even being aware of all of the regulations) is important. As students, staff, and faculty come and go, and new labs get set up, etc., there will always be a need for oversight on these issues. (In other words, it's more or less a steady state.) DEI, on the other hand, only has very broad government guidelines, and. more importantly, society is over time becoming much more accepting of the basic principles behind DIE. (In other words, it's very much not a steady state.) So the more inclusive and accepting an institution is, the more trivial (or redundant) the issues and initiatives will have to be to keep the jobs of the staff.

You can have staff do regular inspections of chemical storage facilities to see that they're safe; you can't really do "bigotry inspections" of people on campus to see who needs to be re-programmed. (Or at least not in any remotely objective manner.)
It takes so little to be above average.

lightning

One person can't fix all the DEI challenges that a large organization faces.

Given that, here is a starter job description for a DEI officer at a large university:

Be the 1st point of contact for students and faculty, in handling complaints about inequity, and be the primary liaison in complaint resolution. (Current bulls**t staff jobs should be re-assigned to this office, even if sacred cow bulls**t procedures are eliminated--I can think of a whole bunch of bulls**t administrative procedures at my university that, if eliminated, no one will notice they are gone--in order to free up staff for this DEI task).

Be in charge of vetting (implied in this, reading) all DEI statements submitted to HR, but having only the power of red flagging, red flagging being an opinion used by the search committees to help weed out a potentially problematic hire. For all admin searches, the DEI officer should be directly involved in the hiring process, also having only the power of red flagging a potentially problematic hire. (See my comment above about bulls**t jobs, for staffing).

Be an advocate at the very least or the actual money-seeker at best (this should be incentive based), for funding opportunity hires (additional faculty lines--not replacement lines) and for funding student scholarships (additional student scholarships--not re-naming existing scholarships). In short, finding and working with private donors, government funding sources, and other partners in order to increase resources for DEI.

Evaluate effectiveness of DEI statements and DEI initiatives and programs, and finding support, infrastructure, & $$, for more radical and effective DEI programs like "grow-your-own" programs that some universities have (this is where promising potential minority faculty, staff, and administrators without academic credentials, are appointed to non-tenure track positions after a search, and given release time and support to pursue a PhD program at same university. Once the Phd is completed, they are appointed immediately to a tenure-track position and they have to stay on for a minimum of 3 to 5 years or give the money back).

Act in an advisory role to administrators at high level meetings, similar to a presidential cabinet appointee.

And, of course, we have to keep the current raison d'être for a DEI officer: be the internal and outward facing symbol that a university gives a s**t about DEI (regardless of whether a university truly believes it or not), with requisite climate surveys whose data go nowhere except into a report that no one will read, and creating the annual training video or Zoom meeting that runs in the background while everyone does their normal jobs.

IMO, the DEI officer should not answer directly to any of the presidents/chancellors/provosts/deans. Rather, they should answer directly to the governing board above the administrators, even though they act in an advisory role for administrators. Or maybe they answer to HR? And, if the minority population goes down during the course of the DEI officer's tenure, then they should be fired. If the minority population goes up, then they should be rewarded. Contracts should be for 3-5 years because it's going to take at least that long to see if anything is working.

Anyone have anything to add to the job description?

ciao_yall

Picking up this topic (or should I start a new thread?)

Interesting letters to the editor in The Economist.


The level of thinking here is so... basic... for a publication that I usually find very informed, with pretty impressive names writing in.

I have copied/pasted the text here in case it's behind a paywall. Oh, so much to unpack. Is this the level of thinking people are dealing with?

The problems with DEI


Your leader on diversity, equity and inclusion assumes that conservatives make a mistake by ignoring the "real benefits" of such programmes, and that businesses should want to hire the "most able people" ("Muddled thinking", January 13th). You helpfully suggest that companies consider larger shortlists from overlooked groups that they feel might otherwise develop into better employees.

But surely if companies had overlooked the necessity of hiring the most able people then smarter competition would have closed them down. No one needs a head of diversity to tell them that.


Tim Hill
Singapore

As a psychologist and chief human-resources officer I struggled with DEI for decades. My concerns are not about the need, but about the methods. Much of what is being done in the name of DEI oversimplifies the problem of bias and lacks a fundamental understanding of human behaviour. This has led to unrealistic expectations about what it should or can accomplish.

Bias is hardwired into the human brain. Evolution has made us prefer what is similar, known and familiar (in other words safe) and to be cautious about what is different (or perhaps unsafe). Our bias for the familiar extends beyond people. Our brains automatically and unconsciously pull our attention towards perspectives, ideas, data, music, food, literature, and so on, that are similar and familiar, and away from the very same things when they are different and unfamiliar.

As practised today, DEI promotes a mistaken belief that setting noble expectations, creating awareness, making conscious behavioural decisions and rebuking those who don't change can flip a switch to produce unbiased brains. DEI thinks bias is a matter of will, which runs counter to the past 50 years of social-science research. If changing our behaviour were that easy, people would exercise regularly, never experience marital conflict, retire with robust pensions and still be reading the only diet book ever published.

There are real issues to be addressed: companies do need more diversity of perspective and underrepresented groups do need more opportunities. But organisations must rethink their methods by drawing more on social science and less on social activism. No amount of social idealism will rewire millions of years of neural evolution.

Scott Simmons
Denver


marshwiggle

Quote from: ciao_yall on February 07, 2024, 07:30:56 AMPicking up this topic (or should I start a new thread?)

Interesting letters to the editor in The Economist.



QuoteAs practised today, DEI promotes a mistaken belief that setting noble expectations, creating awareness, making conscious behavioural decisions and rebuking those who don't change can flip a switch to produce unbiased brains. DEI thinks bias is a matter of will, which runs counter to the past 50 years of social-science research. If changing our behaviour were that easy, people would exercise regularly, never experience marital conflict, retire with robust pensions and still be reading the only diet book ever published.

There are real issues to be addressed: companies do need more diversity of perspective and underrepresented groups do need more opportunities. But organisations must rethink their methods by drawing more on social science and less on social activism. No amount of social idealism will rewire millions of years of neural evolution.


That pretty much identifies the problem. If DEI people had a background in cognitive science, rather than social justice, they might be able to do something more useful in helping minimize the effects of unconscious bias. But that's not going to happen.
It takes so little to be above average.

whistle_nutz

#11

n/a

Wahoo Redux

Quote from: ciao_yall on February 07, 2024, 07:30:56 AMThere are real issues to be addressed: companies do need more diversity of perspective and underrepresented groups do need more opportunities. But organisations must rethink their methods by drawing more on social science and less on social activism. No amount of social idealism will rewire millions of years of neural evolution.

Scott Simmons
Denver

I think this is a brilliant letter, personally.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.

Kron3007

I can't think of many worse jobs within a university than DEI admin.  This would sap the life from me.  The people they find are usually quite passionate, but it must suck when everyone is biting their tongue whenever you are around.

As for what they actually do, I see two things.  One is for the university to "show" they take it seriously and are actively doing something to promote DEI.  The second is to coordinate workshops etc.  as much as most of us hate them, it has become important when applying for funding and you need to know the language.  So, regardless of what you think about the content of them, these workshops are useful to increase your chances of funding.

Ironically, my list of what they do dosn't really include anything that has any tangible effects on campus culture and actual inclusivity, but I feel that is very much secondary fof the role.

marshwiggle

Quote from: Kron3007 on February 08, 2024, 04:31:11 AMI can't think of many worse jobs within a university than DEI admin.  This would sap the life from me.  The people they find are usually quite passionate, but it must suck when everyone is biting their tongue whenever you are around.

As for what they actually do, I see two things.  One is for the university to "show" they take it seriously and are actively doing something to promote DEI.  The second is to coordinate workshops etc.  as much as most of us hate them, it has become important when applying for funding and you need to know the language.  So, regardless of what you think about the content of them, these workshops are useful to increase your chances of funding.

Ironically, my list of what they do doesn't really include anything that has any tangible effects on campus culture and actual inclusivity, but I feel that is very much secondary for the role.

I find it odd that so many people who have seen and (correctly) identified and disparaged virtue-signalling in conservative religious communities fail to see it in other contexts. The excessive focus on conformity to trivial details which is supposed to imply total ideological commitment is because, like it or not, there's no way to see peoples' actual values. So the charade continues.
It takes so little to be above average.