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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Policies in Academia: The Faculty's Response


The history of our country reveals a continual quest to live up to our ideals. Given past impediments faced by minorities and women, institutions of higher education are committed to increasing the representation of people from historically marginalized groups. This commitment is often expressed through policies that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). To many, DEI signifies the elimination of barriers, the hope for fair representation, and the desire to respect group differences. However, DEI is seldom defined with specificity, leaving its meaning open to interpretation. Lack of definitional clarify may create confusion, suspicion, and disagreement when various policies are implemented.

Some are concerned that progressive values of DEI are in tension with traditional values of academic freedom, free speech, and the disinterested pursuit of truth. To date, there has been no comprehensive investigation of whether academics perceive these commitments to be in conflict, and if so, which they prioritize. In the present research, 55 faculty across the humanities and social sciences at a public research university in California were interviewed about ten DEI policies.

Qualitative content analysis revealed four ideologies—radically critical, supportive, ambivalent, and opposed—that represent distinct appraisals of whether progressive values (a) supersede, (b) complement, (c) threaten, or (d) undermine traditional values. These assessments lead to distinct perceptions of whether/how DEI policies should be implemented. Given that many academics endorse both traditional and progressive values, their perceptions of DEI policies reveal their attempts to negotiate between honoring the past and transforming the future of academia.

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