Claremont Institute senior director of State Coalitions Scott Yenor joined First Things Magazine's Mark Bauerlein to discuss a recent study detailing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at Auburn University and the University of Alabama (UA).

First Things is an ecumenical Christian magazine. Bauerlein hosts the magazine's "First Things Podcast," which can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify

Yenor is a professor of political science at Boise State University and a fellow at the Claremont Institute.

Yenor said Claremont started with a report on Florida, but people contacted the institute and asked if they would do a similar report on Alabama universities. He insisted that members of the state board and university donors have read the report and discussed it with university presidents.

He suggested politicians mistakenly give deference to state-funded universities and misunderstand what the words DEI advocates use actually mean.

"There is a lot of deference given to universities in how they operate," Yenor said. "They're considered to be sacred, not able to be touched by political institutions, even though they're funded by the taxpayers of states, they are chartered by the taxpayers of states, and they are granted land and buildings of the taxpayers of states."

"Politicians still consider these values to be their old understanding of the values," he continued. "So, diversity. What is diversity? Everyone and every group should be valued and welcomed on our campus so we can celebrate the rich dimensions of difference … But what that really means is an identity-based approach to society where there's ever-declining numbers of now disfavored groups like whites and males through quotas … so there's a bait and switch which is really a part of the DEI endeavor." 

Nevertheless, Yenor said that state politicians, in light of actions taken by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, are paying more attention to higher education. However, Florida, Texas and Tenessee are the only three states to have taken considerable action.

He said Auburn and UA spend around $2.5 million each on DEI, while the percentage of black students enrolled in the universities has actually decreased. 

"The chief DEI officers at [Auburn and UA] make over a quarter million dollars, and they have several people underneath them who make six figures as well," he explained. "… Since they have begun this DEI revolution … the diversity part of their specific mandate hasn't been achieved. They've had regress in that area. That just goes to show that it's not really about that on some level. It's about the ideological conflict in these institutions."

One of the subjects of the study on Auburn was the university's "Climate Survey" from 2015, which led to adopting bias training and diversity certification for faculty candidates in recruitment policies. 

The "Climate Survey" asked students how they felt about the university's approach to DEI.

Yenor insinuated the questions were loaded, and university officials misinterpreted the answers.

"They asked three questions: 'Do you think the university should do more to promote diversity than it's currently doing? Do you think there are downsides to promoting diversity on campus?' These kinds of questions. And, since the results were not entirely disfavorable, they concluded everyone was begging for DEI policies at Auburn, and the 17 or so recommendations that were appended to that one-page survey ended up being adopted."

When Bauerlein asked what Alabama could do about DEI in state-funded higher education, Yenor said the state should emulate other red states like Florida and Texas by banning DEI offices and addressing what he said are clearly ideologically driven studies programs. 

The Alabama Republican Party (ALGOP) passed a resolution in February to abolish DEI policies and bureaucracies and mandatory diversity training in public universities and other public institutions.

According to the resolution, DEI policies — which proponents claim promote the representation and participation of different identity groups — do not fulfill their alleged purpose. Instead, they "have actually stifled intellectual diversity, prevented equal opportunity and discriminated against anyone who dissents from these policies."

Yenor said a potential challenge to addressing DEI specific to Alabama includes the ongoing congressional redistricting battle, which takes away legislators' ability to address the issue, but that DEI at both universities is still in "adolescence" and, therefore, easier to address.

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