Lawsuit: Academia’s DEI Hiring Statements are “Modern-Day Loyalty Oaths”

California Santa Cruz

by Terrance Kible at

An academic applying to the University of California, Santa Cruz, has sued the institution and the UC system over its DEI statement requirement for applicants. The complaint alleges mandatory DEI statements violate the First Amendment. According to the complaint, DEI statements are”modern-day loyalty oaths” akin to McCarthy-era anti-Communist pledges.

The complaint joins a chorus of opposition to DEI statements in hiring.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression has condemned DEI statements “as ideological litmus tests that threaten employment or advancement opportunities for faculty who dissent from prevailing thought on DEI.” In April 2021, the organization urged “UC Santa Cruz to drop [the] diversity statement mandate for faculty applicants.”

Dr. John D. Haltigan, the plaintiff and a developmental psychologist, submitted in place of the mandatory DEI statement his critique of their use, wherein he affirmed his “commit[ment] to colorblind inclusivity, viewpoint diversity, merit-based evaluation, and value outreach to underrepresented groups in higher education.”

Haltigan’s complaint challenges the constitutionality of “the detailed ideological standards set out in the [UC Santa Cruz] DEI rubric and other guidance documents” and claims “[t]he purpose of the DEI Statement Requirement is to penalize certain viewpoints and drive those viewpoints from the marketplace of academic hiring.”

Wilson Freeman, one of the attorneys representing Haltigan, told Legal Insurrection that “UCSC’s DEI Statement requirement as actually implemented here doesn’t meaningfully attempt to evaluate a candidate’s ability to function in diverse environments. Rather, the University’s DEI statement is an ideological litmus test which requires candidates to affirm all manner of controversial and political commitments, including the belief that individuals should receive special treatment based on their race or ethnicity, and their opposition to the ‘myth’ of merit-based, race-blind decision-making.”

UC Santa Cruz’s Academic Personnel Office provides definitions of “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” on a page describing the DEI statement requirement (internal link omitted; emphasis original):

Diversity: The variety of personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstance. Such differences include race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, language, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geographic region, and more. Many institutions of higher education focus on groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in top tier research institutions, including women and certain minority groups (including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans).

Equity: As opposed to equality, where everyone receives the same support regardless of circumstance, equity focuses on fair treatment, and access to supports and opportunities necessary for advancement and success. Equity acknowledges structural issues and barriers such as racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, and sexual harassment that have prevented the full participation of individuals from marginalized groups.

Inclusion: The proactive effort through personal actions, programs, and policies to ensure that all individuals feel welcome, respected, supported, and valued.

With these definitions in hand, applicants must craft a DEI statement that shows contributions to DEI along three dimensions (emphasis original):

Awareness of and ability to articulate the challenges and barriers faced by traditionally underrepresented groups.

Experience (commensurate to career stage) of activities that reduce barriers in education or research for traditionally underrepresented groups.

Future Plans for activities and work that will contribute to UC Santa Cruz’s mission to embrace diversity in all its forms and strive for an inclusive community that fosters an open, enlightened and productive environment.

UC Santa Cruz provides a detailed rubric for assessing applicants along these dimensions, with 1-2 points awarded for the worst answers and 4-5 points awarded for the best answers; middling answers receive 3 points. An applicant can expect to score 1-2 points for “Awareness,” “Experience,” and “Future Plans,” respectively, for a DEI statement that

Discusses diversity in vague terms, such as “diversity is important for STEM.”

. . . . . Only mentions activities that are already the expectation of faculty as evidence of commitment and involvement.

. . . . . [Contains] [v]ague or no statements about what they would do at UCSC if hired. May even feel doing so would be the responsibility of someone else.

To receive the highest marks in “Awareness,” “Experience,” and “Future Plans,” respectively, a DEI statement must show the applicant has

Clear knowledge of and experience with dimensions of diversity that result from different identities, such as ethnic, socioeconomic, racial, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and cultural differences.

. . . . . Organized or spoken at workshops or other events (depending on career stage) aimed at increasing others’ understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion as one aspect of their track record.

. . . . . [The intention] to be a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion within the department/school/college and also their field.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, “a nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans’ liberties when threatened by government overreach and abuse,” represents Haltigan. The organization is representing Haltigan “at no charge . . . . to defend his right to seek a university job based on his merits, not illegal application conditions.”
Haltigan seeks a declaration of the unconstitutionality of the DEI statement requirement, preliminary and permanent injunctions barring enforcement of the requirement against him, and attorney fees, costs, and expenses.
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