Imagine being forced to pledge loyalty to a political belief system before you could be hired for a job. That’s obviously unjust, yet it’s increasingly happening across Utah’s taxpayer-funded education system when it comes to the divisive ideology of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” The state legislature needs to stop this practice in its tracks and restore merit and free expression.

This problem is clearest in higher education. Half of America’s large universities require these “DEI” oaths on faculty and tenure applications, and Utah’s schools are no exception. When an applicant to become a professor of behavioral economics at the University of Utah must write an essay on how to promote DEI on campus, the First Amendment is undermined and academic freedom is lost. Ditto when Southern Utah University incorporates diversity as a performance metric for tenure and promotion, Weber State’s strategic plan makes DEI a job qualification and performance criterion for all positions, and Utah Valley’s inclusion plan integrates DEI goals into faculty reviews. Radical ideologies have taken root on Utah campuses.

This clear imposition of political beliefs erodes the cornerstones of academic freedom and imposes uniformity of thought among students and faculty. And it clearly distracts from hiring and admitting the best and the brightest. When even an assistant professor for biological engineering needs to submit a DEI statement to Utah State, it is clear this latest craze has nothing to do with academic excellence. And while DEI may seem like fun and games in a sociology department, the nonprofit Do No Harm finds that it’s starting to infect medical education at the University of Utah. Putting politics ahead of medical excellence could have life-and-death consequences for Utahns.

This political barrier is all about “diversity,” yet discriminating against qualified educators because of their political beliefs creates a lack of true diversity. Professors already lean to the political left, and this latest development tilts the scales even further. What’s more, students can be scared to explore ideas and freely speak their minds when they and their professors are chosen based on strict loyalty to DEI. 

Under DEI, “diversity” does not mean accepting and promoting different ideas, cultures and ways of thinking. Instead, it means focusing on dividing people into groups of oppressors and oppressed. By the same token, “equity” focus is not about fairness. It is about assigning resources and positions to people based upon physical characteristics that they cannot change, which undermines decades of progress. Finally, “inclusion” doesn’t apply to faculty who might oppose DEI, or who think DEI oaths undermine free expression. Inclusion is not the point — obedience is. 

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Last legislative session, HB451, sponsored by Rep. Katy Hall, would have prohibited universities from requiring DEI oaths for faculty applications, tenure and promotion. Students would also have gained protections from mandatory DEI statements for admission or academic achievement. The bill, which passed the House but failed in the Senate, would have created the same rules for school districts and government agencies, as well. HB451 and other well-crafted reforms that take on divisive ideologies need to be at the top of the Utah legislature’s priority list for next session. With similar bills moving or already law in Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas, this is no time to wait. 

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Utah’s campuses should strive to be world-class institutions that welcome diverse thought and cultivate a healthy, respectful debate. That is not possible when one extreme school of thought mandates its fringe beliefs across the system. What we end up with is the University of Utah’s workshop that promoted the importance of diversity oaths for all faculty job applications, effectively forcing glaucoma researchers at the university to pledge to enforce divisive and potentially discriminatory principles on campus. 

Utah’s constitution protects freedom of speech. Universities and other parts of the state government ought to do the same. Utah was settled and developed by hard-working pioneers who fled religious persecution, so it’s in our roots to teach the importance of free expression and back it with action to cultivate spirited, respectful debate. DEI’s growing stranglehold takes the state in the wrong direction, and it’s time to roll back these ideological purity tests.

Jonathan Harvey is the cofounder of Conservative Americans for Equality.

This letter also was signed by the following people: Jamie Renda is the cofounder of Conservative Americans For Equality; Jaime Wadman and Cari Bartholomew are with Conservative Americans For Equality; Lucy Shirisia is an instructor of family and human development; Andrew Scott Bibby is an associate professor at Utah Valley University; Nicholas Willis is a former representative of Native American Guardians Association; Juan Valladeras is a Davis County state central committee member; Ron Williams is a seven-time Mr. Natural Universe, author, motivational speaker and a part of Path Forward Utah; Brooke Stevens is with Utah Parents United; and Gloria Vindas and Carlos Moreno are Latino community leaders.

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