Colleges across the country have realized the need to hire people tasked with making campuses more welcoming, safe, and comfortable for a growingly diverse student body. And so, the position of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer was created and implemented at many American universities. The importance of this job is not in question; however, the amplified salary is, especially when compared to the working wage of tenured professors, as is the effectiveness of the work being done. So, what justifies the disproportional pay rates? Where is the money coming from? And is the job even making a difference?
The Duties of a DEI
The primary job of the DEI staff is to explore ways to improve the college experience for a diverse population. Not only do these professionals help students, but they also work with the faculty and staff to educate them on how to interact and connect with a disparate group of people. Universities have shelled out millions of dollars to support this initiative and seemingly pad the pockets of the professionals holding the DEI title.
Unlevel Paying Fields
Five public colleges, including Virginia Tech and the Universities of Michigan, Maryland, Virginia, and Illinois, have all hired individuals to manage diversity issues on campus. There are between 71 and 163 DEI employees at each college, and the position carries a hefty salary of between $329K and $430K. Meanwhile, full-time professors earn barely half, if that, with typical earnings ranging between $140K and $180K. Does this seem fair?
Evidently, it does. Many university officials defend the unbalanced pay scale, stating that those chosen for the DEI staff have seniority and that their duties are extremely essential. So essential, in fact, that they spend upwards of $15 million per year on payroll and benefits alone for these highly sought-out positions.
In 2016, the University of Michigan allotted $85 million (over a five-year period) to pay for different strategies to make the campus more inclusive for all. Some of the funds went towards programs for first-year students, along with faculty and staff. The money also went towards methods to recruit pupils that would enhance the racial variance within the school. Additionally, grant programs allow all members of the university to offer ideas to boost the morale of those kids that do not feel like they are fitting in. But where is all this money coming from?
Who’s Footing the Bill?
Considering the cost of tuition has increased by 169% since 1980, it suffices to say that the students and parents are footing the bill for this focus on diversification. But, of course, taxpayers can’t be left out, as they also help provide the moolah required to support high-paid positions.
A former University of Michigan economics professor, Mark Perry, said, “It’s become a very expensive part of the university’s bureaucracy. Faculty have been concerned for a long time about administrative bloat in higher education. When you look at the cost of college over the last 10, 20, 30, 40 years, college tuition fees have gone up more than any other consumer product, good or service.”
Perry further explained that the eruption of DEI positions within the administration “is generating a huge cost to the university and ultimately then the students and their parents and taxpayers.”
A Lack of Progress?
While promoting the implementation of DEI on college campuses has become a top priority, the data doesn’t show much headway being made in achieving the overall goals. Given the hefty price tag attached to the mission, the results should be noticeable. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. Is it being executed incorrectly, or could it be that there is an ulterior motive at play?
Jay Greene, a senior researcher for the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, worries the program is not exactly what it seems. Greene is concerned that the efforts are less to accommodate unsettled students and more to promote a political agenda that forces kids to fit a specific mold. Greene said, “the effective purpose of diversity, equity and inclusion is to create a political orthodoxy and enforce that political orthodoxy, which fundamentally distorts the intellectual and political life on campus.”
Whether the job adds any value to a university or not – and even if it in fact does more harm than good to campus life and student finances – bureaucratic bloat rarely recedes.
Read more from Kirsten Brooker.