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OPINION

Colleges Need a DEI Detox. Here’s How to Do It.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File

The Goldwater Institute is a leading free-market public policy research and litigation organization that is dedicated to empowering all Americans to live freer, happier lives. We accomplish real results for liberty by working in state courts, legislatures, and communities nationwide to advance, defend, and strengthen the freedom guaranteed by the constitutions of the United States and the fifty states. 

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The following column is by The Goldwater Institute's Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg

It’s no secret that American colleges are in crisis. In place of free speech, intellectual debates, and the transmission of core knowledge, the nation’s universities have embraced leftwing radicalism smuggled into classrooms under the friendly sounding banners of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI).

But now, several new initiatives are poised to reclaim American higher education and put DEI on the path to extinction. Chief among these efforts is the new Freedom from Indoctrination Act.

Developed in partnership by the Goldwater Institute, where I work, and the First Amendment advocacy organization Speech First, the Freedom from Indoctrination Act will swiftly eliminate all requirements placed on state-run university students and faculty pushing them into taking (or teaching) courses filled with radical race or gender-based DEI programming. In their place, students will be assured an introduction to the founding documents of the United States, including the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers. 

State lawmakers around the nation have successfully passed prohibitions on teaching “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) as part of public school curricula in K-12. But these same policymakers have struggled with how to address CRT—and its more benign-sounding offshoot, DEI—in higher education, where college professors enjoy much greater latitude and control over what they can teach. Even reform-minded conservatives have pointed out that efforts to simply ban CRT and DEI in public universities risk being slapped down as violations of the free speech protections enjoyed by faculty under the doctrine of “academic freedom.” 

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But the Freedom from Indoctrination Act instead supports the academic freedom of faculty (and students) against the engines of “equity” and “diversity” that are currently pushing a racialized, discriminatory worldview. Rather than restricting the actions of faculty, the proposed legislation would target university leadership. It forces those leaders to ensure that the menu of courses approved by the college offers students complete freedom from DEI-based programming, while making certain that no faculty member is required to implement DEI-based content or practices such as “diversifying” their curricula with race- or gender-based quotas. Instead, the reform will restore university reading lists to reflecting authors based on the caliber of their ideas, as determined by faculty expertise rather than bureaucratic diktat. 

The reform will also immediately cut off the massive pipeline of enrollments artificially propping up DEI-based classes and majors. Indeed, while state universities across the country currently force students into DEI-based “general education” courses as a condition of graduating—or else push them as substitute for more academically rigorous courses—the Freedom from Indoctrination Act will swiftly reverse these trends. 

There is no doubt that America’s institutions of public higher education will throw their full weight against such a measure, just as they have sought to block other Goldwater-backed reforms against the DEI regime. But states across the country are already abandoning and prohibiting DEI-based “diversity statements” used in recent years to force ideological conformity among new faculty. As the Institute itself has shown, up to 80% of job openings at certain public institutions required such statements as of 2022, but now model policies from Goldwater and our allies are passing in legislative chambers around the nation to stop such practices, eliminate bloated DEI administrative bureaucracies, and return intellectual integrity to our state institutions. 

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Radicals on the left have attempted to hide behind the principle of “academic freedom” when it suits them as a shield against state lawmakers seeking to rein in campus radicalism. But these same activist academics have already shown their cards when calling for the ejection of their colleagues for insufficiently woke sentiments or pronouncing—as a Rutgers law school dean recently did in her feature piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education—"Sometimes Diversity Trumps Academic Freedom.” 

It is time that state lawmakers call their bluff. Respecting the academic freedom of faculty and the right of researchers and university professors to espouse unpopular beliefs or theories is one thing. But writing a blank check to state institutions—on taxpayers’ dime—to allow them to serve as gatekeepers of who gets a degree or gets hired based on their willingness to promote or endure the tenets of DEI is simply unworthy of our continued indulgence. The Freedom from Indoctrination Act, on the other hand, will be very much worth the effort of state lawmakers nationwide. 

Matt Beienburg is the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute. He also serves as director of the institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy.

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