A Harvard Law School professor is urging the Ivy League university to eliminate mandatory Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) statements that force faculty and staff to "toe a political line."

In the Harvard Crimson column "Mandatory DEI Statements Are Ideological Pledges of Allegiance. Time to Abandon Them," contributing opinion writer and professor Randall L. Kennedy said requiring hires in higher ed to sign diversity statements "poses a profound challenge to academic freedom."

These requirements, he said, often tell applicants to submit a statement of teaching philosophy that includes a description of their "orientation toward diversity, equity and inclusion practices."

Kennedy, who works as the Michael R. Klein Professor at Harvard Law School, claimed these statements are essentially "pledges of allegiance" that "enlist academics" to adopt tenets of the DEI movement through "soft-spoken but real coercion."

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Harvard and pro-DEI protester

An anonymous legal complaint accused Harvard's chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer of committing 40 counts of plagiarism throughout her career. (1. Boston Globe/Contributor 2. Michael M. Santiago/Staff)

"If you want the job or the promotion, play ball—or else," Kennedy said is the message sent.

He claimed that diversity statements exert pressure towards "leftist conformity" and "abets cynicism."

"Detractors reasonably suspect that underneath the uncontroversial aspirations for diversity statements — facilitating a more open and welcoming environment for everyone — are controversial goals including the weeding out of candidates who manifest opposition to or show insufficient enthusiasm for the DEI regime," Kennedy continued.

The Harvard Law School professor asked readers to imagine the backlash that would ensue if a school asked a candidate for a faculty position to submit a statement in favor of capitalism, patriotism, or Making America Great Again with a "clear expectation of allegiance."

"Universities are under a legal, moral, and pedagogical duty to take action against wrongful discriminatory conduct. But demands for mandatory DEI statements venture far beyond that obligation into territory that is full of booby-traps inimical to an intellectually healthy university environment," Kennedy wrote.

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Harvard University gate

People walk through the gate in Harvard Yard at the Harvard University campus on June 29, 2023, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.? (Getty Images)

He suggested that "resorting to compulsion" and imposing "ideological litmus tests" without allowing for open discourse and criticism is leading the current DEI regime to discredit itself.

"I am a scholar on the left committed to struggles for social justice," Kennedy wrote. "The realities surrounding mandatory DEI statements, however, make me wince. The practice of demanding them ought to be abandoned, both at Harvard and beyond."

On March 21, the Harvard College Intellectual Vitality Initiative and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences co-sponsored an event at which academics debated the importance of DEI in higher education.

The panel, hosted by the Harvard Safra Center, was the latest in a series of events about civil disagreement.

In a January letter, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo, criticized the university’s DEI initiatives and claimed they exclude Jewish students and shut down dissenting opinions. He claimed Harvard’s actions could cause them to lose their tax-exempt status.

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