Can a state punish instructors for not having a woke ideology? It looks like California will do so, effectively evaluating community college instructors based on whether they have a belief in concepts such as “the intersectionality of social identities and the multiple axes of oppression that people from different racial, ethnic, and other minoritized groups face,” “structures of oppression and marginalization,” “anti-racism knowledge,” and a belief in one’s own “internal biases.”
But it is wrong to require such an ideological commitment as a job requirement, or even as a factor in employee evaluations. People cannot be required to adhere to a particular ideology or philosophy to teach or study in our schools. As the Supreme Court once noted, “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” (West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)).
Thus, the Supreme Court struck down a state’s requirement that a student salute the flag. Similarly, the Supreme Court has struck down state laws requiring commitments to particular ideas or convictions, in the form of loyalty oaths for teachers and other state employees. (See, e.g., Baggett v. Bullitt (1964)).
In Cole v. Richardson (1972), the Supreme Court set out conditions that an oath for government employees must meet to survive constitutional muster — such as that a government job cannot be conditioned on a commitment by the employee to not engage in protected speech activities or activity protected by the First Amendment. So professing a disbelief in “intersectionality,” “multiple axes of oppression,” “structures of oppression and marginalization,” or one’s own “internal biases” should not keep you from keeping your job.
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Yet, the National Association of Scholars notes, the California community college system plans to effectively require adherence to ideological concepts as part of required “DEI competencies”:
On March 11 of this year, the Chancellor’s Office announced a policy proposal … formally establishing “DEI competencies” as a condition for promotion, tenure, evaluations. The policy itself is thorough and unequivocal, and other documents released by the Chancellor’s Office—including a list of sample DEI competencies—show exactly how such requirements would play out. If it passes, the largest system of higher education in the country will require its faculty to demonstrate their commitment to today’s narrow orthodoxy.
The “new regulatory language,”… mandates that community college districts must:
“include DEIA competencies and criteria as a minimum standard for evaluating the performance of all employees;
place significant emphasis on DEIA competencies in employee evaluation and tenure review processes…
The evaluation process shall provide employees an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of DEIA and anti-racist principles, including how the employee has operationalized DEIA in the performance of their job responsibilities.”
Already, this language makes DEIA—and its implied set of political commitments—an explicit job requirement. And it reiterates that requirement several times. For example, it establishes role-specific DEIA obligations, detailing expectations for faculty (“employ teaching and learning practices and curriculum that reflect DEIA and anti-racist principles”)…
Already, terms like “culturally affirming DEIA” and “anti-racist principles” connote a set of highly debatable concepts. The “anti-racism” of Ibram X. Kendi calls for the wholesale transformation of modern society. The notion of “equity” requires establishing equality of outcomes as an explicit policy goal. Both concepts depend on viewing the world through the lens of oppression. Of course, faculty should be free to espouse such views, but requiring adherence to them amounts to an ideological litmus test, a straightforward violation of academic freedom. Such required adherence is the stated purpose of the newly-proposed policy. This is perhaps best exemplified by the policy’s definition of “cultural competence,” which entails an ongoing transformation of one’s beliefs and a continued acknowledgment of “axes of oppression”:
“Cultural Competency” refers to the practice of acquiring and utilizing knowledge of the intersectionality of social identities and the multiple axes of oppression that people from different racial, ethnic, and other minoritized groups face…
The policy also requires the Chancellor’s Office to publish detailed “DEIA competencies and criteria”—and recently, a group charged with implementing DEI measures in the California Community Colleges system developed a draft set of competencies. These fell under such themes as “Self-reflection,” “Self-improvement,” and “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Pedagogy & Curriculum.” Under each theme, the draft lists recommended descriptions. A selection is worth quoting at length:
Demonstrates an ongoing awareness and recognition of racial, social, and cultural identities with fluency regarding their relevance in creating structures of oppression and marginalization….
Engages in self-assessment of one’s own commitment to DEI and internal biases, and seeks opportunities for growth to acknowledge and address the harm caused by internal biases and behavior
Demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement as it relates to one’s DEI and anti-racism knowledge, skills, and behaviors to mitigate any harm caused (whether intentional or not) to minoritized communities
Promotes and incorporates DEI and anti-racist pedagogy
Accommodates for diverse learning styles and utilizes holistic assessment methods…
Includes a DEI and race-conscious pedagogy and/or curriculum in campus activities for students, faculty, and/or staff
Contributes to DEI and anti-racism research and scholarship…
Adopting such competencies, as the Chancellor’s Office intends to do, would place an immense silencing pressure of faculty members who dissent from today’s orthodoxy—those who object to the mainstream notions of “anti-racism” or “equity,” reject “race-conscious” teaching,” or have no intention of engaging in “DEI and anti-racism research.”
By adopting these competencies, the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges would not only violate academic freedom and enforce adherence to a dubious political ideology. It would also transform teaching throughout the entire system, under the pretense of “culturally affirming pedagogy” and “holistic assessment methods.”
The new policy would require faculty to employ “employ teaching and learning practices” that “reflect DEIA and anti-racist principles.” The proposed competencies call for “culturally affirming pedagogy,” “race-conscious pedagogy,” and “holistic assessment methods.” Last year, a workgroup for the curriculum committee created a set of guidelines titled “DEI in Curriculum: Model Principles and Practices,” (embedded below) which shows exactly what such innovative pedagogies might entail.
The very structure of the document is revealing. It lists a series of “Traditional Eurocentric Practice[s]” alongside alternative “Equity Principle,” “Culturally Responsive Classroom Practices,” and “Culturally Responsive Practices for Curriculum Committees and Local Senates”….
The “Eurocentric” practices include… “Classroom experiences, assignments, and assessments are built from an individualist perspective”… The alternatives:… “Shift to a collectivism perspective to engage authentic lived experiences and relate to students cultural norms”… Against the assumption that “only certain disciplines can address antiracism, diversity, and equity,” the document suggests faculty use “culturally responsive practices and a social justice lens in all disciplines.”
The guidelines go beyond euphemism, explicitly calling for the abandonment of academic freedom… the corresponding equity principles include …“Mov[ing] as a faculty collective toward antiracist critical consciousness.” The culturally responsive classroom practice, which the document offers as a concrete alternative, is most telling:
“Protect the cultural integrity of an academic discipline to support equity by no longer weaponizing “academic integrity” and “academic freedom” that impedes equity and inflicts curricular trauma on our students, especially historically marginalized students.”….
The California Community Colleges system consists of 112 community colleges, serving almost 2 million students. And many students choose to go to community college for a single reason: cost. A policy that transforms community colleges will disproportionately affect the neediest students. Those students will bear the brunt of these disastrous competencies.
These ideological litmus tests cannot be justified on “civil-rights” grounds. Courts have ruled that government employees cannot be punished for disagreeing with their employer’s affirmative action policy. (See, e.g., Cal. Dept. of Corrections v. State Personnel Bd. (1997)).
For example, judges ruled that an assistant fire chief in charge of personnel could express opinions at odds with city policy on affirmative action to a minority group, without being fired. (See Meyers v. City of Cincinnati (1991)).
Nor is the government required to advance goals like “diversity” or “equity.” The Constitution requires only the absence of discrimination in our schools, not “diversity,” affirmative action, or other things that might be seen as “equity.” (See Schuette v. BAMN (2014)).