At the University of Nebraska “chemical engineers and materials scientists must be fluent in the idiom of race consciousness.” (Contributor: Ken Wolter / Alamy Stock Photo)

The DEI Rollback Hasn’t Made It to Nebraska

DEI is is alive and well at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Engineering

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Readers may remember John Sailer’s recent Free Press story “The DEI Rollback,” where he detailed how the tide is turning against the diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucracy, especially in higher education. But that’s not true for one major state school where DEI dogma is alive and well, John reports for us today:

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Engineering might sound like one of the last places in higher education where you’d expect to find evidence of DEI orthodoxy influencing big decisions. Nebraska is a red state and UNL is a public school. Plus, you’d expect hiring at an engineering school to be based on, well, scientific criteria. 

But through a public records request, I reviewed every diversity recruitment report created by the school over the last four years. And I’ve discovered that even here, DEI has been central to hiring decisions. 

For example, in 2020, when the school set out to hire a professor of National Defense/Computer Network Security, the search committee made its priority clear: each candidate’s “diversity” score—assessing how well applicants understand things like “many intersectional aspects of diversity”—was given equal weight to factors like research and teaching experience. 

Another search in 2021, for a professor of Big Data/Cybersecurity, stated: “the weight of the ‘diversity’ scores were equal to the other scored areas that contributed to the candidate’s overall score.”

And applicants have been ruled out for failing to clear DEI hurdles. According to one report, from 2021, “a small number of candidates” in a search for a professor of thermal sciences “were eliminated based on absence or weak diversity statement.” In another case that year, three applicants for a role in environmental engineering “did not include diversity statements and were disqualified from the search.”

Per the college’s diversity and inclusion plan, which is still in place, the reports carry high stakes: a search that fails to show “a serious consideration” of DEI-related issues risks being canceled, resulting in no hire at all.

Diversity statement evaluations have long been criticized for their potential to enforce an orthodoxy on issues of race and gender, weeding out faculty with heterodox views. They raise serious questions of academic freedom—as well as First Amendment compliance.

The college’s DEI statement evaluation rubric—also acquired through a records request—confirms these fears. The rubric dictates a high score for engineers who identify and discuss “intersectional aspects of diversity”—while punishing those who fail to “distinguish inclusion from diversity.” 

In other words, even in Nebraska, chemical engineers and materials scientists must be fluent in the idiom of race consciousness.

The absurdity is transparent, which is why state university systems from North Carolina to Missouri to Wisconsin have abolished diversity statements. Even faculty at progressive universities have begun to push back. In Nebraska, the policy is alive and well—but that’s something the state’s lawmakers could easily fix.

John Sailer is a senior fellow at the National Association of Scholars. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @JohnDSailer, and read his Free Press piece “John Sailer: The DEI Rollback.”

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