Identity Politics

At Texas A&M, a Different Kind of “Climate Change”

February 27, 2023

Scott Yenor

Washington Fellow

This essay was originally published by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal on February 22, 2023.

Efforts to make the campus more welcoming have alienated students.

Universities adopt Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plans with a host of promises. Advocates pledge, for instance, that, through reforms, the university will come to approximate the racial composition of the local community or state. Yet “equity” has proven to be an elusive goal, selectively pursued. It is sought only when it advantages supposedly underrepresented minorities. There are no “Men in Elementary Education” programs and few dedicated to “Men in Nursing.” The inconsistency between the stated goals of equity and its implementation reveals that equity is about disrupting and dismantling more than achieving any kind of parity.

If equity is a wolf in wolf’s clothing, “inclusion” comes as a sheep. The official promise of inclusion (or “belonging,” as it is sometimes styled) is the unobjectionable goal of making all students and staff feel welcome on campus. A good campus climate cultivates a learning environment that, in the words of Texas A&M’s 2010 Report on Diversity, “fully recognizes, values, and integrates diversity in the pursuit of academic excellence.” A goal so vapid must mask deeper, more controversial goals.

If equity is a wolf in wolf’s clothing, “inclusion” comes as a sheep.

Few universities illustrate this truth better than Texas A&M (TAMU), as I show in a recent report. TAMU has sought to build a DEI university since the late 1990s, when former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was its president. Efforts accelerated with TAMU’s 2010 Report on Diversity, which announced a two-pronged revolution in equity and inclusive climate. Important incentives were put in place for university units and colleges that adopted aggressive equity measures and efforts to measure and improve the campus climate. Since then, TAMU units have conducted audits to measure whether the student body or the faculty mirror the population of Texas (equity) and whether people feel they belong on campus (climate).

TAMU implemented a host of measures to improve the campus climate during the 2010s. (Equity measures proceeded on a parallel track.) According to subsequent Diversity Reports, units across campus began celebrating diversity on their websites and in their hiring and training. Diversity training for faculty search committees became a norm in 2014. Faculty Affairs concerned itself with weaving “diversity, inclusion and respect into the culture of the institution.” DEI events on campus crowded out alternatives. Hate-reporting systems were installed. All members of the campus community were taught to believe that, in the words of the 2010 report, diversity is “an indispensable component of academic excellence.” In other words, efforts to “improve the climate” at TAMU looked very much like they have everywhere else in the country. Unsurprisingly, inclusion efforts like campus events and public pronouncements accelerated significantly after 2016.

Interestingly enough, however, efforts to cultivate a more welcoming climate backfired. According to TAMU’s own measures, the campus climate was worse in 2020 than it was in earlier years. As the following chart shows, fewer whites, blacks and Hispanics felt like Aggies in 2020 than they did in 2015 or 2017.

The diversity commissars at TAMU, however, were in no mood to reexamine their priors in the face of these survey results. Instead, they focused on the newly-emerged racial chasm between whites and blacks, wherein 82 percent of whites in the graduating class said they belonged at TAMU, while only 55 percent of blacks did. The committee paid no attention to the fact that black attitudes had deteriorated significantly (from 82 percent in 2015 to 55 percent in 2020) since the intensification of the DEI regime. They also ignored how all groups—whites, blacks, and Hispanics—increasingly felt that they did not belong at TAMU. Sowing racial resentment into TAMU’s DNA had (unexpectedly!) yielded racial resentment and disharmony.

lot of DEI having caused disharmony and resentment, TAMU’s 2020 State of Diversity Report recommended a lot more. Seizing on the new chasm, the report announced a frontal assault on the systemically racist TAMU community. As the report’s authors write, quoting other scholars, “problematic trends … are attributable to institutional practices, policies, mindsets, and cultures that persistently disadvantage Black students and sustain inequities.” The solution was to turn TAMU into an institution that creates more activists. “Pedagogy is the most powerful and effective form of activism. […] We must all become education-activists. One can think of the 2020 State of Diversity Report as a roadmap for such activism.”

The 2020 report called for an “unrelenting” focus on dismantling so-called discriminatory practices.

In fact, the 2020 State of Diversity Report called for an “unrelenting” focus on dismantling so-called discriminatory practices in addition to making students into social-justice activists. Chief among the “systematic racist and discriminatory practices” that needed to be dismantled were “innocuous-sounding words and sentiments such as meritocracy, legacy, color-blind, race-neutral, best-qualified, good fit and isolated incident”—phrases that “have been used to establish and maintain racist and discriminatory practices and sentiments.” The idea of merit itself, according to the report, “masks ways in which certain groups have benefited and others have been excluded from access to networks and resources.” Colorblind hiring or admissions “mask favoritism, bias, and discriminatory practices.” The university’s legacy was merely one of white supremacy. As a result, more statues gotta come down!

If inclusion meant actual inclusion, then the survey results might have provoked sober second thoughts. Instead, the reaction reveals that the TAMU DEI regime has never been about making everyone feel welcome on campus. It has been about imposing leftist ideology on everyone, so that activists would dominate the campus life. According to this way of thinking, students of color should control who speaks on campus and what they say. Faculty of color should determine hiring practices and results. Curricula must cater to their ideological demands rather than the collective wisdom of the ages. As this episode illustrates, when we hear inclusion, we must hear “campus culture as determined by the leading edge of DEI activism.”

In only a decade, TAMU went from endorsing the contestable bromide that diversity is “an indispensable component of academic excellence” (from the 2010 Report) to repeating the risible slander that excellence or meritocracy is a systemically racist concept reflecting discriminatory practices and sentiments (in the 2020 Report). TAMU used to say that there is no tension between excellence and diversity; now its diversity advocates cast doubt on the very notions of merit and excellence.

There has been a change in TAMU leadership since this 2020 revolution. In June 2021, Katherine Banks replaced as president Michael K. Young, a compromising and compromised educrat who had handed TAMU’s keys over to the diversity commissars. While Pres. Banks has not yet rolled things back, all the pieces are in place for a comprehensive examination of how the DEI regime has made TAMU worse. Banks should conduct such a review and act to dismantle the ideology that is making TAMU hostile to meritocracy and, increasingly, its student body.