Reshaping the Narrative
How the discourse on DEI has changed—in a constructive direction.
Last month, I published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that DEI programs in public universities had created a “stifling orthodoxy that undermines the pursuit of truth.”
The Times has published six letters to the editor responding to my op-ed, under the headline: “University D.E.I. Programs: Do They Help or Harm Education?” Most of the letters were critical, though the editors made sure to include some supportive opinions, including this one from Wayne State University professor Jukka Savolainen:
Thank you for giving voice to Christopher Rufo, who has exposed the diversity-industrial-complex for what it is: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Mr. Rufo is exactly right when he says that this should not be a partisan issue.
The central purpose of universities is to pursue truth. This mission requires an environment of open debate and political neutrality. Unlike Mr. Rufo, I am not a conservative. In recent presidential campaigns I have voted for Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
However, in the role of a college professor, my loyalties are with an altogether different ideology: the scientific value system. This ideology is inconsistent with identity politics of any flavor.
The individual letters, however, are less significant than their reflection of the broader discourse. For years, the Left had insulated the DEI bureaucracy from criticism, creating the false impression that these programs were nonideological, nonpartisan, and noncontroversial.
This has now changed. In part because of my work exposing the ideological nature of DEI initiatives in public institutions, claiming such innocence for DEI is no longer tenable. We have “politicized” DEI—that is, we have subjected it to democratic debate, forcing the Left into a defensive posture. As a result, we have successfully moved left-liberal institutions such as the New York Times into the process of political settlement.
The debate is far from over, of course. But this incremental step indicates that our narrative strategies are yielding results. The prior certitude—DEI as an incontestable good—has turned into a question: Does DEI help or harm education? As is often the case, posing such a question is the first step toward answering it.
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