PEN America on Diversity Statements in Higher Education

Some DEI restrictions proposed or passed since 2023 focused on prohibitions on the use of diversity statements in the hiring and promotion process for faculty. 

When universities require faculty members or job candidates to author diversity statements as part of hiring or promotion, it can raise significant concerns for faculty members’ academic freedom. Such a requirement can convey the message that only certain approaches, language, and ideas about diversity and equity are considered acceptable. This can distort how faculty carry out their professional duties, forcing them to adopt positions in their teaching or research that they do not genuinely support. It can also narrow the prospects for meaningful dialogue and debate on campus around complex social and political issues.

On the other hand, there are instances in which personal background, individual experience, and identity are germane to academic and scholarly work. Moreover, academic hiring and promotion committees should care about whether a candidate understands and supports students of diverse backgrounds, affiliations and viewpoints. Statements on such subjects may provide evidence of the ability to deal effectively with students of all identities and persuasions. However, any such statements should be voluntary; when questions are asked on such subjects, a variety of viewpoints and approaches should be accepted in response.

Because of this complexity, PEN America disfavors legislative or regulatory efforts to ban the use of diversity statements in the hiring and promotion process at colleges and universities, out of concern that they could preclude consideration of useful information about a candidate’s qualifications. As such bills have a limited and only indirect impact on educational expression, they are included in PEN America’s Index of Educational Gag Orders only if they contain some additional, more explicitly censorious provision.