A Dissident Professor’s “DEI” Story

<ɫTV>Divisiveness, Evil, and Isolation sank my campus culture and left me without a life preserver.

As a history professor with over 30 years of teaching experience at the community-college level, I have spent most of my career secure in the idea that the values I have been teaching my students, such as natural rights, freedom of speech, and the right to self-expression, were the bedrock of Western Civilization, American history, and academic institutions like mine. These values were almost universally accepted by faculty, staff, and students alike.

Yes, there was always the lunatic fringe, espousing ideologies that emphasized conformity, mediocrity, and the “greater good” of some utopia. But they usually attracted only the youngest and most undeveloped intellects, and then only until age and experience taught them better. While I had hoped that point of view would die out when the Berlin Wall came down, it was a mere minor annoyance over the first 20 years that I was teaching.

An ever-bolder minority now dominates the academic conversation.However, about 10 years ago, I noticed a change. I mark it from the time of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., which sparked months of riots and led to the rise of Black Lives Matter (BLM) as a major activist organization. Of course, this wasn’t the first time I had seen civil unrest in my life. I was born in the 1960s and grew up with the Civil-Rights Movement, but 2014 felt different. This was something deeper, more sinister, and certainly better organized than anything I had previously seen.

Over the next several years, I saw increasing intolerance at many institutions of higher learning across the country. An ever-bolder minority began to dominate the academic conversation regarding topics like race, sex, rights, and equality. Those few faculty who dared to challenge their views were shouted down or, worse yet, pushed out completely. They learned to stay silent. The oppressor-versus-oppressed narrative became the only one students heard.

On my own campus, things began innocuously enough with a presentation from the Center for Urban Education on increasing diversity in our faculty, staff, and administration. The purpose was to emphasize the need for our campus to present a culture that reflected the ethnic and cultural makeup of our community.

When I pointed out to the presenters that their own data showed that we had already achieved parity when it came to certain groups in our community, mainly African Americans, I was ignored. Maybe I should have taken the hint then, but I was still naïve enough to believe that, as a college, we were operating on the principle that all points of view could be discussed.

I was secure enough in my longevity and tenure that I felt I could speak out without significant reprisals. I had earned my bona fides through decades of hard work and dedication. At first, I was simply viewed as an annoyance, a grumpy old white guy who was obviously struggling to adapt to modern academia and who would soon be replaced by a younger and more properly indoctrinated surrogate.

As it did for so many things in American society, the breaking point came in 2020. With the pandemic, the lockdowns, and the George Floyd riots, it was as if peoples’ brains broke. For us, this upheaval coincided with our campus finally getting accreditation and inheriting a bureaucracy that had never before existed. Until then, we had lived in a bubble where our parent institution paid us little attention, which had given us a degree of freedom to educate students as we saw fit with almost no interference. We didn’t know how good we had it.

Those who don’t fit the reductive definition of “diverse” are expected to remain sympathetically silent.Our new administration immediately began a concerted program of embedding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Critical Race Theory (CRT) ideology into the very DNA of our new campus culture.

It began with changing our college’s mission statement by eliminating the word “education” and including words like “diversity” and “inclusion.” We bragged about being the first truly “anti-racist” community college in California. We now had weekly “talking circles,” which quickly devolved into opportunities for faculty and staff of “diverse” identities to vent over the systemic racism and oppression that they suffered daily.

Those who didn’t fit the reductive definition of “diverse” were expected to remain sympathetically silent or to struggle with their own privilege while pledging their allegiance to the new academic religion.

Our “One Book One College” program morphed into “Dialogues on Race & Anti-Racism” with Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be an Antiracist as our first selection. When I tried to point out the contradictions between Kendi’s writing and his rhetoric, I was shut down by my colleagues because my evidence couldn’t be independently verified at that moment.

Things went downhill from there. I was first disciplined for putting my own novel pronouns (Do, Re, Mi) in my Zoom profile. I was accused of “mocking pronouns” when I was challenged by a colleague who used third-party ones (they/them), and of sending an email in which I showed how my “pronouns” could be used.

In that case, I was given a letter of reprimand requiring me to take and pass 10 hours of diversity training through the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO). That training consisted primarily of videos posing a supposed racist, sexist, or insert-the-word-phobic situation, followed by more videos and readings with, of course, a quiz at the end to make sure I had properly digested the lesson.

I was also required to complete several days’ worth of the United Way’s program “21-Day Equity Challenge,” specifically related to building empathy and sensitivity to all things LGBTQIA+. As an openly gay man at the college, I found that punishment particularly condescending. However, the cherry on the sundae was the essay I had to write on how I would use my newfound knowledge to help eradicate homophobia/transphobia in my own home, community, and campus. Having no other choice, I complied.

My diversity training consisted primarily of videos posing a supposed racist, sexist, or insert-the-word-phobic situation.I made it almost a year before committing what would become my greatest sin to date. While volunteering at an open-house event for the college, I handed out snacks bought at my own expense. Among them were a few chocolate bars labeled “He/Him” (with nuts) and “She/Her” (nutless). After being confronted by a radical transgender member of staff looking for a fight, I was slapped with a Title-IX harassment accusation. I was pulled out of the classroom two weeks before the end of the semester and spent the next eight months on suspension, defending myself from accusations based on a lie in the initial complaint.

Five months ago, I was finally allowed to return to campus after having been cleared of all charges by an independent third-party investigation. I thought the ordeal was over, but I was wrong. Having failed to adequately punish me using Title IX, the administration gave me a 90-Day notice three weeks after my return. I was sent to the reeducation camps for a second time under threat of termination, but, having already completed the training for the CCCCO, I would be forced to find my own outside training, subject to the college president’s approval, and pay for the privilege—although I could ask for reimbursement later.

I ended up taking the training through the University of Pennsylvania. It was supposed to be a four-week course, but I completed it in five days. Each of the modules focused on a different aspect of the DEI movement (race, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.), with videos outlining the issues supposedly unique to each group, interviews with representatives from the groups, and readings mostly from Forbes magazine using the now mostly debunked McKinsey studies to “prove” that diversity is its own reward and that companies who lean into DEI and CRT will somehow see their profits soar, their communications improve, and their cultures heal.

In addition to the quizzes from earlier trainings to make sure I was able to regurgitate the language, each module had a writing portion in which students had to relate the lessons of DEI to a situation from their own lives, as well as explain how that situation could have been remedied or avoided by applying the lessons learned. My own professional life by that time was replete with examples of how people in positions of power over me were able to leverage that power to discriminate, harass, and bully, so that turned out to be the easy part.

I have finished the training, and the 90-Day notice expires in a couple of weeks. After that, I basically become an “at will” employee. At that point, anything I say or do can be used against me for purposes of terminating my employment.

How long will I last? I don’t know. It feels like I’m treading water in a very cold sea, and, so far, I don’t see the lights of a boat out there in the darkness.

David Richardson has taught history for State Center Community College District for 34 years. For the last 28 years, he has been the full-time history instructor at the Madera Campus, now Madera Community College. He was the second Madera Community College Academic Senate president.