Governor Ron DeSantis has made headlines nationwide for taking on contentious issues in education like Critical Race Theory, Gender, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs. Unlike other governors, DeSantis hasn’t deferred issues in education to Left-leaning ideologies, unions, and career bureaucrats. Many have criticized the governor’s actions as waging a culture war, some even going as far as to proclaim DeSantis is motivated by racism.
However, in the onslaught of personalities thrashing Gov. DeSantis for pushing back on DEI, few commentators have asked a simple yet critical question… Could Ron DeSantis be right?
Diversity programming isn’t new. Current DEI programs are more or less an evolution of the affirmative action programs of yesteryear. However, now it seems that all major American institutions promote diversity initiatives. According to McKinsey Consulting, diversity training is an $8 billion industry. From corporate America, the local community college, and even the military, a quick survey of LinkedIn posts from your favorite establishments will likely garner plenty of proof DEI is all the rage. With so much buy-in from institutional heavyweights, one would be forgiven for simply assuming this stuff works. But does it?
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 required government contractors to implement affirmative action strategies to mitigate discrimination, extend opportunities to minorities, and improve diversity. Over 50 years later, a 2022 University of Cambridge study measuring the impact of the decades-old policy found it to be mostly null and ineffective at achieving the desired outcomes. Similarly, a 2018 study by Baylor economists looked at the proliferation of chief diversity officers in higher education at major American research universities from 2001 to 2016. The researchers found no significant evidence that hiring chief diversity officers affected the presence of underrepresented minorities in administrative, staff, or teaching positions.
Furthermore, Harvard Sociologist Frank Dobbin did a deep dive into 829 firms over three decades and found that mandatory diversity programming actually hurt black employees' chances of being promoted. The reasoning behind this is simple: forcibly dividing people into racial tribes and blaming one group for the perceived shortcomings of another can move someone from a position of neutrality into resentment. Additionally, the evidence that gender or racial diversity improves firm performance is weak at best. Methodologically sound scholarship on the subject of diversity programming and its effects within institutions have fallen far short of validating the seemingly religious fervor with which these programs are adopted and promoted.
As the cost of college skyrockets, with a growing army of non-instructional staff on payroll, maybe we should ask if it’s fair to saddle students and taxpayers with the cost of ineffective programming that fails to serve its intended goal. Nevertheless, many on the left have been quick to write off the governor’s opposition to DEI as an appeal to a “racist” conservative base.
However, the empirical evidence gives DeSantis firm ground to stand on. Maybe those questioning DeSantis’s motives may be wise to give the governor a fair hearing and re-evaluate their stance on the issue. People of color deserve to be admired for their talents and contributions like any other productive workers. Unfortunately, diversity training may needlessly create a gray area between token hires and talented workers that isn’t easy to differentiate for those outside of management. DeSantis is correct to call for the end of regressive practices that seek to divide people by race, gender, and sexuality.
Raheem Williams is a policy analyst for CURE – the Center for Urban Renewal and Education. He received his B.A. in Economics at Florida International University and his M.A. in Financial Economics from the University of Detroit Mercy.