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The UC’s Corner-Office Revolutionary

In a new memoir, a former academic administrator explains how she led the ideological campaign to enshrine DEI as a ‘core mission’ at the University of California.

· 23 min read
Susan Carlson in front of the Sather Tower at University of California, Berkeley and the UC logo.
Susan's photo via Iowa State University Website.

Anyone seeking to alter the strategic direction of a large institution would do well to study the work of Susan Carlson, a principal driver behind the University of California’s adoption of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a “core mission.” The University of California (UC) system, my employer, comprises ten campuses with a combined student body of some 300,000 students and 25,000 faculty members. UC’s official motto is fiat lux—let there be light—words that echo the Book of Genesis, but which also signify a secular commitment to knowledge. Thanks in large part to Carlson, the UC system took a decided turn toward social-justice activism beginning in 2010. The policies and aims that she helped shepherd through the UC bureaucracy arguably constitute a new set of sacred principles, which, in some cases, compete with the idea that the university’s distinctive mission is to serve society through the discovery, organization, and transmission of knowledge.

This year, Carlson published a memoir describing her lengthy tenure as UC’s system-wide Vice Provost for Academic Personnel and Programs, titled The Art of Diversity: A Chronicle of Advancing the University of California Faculty through Efforts in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, 2010–2022.

The Art of Diversity is described as a how-to guide for creating a “community of practice dedicated to excellence and equity.” According to the publisher’s promotional text, the book “details the University of California’s system-wide efforts to increase the diversity of its faculty during [Carlson’s] tenure” through an emphasis on “intersectional racial and gender identities,” and the adoption of “statements on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

I can attest that the book deserves to be read, though not for the above-described reasons. Rather, it provides a cautionary tale that demonstrates how even an institution as large as the University of California can be redirected by a corps of managerial professionals dedicated to a new ideological agenda.

The Sather Tower at University of California, Berkeley, as photographed in 2008. IowS

When Carlson took office in 2010, the under-representation of women and some racial-ethnic minorities was already a high-level concern at the UC Office of the President (UCOP). The University had long been committed to affirmative action, but had been banned from explicitly considering race or gender in admissions and hiring following on the results of a 1996 state referendum known as Proposition 209. Fourteen years ago, when Carlson took on her administrative role, the representation of women and minorities remained stubbornly low. Women accounted for slightly less than 30 percent of UC’s professors; for Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans, the collective figure was just under 10 percent.

In 2012, a disturbing bias incident took place at UC’s Los Angeles campus (better known as UCLA), where the sole Black member of a medical-school clinical department was the object of an obscene cartoon. That led to a scathing report concerning the problem of campus bigotry, produced by a committee chaired by a former chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court. Campus climate surveys confirmed that Black students were more likely than others to be the target of hurtful comments. There was widespread agreement that this was a problem, and little opposition to common-sense policies aimed at addressing this kind of unacceptable behaviour.

Black Doctor Depicted As Gorilla At UCLA Medical School
Black Doctor Depicted As Gorilla At UCLA Medical School

But for some UC administrators, Carlson prominent among them, that wasn’t enough. Under pressure from the state to take aggressive corrective action in the aftermath of the bias incident at UCLA, Carlson and her colleagues recognized an opportunity to embark on a far more ambitious project.

From my brief experience working with Carlson on a UC recruitment committee a decade ago, I can report that this ambition was well hidden, which is perhaps one reason she was so effective in achieving her aims. I found her to be a friendly and well-meaning colleague. But from reading her book, I can now see that she was also an expert manager and skilful politician. It seems clear that she deftly used her role as committee chair to guide our conversations in such a way that the other members ultimately agreed that the candidate she preferred would be the one selected. As faculty members, the rest of us on the committee had other time-consuming professional obligations, and didn’t have much time to compare notes among ourselves. When Carlson called a final meeting and told us she believed that a working consensus had emerged in support of her preferred candidate, no one objected.

A 2014 speech in which Susan Carlson spoke on the subject of UC’s “workplace climate.”

Change was already in the air by the time Carlson, a former English professor and academic administrator from Iowa, came on board at UCOP. Dismayed by the voters’ ban on affirmative action, the university’s leadership had looked for different means to pursue its social goals, and had identified diversity as a promising tool. The University’s Academic Personnel Manual was revised in 2005 to indicate that “teaching, research, and service that promote diversity and equal opportunity are to be encouraged and given recognition in the evaluation of candidates’ qualifications.” A UC Board of Regents policy statement followed two years later, reiterating this position.

But most of the policies and practices required for institutional transformation remained to be discovered. These were rolled out one by one over the next decade. Cumulatively, they’ve had the effect of placing representational and ideological goals roughly on par with knowledge discovery—in some departments, arguably higher.

Beginning in 2012, Carlson organized roundtables to promote initiatives focusing on such matters as implicit bias, micro-aggressions, and white supremacy. By 2014, UC President Janet Napolitano was instructing each of the campus chancellors to implement immediate changes aimed at removing barriers to female and racial-ethnic minority members of the UC community—including the creation of new administrative offices, DEI policies, and regular reporting of discrimination complaints.

Wikipedia-published map indicating the location of the ten University of California campuses.

In 2015, UC’s Academic Personnel Manual was further revised to state that “contributions in all areas of faculty achievement that promote equal opportunity and diversity should be… evaluated and credited in the same way as other faculty achievements.” The next year, efforts to improve faculty minority representation were formalized under the rubric of Advancing Faculty Diversity, and experimental searches were launched. In some cases, applicant diversity statements were used to make initial cuts in applicant pools. In 2018, UCLA became the first campus to commit to mandatory training for faculty and staff on DEI issues, as well as the first to appoint a vice chancellor for DEI. Other campuses followed suit in short order.

By 2019, the UC Academic Council, composed of faculty senate leaders from all 10 campuses, endorsed a new policy requiring applicants for all faculty positions to submit a statement detailing their “contributions to diversity”; and the university added “equity advisors” to every department and program on eight of its ten campuses—observers who were expected to monitor actions that could be construed as having a negative impact on women or minorities.

Mission creep was very much in evidence during all of these changes. The chairs of the responsible faculty committees had intended the 2015 revision to the Academic Personnel Manual as a means to clarify that faculty contributions related to diversity should not be marginalized in the personnel process, as had been the case on some campuses. Contrary to what Carlson writes in The Art of Diversity, the main intent wasn’t to treat these contributions as automatically meriting special rewards in their own right.

“I was surprised reading Susan’s book,” UC Berkeley English professor Jeffrey Knapp told me. A former chair of the UC Committee on Academic Personnel who was closely involved with crafting these policy changes, Knapp said that Carlson “has the issues backward.” While some had indeed favored treating diversity work as a “fourth leg” of evaluation, together with research, teaching, and service, this was a position that faculty committees ultimately rejected. Instead, he recollects, the members of his committee agreed that an applicant’s file should not be seen as “weakened” by an absence of diversity-related contributions.

But that isn’t the way Carlson interpreted it. Her view was that intellectual attainment and diversity were now inextricably linked. As she put it in her book, “‘superior intellectual attainment’ and contributions to ‘equal opportunity and diversity’ are two over-riding expectations for faculty, linked together by their proximity in the Academic Personnel Manual.”

She also complained of the “fundamental resistance” exhibited by non-believers who saw DEI as “peripheral”:

What was clear to me in the careful, passionate policy reviews during these years was that the greatest opposition to the revisions was rooted in fears that the university’s foundational focus on research might be diluted through additional recognition of C2DEI [contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion]… worries that we were undermining the quality of UC research as well as the priority of the UC research mission.

It was her interpretation that stuck because, while faculty committees turned over year by year, Carlson remained at her post, dedicated to her agenda and supported by her UCOP colleagues.

Carlson’s representation of DEI as a “core mission” of UC was dubious. (In its 2007 statement on equality of opportunity and diversity, the UC Regents had written that UC’s core mission was “to serve the interests of the State of California.” While they indicated that achieving greater diversity was consistent with that mission, they did not indicate that diversity was coterminous with serving California’s interests.) But, by sheer dint of repetition, she and her like-minded colleagues managed to convince a working plurality of faculty members that it was true. From 2015 onward, she also claimed that DEI was a “foundational” principle, and “an essential part of the UC’s mission of teaching, research, and service”—one that all should internalize:

This work on faculty diversity, equity and inclusion is the intellectual work of the university… Diversity and inclusion should not be seen as a moral issue separate from quality and excellence. In addition... we should not make diversity a branding issue only. When administrators are perceived to be ‘performing diversity,’ skepticism about programs and commitments grows.

At one point, the phrase “Diversity and Excellence” became a popular slogan at UC. Later, it became “Inclusive Excellence,” “Excellence through Diversity,” and ultimately, I even heard “Diversity is Excellence.” George Orwell himself could not have laid out a neater progression for UC administrators to use language to alter understandings of the university’s mission.

‘Diversity and Excellence’ became a popular slogan at UC. Then it was ‘Inclusive Excellence,’ followed by ‘Excellence through Diversity.’ Ultimately, I even heard ‘Diversity is Excellence.’

Some UC academics found Carlson’s vision genuinely attractive. This group was not confined to the female and non-white scholars whom DEI policies are supposed to assist. Carlson’s message included the exhortation that, in her own words, “taking on commitments to build a more equitable and inclusive academic community should not be seen as a sidestep in a faculty career. Rather it should be a way to advance, just as in the case with effective teaching or ground-breaking research.” In other words, she was offering young academics an alternative path to get ahead in the competitive world of academia. You didn’t have to be an effective educator or a ground-breaking intellectual innovator in your field. Instead, you could gain status and influence by advocating for more diversity, equity, and inclusion, and taking on roles to advance this cause.

In effect, Carlson was recruiting academic allies by offering the prospect of professional advancement if they signed on to the DEI project. In addition to prospects for advancement, other “rewards” were on offer, which could be “as straightforward as ensuring that individuals are compensated for their [DEI] work. That may mean a course release to free up time, an administrative stipend, or summer compensation.”

An incentive program known as the Presidential Post-Doctoral Fellows (PPF) gained traction during Carlson’s time in office. The PPF operates through a system-wide committee that selects several dozen candidates annually to put forward to departments as potential faculty hires. Hiring from this list is sweetened with the guarantee that the university will pay the first five years of salary of every Fellow hired from the list—meaning that cash-strapped departments could expand their payroll without using a cent of their own existing departmental budget envelope. The criteria for inclusion on the list of system-designated Fellows requires promotion of the DEI agenda:

The contributions to diversity may include public service towards increasing equitable access in fields where women and minorities are under-represented… research focusing on underserved populations or understanding inequalities related to race, gender, disability or LGBT issues… [supported by] the perspective that comes from… non-traditional educational background(s) or understanding… the experiences of members of groups historically underrepresented.

At the same time, hiring committees for “experimental searches” were being instructed to downplay or even ignore traditional indices of merit. I recall sitting at a meeting in which our campus Vice Provost for Academic Personnel not only told us to focus on diversity statements in reviewing candidates for faculty positions, but also suggested that we overlook the prestige of candidates’ graduate programs, as this could be a potentially biasing element. The problem, of course, is that the successful completion of a prestigious (which is to say, highly selective) program is in most cases a reliable indicator of candidate quality. It was hard to escape the sense that completion of a mediocre graduate program should be considered as providing the right kind of training for the new UC.

Carlson was offering young UC academics an alternative path to get ahead. You didn’t have to be an effective educator or a ground-breaking intellectual. Instead, you could gain status by advocating for more diversity, and taking on roles to advance this cause.

Some campuses included ideologically-loaded criteria for evaluating the diversity statements we were all being asked to pore over. On these campuses, for example, candidates who said they sought to treat all students equally were assigned low scores, while high scores were assigned to those who said they gave special attention to those from under-represented communities.

Many departments paid scant attention to these requirements; others showed devotion to them. Some fellow UC faculty members have reported to me instances in which deans halted recruitment searches when women or minorities were not among the candidates invited to campus for interviews.

These policies were followed by requirements for equity advisors to monitor departmental practices. No one knows how many problematic practices these equity advisors have flagged or how many innocent exchanges they may have misinterpreted. But we do know that they teach less, as compensation for this service; and, at some campuses, also receive salary stipends.

Occasionally, departments whose members had not demonstrated suitable enthusiasm for the new regime were put on a tighter leash. Carlson approvingly recounts how the system-wide provost, Michael T. Brown, required UC math departments to use the university’s own recruitment platform instead of the national platform they’d formerly employed—so these mathematicians could understand why “they remained below national averages in the diversity of their faculty.”

All of the campus math departments protested, Carlson notes, except one: At UC Riverside (where I teach in sociology and public policy), the math department immediately “saw the opportunity to use [the new platform] to its advantage in serving its students and the mathematics department mission.” One wonders whether mathematics students at UC Riverside were better served after this change. Perhaps they were, but it is also possible that the change made no difference, or had a negative impact. Of course, no one tried to find out. It was simply assumed that the effect was beneficial.

Carlson proved adept at raising funds to promote the new “core mission.” The National Science Foundation granted her more than $300,000 between 2012 and 2014—which paid for a series of roundtables involving about a thousand UC administrators and faculty members. Along with best practices for recruitment and mentoring of under-represented faculty, the obstacle of “white privilege” came up for discussion. According to one of the keynote speakers, Yale astronomer Meg Urry, white academics require instruction in such topics because, left to their own devices, they are “less than reflective” and “fail to self-examine.”

This tendency to place all white people into a box requiring remediation has now become a popular mainstay of academic social-justice discourse. But that wasn’t the case a decade ago. As with many of the academic trends described in this article, Carlson and her UCOP colleagues played an important role in promoting this idea into the mainstream.

In 2014, Napolitano provided $200,000 for a separate series of seminars, delivered under the title of “Fostering Inclusive Excellence.” Carlson described the goal as developing “training on implicit biases and sub-cultural differences.” As with many of the ideas surrounding DEI, the concept of “implicit bias” seems, at first glance, to be potentially valuable. What educator wants to be seen as opposing an effort to expand understanding? Yet researchers have been unable to find evidence that implicit-bias trainings create better workplaces, and they have found that these trainings, when done poorly, create new obstacles to cooperation.

The source of Carlson’s conceit that diversity is “an art” may have emerged with a theatrical performance she commissioned from Dramatic Arts scholar Emily Roxworthy during this period. The play was set in a department meeting at which a possible new hire is being discussed. “As the scene opens,” the script informs us, “Blair and Polloa have a brief conversation as they wait for their colleagues to arrive for a merit review committee in the Computer Science Department.” Blair is described as “a faculty member of color who was heavily recruited out of graduate school.” Polloa is “an associate professor whose initial salary was partially funded by the [UC] President’s Post-doctoral Fellowship Program hiring incentive.”

The senior white character, “Kyle,” is, naturally, belligerent and obnoxious. He interrupts and puts down the somewhat insecure junior faculty women and minorities who are politely trying to describe the virtues of the candidate under consideration. No doubt, there must be some real-life instances in which conversations such as the one depicted have occurred. But how many? In hiring meetings that I’ve attended, colleagues who cared about the outcome put forward their preferences with conviction but in generally civil ways, whether they were senior white males or junior women of color.

I sat through this production when it appeared on my campus. It had all the subtlety of a blacksmith’s hammer (as one would expect given the didactic materials contained in the playbill). Nevertheless, Carlson reports that most of the roundtable attendees gave it five-star reviews, describing it as a seminar “highlight” (though she does dutifully quote one participant who complained about the “clod-like” characters).

This was about a decade ago, long before the current backlash against DEI overreach. But even then, Carlson’s heavy-handed approach to DEI was raising eyebrows. Commenting on a list of micro-aggressions circulated in connection with one of her seminars, The Los Angeles Times editorial board commented that, “surely a professor ought to be able to say that America is a melting pot, or that affirmative action is a bad policy… Since when are universities afraid of clashing or provocative beliefs?” Napolitano, a former politician, reacted as politicians often do in the face of negative press: she backtracked, and had her staff inform Carlson that the seminars would not continue.

In her book, Carlson describes being miffed. She contends that the Times journalists had failed to recognize

that the micro-aggressions under scrutiny were seriously impeding UC’s attempt to address an all too real problem in the academic community… The better course would have been for all of us in the [UC] leadership to publicly stand behind the… seminars, including the focus on micro-aggressions… The seminars were about awareness of speech and not restrictions of speech. The seminars advanced rather than stifled speech.

I wish I could believe this optimistic assessment of the seminars’ impact on campus discourse. But I have heard too many stories of UC colleagues being hauled in to talk to administrators because someone with a hyper-progressive mindset objected to something they’d said.

I once imagined that UC administrators merely provided indirect support and legitimacy to academic social-justice activists, but nothing more than that. In general, campus activists seemed to be highly critical of administrative reforms, which they often dismissed as ineffectual compared to their own ideas for transforming the university more thoroughly into an instrument of social change. I saw the two movements as ideologically intertwined, but running along separate tracks. And I worried more about the designs of activists than the seemingly milder policies promoted by administrators.

I have revised my thinking after reading Carlson’s chronicle. It is true that many activists would like to see more far-reaching efforts to transform the university. But I now realize that administrators such as Carlson have immensely greater power to realize their intentions, and that their beliefs are not so different. Like many progressive activists at UC, Carlson assumed that white supremacy was a significant presence in American life, railed against micro-aggressions, was convinced of the pervasiveness of implicit bias, wanted to redirect hiring so as to privilege under-represented groups, and discounted concerns about the integrity of the university’s research enterprise. And when Carlson looked for allies to invite to her seminars, who did she tap? Many inevitably came from the ranks of campus activists.

In 2019, Carlson and two colleagues in the Office of the President held conversations with more than 300 administrators, faculty senate leaders, and diversity-committed faculty members. Carlson’s self-reported experience of an elevated mood among participants—what sociologists call “collective effervescence”—is described in her book as “truly inspiring.” She heralded the “faculty and administrators who see [their] joint efforts as a strong example of UC leading the way in the nation.”

Carlson provides a list of DEI measures that, by her claim, received widespread support, among both faculty and administrators, as a means to boost “epistemological inclusion.” To read through them is to understand how influential the UC system—and, by extension, Carlson herself—has been in promulgating DEI ideas that subsequently spread to universities across the United States. The new cutting-edge thinking went well beyond trainings and diversity statements. Many members of both groups argued that minority faculty have higher service burdens and should therefore be given course credit for their committee work. Some recommended creating metrics for regular review of departmental progress on DEI, so that competition with other departments could be encouraged. Others argued for collecting data on the types of search practices that correlated with preferred hiring outcomes so that these practices could be circulated throughout the system. Some participants suggested using cluster hiring to bring in faculty from under-represented groups. Others spoke approvingly of a “concierge approach” to recruitment of minority faculty to aid in their relocation, onboarding, and engagement with campus life.

Carlson’s book suggests that little daylight now exists between the world views of activists and administrators at UC. In some ways, in fact, administrators appear to have outpaced professors in their enthusiasm for DEI.

Her summary of these conversations suggests that little daylight now exists between the worldviews of activists and administrators at UC. In some ways, in fact, campus administrators appear to have outpaced professors in their enthusiasm for DEI. One dean, for example, commented, “We should only be hiring faculty with a career commitment” to DEI. Another suggested (approvingly), “Anti-bias training is ‘the Trojan Horse’ to get change.” On the subject of incentives, Carlson reports comments from scholars who wondered whether change could be more effectively motivated through “shame or greed.”

Many of the management principles that Carlson espouses aren’t specific to DEI, and apply to any powerful executive looking to push for a new direction within his or her organization. The language of “core values,” she shows, can be used to re-frame an organization’s mission. Funds and sponsorships can be pursued as a means to promote favoured policies and recruit loyal advocates (especially those who might have pre-existing grievances against the ancien régime). Those on the wrong side of history can be treated as obstacles to be overcome. Or worse: One of Carlson’s keynoters used the term “toxic” to describe anyone who stood in the way of DEI.

I will note here that I do not count myself among those who seek color-blindness in academia. Following on its centuries-long mistreatment of Black people and Native Americans, the United States has an ugly history to reckon with. However, that reckoning must be conducted in a way that properly accounts for the obligation that university faculty and administrators have to reward talent and effective labor wherever it is found, independent of immutable identity characteristics.

Many applicants from under-represented groups in American society are, of course, fully competitive when it comes to university admissions and recruitment. They include a good share of the leading scholars in all fields. Others from under-represented populations can benefit from higher levels of attention and support. The fairest approach, in my view, is for universities to recruit actively among members of under-represented groups; and to provide scholarships and mentorships to prepare less socioeconomically advantaged students to compete on an equal footing.

This was the path UC once pursued—and then abandoned as insufficient two decades ago. As Carlson, perhaps unwittingly, shows in her book, UC side-stepped the need for a full and candid discussion of the new agenda by promoting a conceptual connection between diversity and excellence, forming cadres to promote the new “core mission,” and outwaiting skeptical faculty committees. Because the calling out of these managerial stratagems can be deemed evidence of “toxic” obstructionism (or perhaps even bigotry), most learn to conform or to nod along in defiance of their private beliefs. In this way, policies that are promoted, somewhat ironically, under the flag of “diversity” can come to jeopardize academic traditions of vigorous debate and intellectual pluralism.

To my knowledge, no comprehensive study has been conducted to gauge the extent to which speech norms were compromised at UC during Carlson’s tenure. But national data show that as much as 80 percent of students and one third of faculty now self-censor to avoid risking ostracism. The data also show a worrying spike in administrative disciplinary actions taken against those who’ve expressed unwelcome but constitutionally protected viewpoints.

Two small-scale studies that I helped conduct suggest that UC campuses have been affected by these trends. More than one fifth of the 100 faculty interview subjects raised concerns about the climate for speech, including instances in which they held their tongues to avoid being labelled or ostracized; in which terms such as “white supremacist” were used to silence dissent; and in which colleagues quit due to perceptions that the administration was more interested in diversity than scholarly accomplishments. A few also cited instances in which they’d been summoned to discussions with administrators based on unsubstantiated claims of bias.

A few other pieces of evidence can be added to the mix. The former chair of the Academic Freedom Committee at UCLA reported to me that complaints brought to her committee were routinely ignored by the faculty leadership on her campus. And there are nearly a dozen recent examples of cases of suppressed speech at UC that were dramatic enough to register in the media.

Incidents do not need to occur with great frequency for the message to get across that faculty can expect repercussions for protected speech that offends DEI-related sensibilities. On some UC campuses, I believe, a classic “spiral of silence” took hold over the last decade, whereby faculty members and students hid their opinions when they thought these opinions would expose them to censure. People who felt moved to espouse positions that were favoured by the administration, on the other hand, tended to express their opinions assertively. It is this asymmetry that sets the spiral in motion, and which makes it difficult to get an accurate sense of scholars’ true beliefs. The opinion of a numerical minority may be perceived as a majority if they are the ones who speak up loudly, and are rewarded for their ideologically on-message viewpoints.

Meanwhile, faculty recruitment performed under the auspices of UC’s “Advancing Faculty Diversity” program has accounted for 17 percent of faculty hires since 2016. Those committed to a social-justice agenda are unlikely to see this as an excessive proportion. But a closer look raises significant concerns. The majority counted in this category are Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows. As far as I am concerned, any search restricted to candidates hand-picked by non-specialist UC committees should be regarded with skepticism. Are these truly the best candidates available? And how can we know without national searches? Why should commitment to a DEI agenda be pivotal in choosing Postdoctoral Fellows?

Others counted in the category come from the “experimental searches” supported by the state and the UC President. In the searches using contributions to DEI to winnow applicant pools, hiring committees have been told, in effect, to substitute extra-academic criteria for research and teaching qualifications, at least as a basis for a first cut. Again, we might wonder how this can be justified in any academic organization.

There’s a slippery-slope phenomenon at work here as well: Once it’s decided that conventional academic standards can be tossed to the side in favour of other considerations, many will naturally begin to offer their own forms of special pleading. We should not be surprised that a host of proposed and enacted revisions in faculty evaluations have followed in the wake of DEI’s ascendance. These have included new evaluation criteria that would allow for everything from museum catalogues to podcasts as research contributions.

Even the content of instructors’ courses, once considered the sacrosanct domain of the professor, haven’t entirely escaped the reach of DEI. In recent years, proposals have been floated to require the representation of women and minority writers on course syllabi, and to adjust grading to account “equitably” for students’ backgrounds.

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According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, students in California’s public education system rank no better than the U.S. average, in spite of the state’s wealth; and they rank below average in mathematics and science. At one time, UC asked admitted students to adjust to meet its high standards. Now, it seems, many faculty members would prefer that UC adjust its standards to meet the level of California students.

At one time, UC asked admitted students to adjust to meet its high standards. Now, it seems, many faculty members would prefer that UC adjust its standards to meet the level of California students.

Back in the 1990s, when I helped lead the charge against affirmative-action bans at California universities, I never considered the possibility that affirmative action would be associated with directives about how students and faculty should think or speak. Rather, I viewed it as a policy corrective that was justified by the terrible history of American racism; and I assumed it would bring in many more talented people who would express a wide range of views, and who would pursue scholarly and scientific attainments in the traditional way. I am grateful for the extent to which that proved true.

The consequences of UC’s workarounds following the statewide elimination of race and sex-based preferences have led me to believe that affirmative action was a superior policy to the diversity-centered movement that replaced it. UC has made it clear that ideological conformity is now typically required among candidates in searches organized under the “Advancing Faculty Diversity” rubric. I believe this expectation of conformity has in some cases also seeped into other searches through the medium of diversity statements. These are problems I did not observe in the days when affirmative action was permitted.

Last year, it was disclosed that the University of Michigan employs more than 140 workers to implement its DEI policies, at an annual cost of about US$18-million. And while I’m unaware of comparable data for the UC system as a whole, it would surprise me if the numbers weren’t quite a bit higher at UC.

Is UC getting its money’s worth from these investments? The institutional transformation that Carlson oversaw coincided with some tangible benefits. The representation of women at UC went up by 8 percent between 2010 and 2022; and that of under-represented racial minorities rose 4 percent. Some truly outstanding faculty members were hired thanks to the incentive programs she backed. New scholarly perspectives have become more prominent at UC, adding to our knowledge of the histories and cultures of previously marginalized populations. The proportion of students who report feeling disrespected due to their racial identities—a small number to begin with—has continued to inch downward. Bias incidents no longer disproportionately affect Black students.

These changes may well have occurred without any DEI interventions on the part of UC, simply due to broader social changes. But even if one assumes that the new policies played some role, it’s worth asking whether the associated costs have outweighed the benefits.

I’ve tried to find out, as I imagined that someone in the vast UC bureaucracy would have at least attempted to demonstrate that the changes in policy and practice in this area have had a measurable impact on outcomes—and that these improvements would not have occurred without such interventions. DEI offices might be interested, for example, in whether minority student and faculty satisfaction with the campus climate could be attributed to DEI efforts, as opposed to other possible causes. They might also be interested in whether minority student success rates improved after new DEI policies were enacted, or whether minority faculty retention improved.

I asked Carlson and two other UC officials whether they could direct me to these kinds of studies, but to no avail. Carlson humbly claimed that she did not know about such details, because her job had been to provide support for the campuses. The UC Vice President for Institutional Research wrote that studies such as these were not in her bailiwick. The UC Vice President for DEI said she would ask her research staff—and then never got back to me.

Not that I was much surprised. For the true believer, it is not a matter of costs and benefits or measurable outcomes. It is how much more work “needs to be done.” And we always “have a long way to go.” Indeed, those very phrases appear in Carlson’s book, along with her assurance that “the challenge remains pressing.”

With many academics, at UC and elsewhere, now forging administrative career paths similar to the one Carlson pioneered, and pursuing advancement opportunities of the type she promoted, one imagines that such challenges will be seen as extremely “pressing” for many years to come. Even so, it’s not too late to tally the costs and benefits of the ideological turn Carlson oversaw, nor to pursue a course correction.

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