Woke in the Heart of Dixie

Alabama’s great public universities are folding to the diversity agenda.

Editor’s Note – This essay was originally published at American Mind on July 10th, 2023.

Administrators at America’s universities never stop invoking diversity as the salve to heal America’s wounds, and continue to repeat the theme that diversity, unaccountably, is our strength. Diversity is “essential to our mission,” said MIT President Sally Kornbluth. Harvard put out a letter in response to the Supreme Court’s decision lauding how racial diversity brings “progress and change.”

No academic administrator effused more ardently on this issue than the University of Alabama’s dean for the College of Education. Usually diversity is defended as a means to an end. For Dean Peter Hlebowitsh, however, diversity must be “deeply embedded in the telos of the university.” But even that extraordinary formulation understates the importance of diversity. “Diversity,” for Hlebowtish, “is better expressed as the essence of life.”

The diversity industry is setting up shop at the University of Alabama (UA) and Auburn University, as we show in a new report at the Center for the American Way of Life. Both Alabama and Auburn have active diversity strategic plans aimed at transforming the universities. Both have central administrators dedicated to achieving greater diversity among the student body and faculty and to transforming the culture of the universities. Both are transforming university curriculum to emphasize the ideology of diversity. Estimates show that each school spends more than $2.5 million on diversity salaries and initiatives. These schools in the heart of Dixie are going woke in a big way.

Alabama’s Path Forward Diversity Report centers on faculty and student recruitment and on cultural transformation. A bevy of programs emphasize minority recruitment, and more than thirty personnel are dedicated to diversity efforts. Its office schedules visits from black high schoolers through the “Our Bama” program. The Multicultural Visitation Program also brings minorities to campus for special visits. Other programs like BRIDGE and Lucy’s Legacy are designed to retain UA’s minority students. Sororities and fraternities are overseen by diversity bureaucrats. Athletes learn about preferred pronouns and all things LGBTQ+. Diversity makes its way into the classroom too. As a measure of UA’s transformation, the university boasted in 2019 that “over one-third of UA’s undergraduate curriculum (36 percent, 1083 courses) is diversity-related.” Numbers are no doubt higher today. This emphasis on diversity, which accelerated in 2016, coincided with UA dropping in the U.S. News and World Report rankings of public universities from 34 in 2010 to 64 in Fall 2022.

Auburn is on a similar trajectory. Its diversity efforts accelerated in its 2015 Climate Survey, which did not ask if students or faculty felt there was some defect in Auburn’s climate, but assumed that there was a problem and asked if people were ready to tackle it. With the results baked in the questions, the report spent one page relating the results its survey and nearly twenty pages giving dozens of recommendations for change. “You told us that diversity is important to you,” the Climate Survey concludes, “and that we shouldn’t stop working at” achieving it!

Auburn has been working at it. A presidential task force recommended an expansion of diversity efforts in summer 2020. Auburn has at least 20 personnel dedicated to promoting diversity. Its associate provost and vice president for inclusion and diversity, Taffye Benson Clayton, makes more than $275,000 annually. Other administrators make more than $100,000 per year. As per the task force recommendations, all twelve of its colleges have a dedicated director of diversity or a representative on the Diversity Leaders Roundtable at the university. All colleges are developing diversity action plans. Several minority recruitment programs are in place. Diversity education is expanding with the development of modules and training in implicit bias for “all faculty, staff, administrators and professional employees.”

Neither Alabama or Auburn have adopted diversity plans as transformative as those at Texas A&M, the University of North Carolina, or the University of Tennessee. This should not breed complacency; it is more difficult to eradicate such noxious weeds once they are deeply embedded in universities. Alabama politicians should follow the lead of Florida in taking steps to abolish diversity and inclusion offices, dictate a general education core to all of Alabama universities, and select education leaders with care commensurate to their charge.