Good People: The New Discipline

“But Mark, you don’t seem to understand, these are good people. These are all good people.”  My interlocutor was a long-time administrator at my university, and an accomplished scholar. In his genial way he was trying to set my straight on some important facts. I had just learned that there would be a new aspect to our annual reports. We would be asked to tell our overlords how each one of our activities contributes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Teaching? How did it advance DEI? Scholarship? How did it help speed DEI on its way? If you get an honor or an award, you are to say how it contributed to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Outside consulting: did it do any DEI duty? And what does the university mean by Diversity, by Equity, by Inclusion? The university doesn’t say. There are no official definitions out there to consider.  So I had a lot to tell my friend about administrative interference with academic freedom. I didn’t want the university deans and DEI enforcers setting the agenda for my teaching or my scholarship, or for anyone else’s. At the same time, I couldn’t really argue with my friend’s observation: the people in the dean’s office and the DEI enclaves are decent sorts. I like them. Was asking us to apply DEI standards to every aspect of our work a radical piece of over-reach? I think it was, and is: I fought against it at its inception and still do.  But I also see the move as part of a larger pattern of enforcing discipline, and that pattern may be more important than any single program or initiative. The good people who came up with this notion are — without knowing it, I suspect — softly tyrannizing us. They are also softly tyrannizing

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