MIT’s banning of diversity statements sets example for UK universities.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has banned the use of diversity statements in hiring academic staff. 

It is common in UK universities for applicants to academic posts to be required to submit an equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) statement. These statements typically require applicants to explain how they or their research have contributed to EDI, and what they intend to do in future to contribute to EDI. See, for example, CAF’s report on requirements for promotion at King’s College London.  

The requirement that applicants to academic posts submit EDI statements imposes an ideological condition on working in a university. Applicants who are not supportive of EDI will not be given a post. This violates academic freedom. If universities wish to achieve EDI objectives, they must not do so through ideologically screening university staff. 

The practice of requiring applicants to academic posts to submit EDI statements originated in the US. It is therefore particularly significant that the practice has recently been banned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the country’s elite universities. An MIT spokesperson has stated that decision was taken by MIT President Sally Kornbluth “with the support of the Provost, Chancellor, and all six academic deans”. The reason given by Kornbluth for banning the practice was that “We can build an inclusive environment in many ways, but compelled statements impinge on freedom of expression, and they don’t work”. 

It is to be hoped that Kornbluth’s statement, and MIT’s banning of the practice will prompt wider recognition that the practice violates academic freedom. In the UK, requiring applicants to university posts to submit EDI statements will be, in practice, illegal from 1st August under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act. Office for Students proposed guidance on universities’ legal duties under the act states: 

Providers and constituent institutions should not require applicants to any academic position to commit (or give evidence of commitment) to values, beliefs or ideas, if that may disadvantage any candidate for exercising their academic freedom within the law. 

The guidance has not yet been confirmed, and the Office for Students is currently consulting on it. CAF encourages all those supportive of academic freedom to respond to the consultation.