Stanford University walked back controversial guidance on diversity training this week, following criticism from some students and faculty members that it went even farther than President Trump’s recent Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. Trump’s order, which has been criticized by many professors and some administrators as infringing on academic freedom, prohibits such “divisive” concepts in federally funded training programs as one race or sex being inherently superior to another race or sex, the U.S. being fundamentally racist or sexist, and an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, being “inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
A memo sent to Stanford managers earlier this month about EO 13950 included a checklist to evaluate diversity training programs for compliance. Examples of prohibited comments included “any reference to structural or systemic racism,” “systemic racism exists at Stanford,” “any reference of white privilege that can result into micro-aggression” and discussions of reparations.
Provost Persis Drell said in a follow-up message that the checklist “was posted without receiving the necessary review and approval, and it has now been removed. I want to apologize for the great deal of disruption and concern the circulation of this checklist has caused in the Stanford community.” Stanford’s work “in advancing diversity, inclusion, equity and racial justice must and absolutely will continue,” Drell said, criticizing the checklist as giving “the erroneous impression that Stanford seeks to eliminate discussion of topics, such as systemic racism and implicit bias, that are widely understood to be based in historical fact and are evidenced in the work of scholars at Stanford and beyond.” Drell also called the checklist “inconsistent with our efforts at Stanford to honestly and directly confront the important issues of diversity, inclusion, equity and racial justice.”
Stanford “abides by its legal obligations and will continue to do so, in accordance with our values to the greatest extent possible,” she said. “But the checklist conveyed the opposite of what we seek to convey to our community about the need to squarely confront racism and ensure a university culture in which everyone truly can thrive.” Trump’s order takes effect Saturday, but it will almost certainly be killed by the incoming Biden administration. Even so, the Education Department under Trump is currently investigating Princeton University for alleged civil rights violations in relation to President Christopher Eisgruber’s acknowledgment of systemic racism there.