The Crimson: Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences will no longer require diversity statements in hiring process

Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences will no longer require a diversity and inclusion statement as part of its hiring process, according to an email from a senior school leader obtained by The Harvard Crimson and The New York Times.

The change outlined in the Monday email comes amid intense scrutiny of diversity, equity and inclusion – or DEI – efforts at Harvard and other major universities around the nation.

Instead of the previously required statement outlining contributions to the areas of diversity, inclusion and belonging, the email says job applicants will be asked to outline their plans to “strengthen academic communities,” The Crimson and The Times reported.

Applicants will also be asked to outline how they will foster a “learning environment in which students are encouraged to ask questions and share their ideas,” according to the email from Nina Zipser, the dean of faculty affairs and planning, the newspapers reported.

CNN has not viewed a copy of Zipser’s email.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is now “requesting broader and more robust service statements as part of the hiring process,” Jonathan Palumbo, a communications director with the university told CNN in a statement Tuesday.

“This updated approach acknowledges the many ways faculty contribute to strengthening their academic communities, including efforts to increase diversity, inclusion, and belonging,” the statement said.

The division is “realigning” its hiring practice with long-held criteria for faculty, including “excellence in research, teaching/advising, and service,” it added.

Zipser said in Monday’s email the decision considered the feedback of faculty members who felt the diversity statements were too narrow, the newspapers reported.

In an April op-ed published in the Crimson, Randall L. Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School, criticized mandatory DEI statements calling them “counterproductive to efforts to undo the effects of long overlooked invidious social discriminations in academia.”

“By requiring academics to profess — and flaunt — faith in DEI, the proliferation of diversity statements poses a profound challenge to academic freedom,” Kennedy wrote.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Ford Foundation professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, told CNN he was blindsided by the school’s decision to remove DEI statements, which were put in place four years ago.

Muhammad said professors who teach race and racism at Harvard have faced attacks from conservative critics in recent months and the university has yet to defend them.

“Harvard is making a decision that will signal to future faculty and staff that it is not a place that is committed to racial equity,” Muhammad said. “And that it is more concerned about the comforts of conservatives and more concerned about accommodating people who are associated with the Republican party.”

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is Harvard’s largest division. The university touts it as the “historic heart of Harvard University,” home to its undergraduate and PhD programs, encompassing 40 academic departments and more than 10,000 students.

The removal of the diversity statements comes during a tumultuous time at Harvard. In recent months, there have been protests on campus sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.

During the school’s commencement ceremony last month, more than 1,000 people walked out in protest of the university’s decision to bar 13 senior undergraduates from participating over their pro-Palestinian activities, CNN previously reported.

Former Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned earlier this year, following plagiarism accusations and controversial remarks at a congressional hearing about antisemitism on US college campuses. The university called Gay’s instances of inadequate citation “regrettable” but found they did not meet the punishable threshold of research misconduct.

Gay was the Ivy League university’s first Black president. Her departure prompted some critics to speak out about what they perceived to be the broader failing of DEI efforts.

Among them was billionaire investor Bill Ackman who, in a post on X, said Harvard’s presidential hiring committee “would not consider a candidate who did not meet the DEI office’s criteria.”

“Shrinking the pool of candidates based on required race, gender, and/or sexual orientation criteria is not the right approach to identifying the best leaders for our most prestigious universities,” Ackman said.

“And it is also not good for those awarded the office of president who find themselves in a role that they would likely not have obtained were it not for a fat finger on the scale.”

Supporters of Gay came to her defense including Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the 1619 project; Janai Nelson president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Morehouse College President David Thomas.

“To turn the question to the legitimacy of President Gay’s selection because she is a Black woman is a dog whistle we have heard before: Black and female equal not qualified. We must call it out,” Thomas wrote on LinkedIn.

Hannah-Jones told CNN’s Abby Phillip in December that she felt the backlash against Gay was “racist.”

“No one has produced a shred of evidence that the sole qualification that president Gay had was that she is a Black woman,” Hannah-Jones said. “That’s insulting, it defies logic.”

In recent months, two Virginia colleges, Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University, were thrust into the spotlight after backtracking on plans to require diversity courses for incoming students.

The decisions to drop the course requirements at VCU and postpone them at George Mason faced backlash from faculty and students last month who said the material was meant to prepare students for the real world by offering a better understanding of the nation’s history of racism and discrimination.

In a statement, Virginia Commonwealth University noted that while not required, racial literacy classes are still available to students.

In response to questions over the school’s decision to postpone a “Just Societies” diversity-themed course requirement for incoming students, George Mason’s interim Executive Vice President and Provost Kenneth D. Walsh said in a letter addressed to his colleagues, “This is clearly an issue that engenders strong feelings on every side.”

“Ironically, finding a civil and respectful path forward on this kind of issue is precisely the type of activity the ‘Just Societies’ courses are meant to support students accomplishing.”

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