NYU professor and leading social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has resigned from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology due to the new requirement that members must include Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and anti-racism commitments if they want to present research at any conference. It is the latest mandatory statement as a threshold requirement for academics and Haidt has refused in what could be a major confrontation to this field.
We have been following conflicts over official statements or acknowledgements on diversity, colonialism, or privilege at universities. These conflicts often involve concerns over free speech or academic freedom. The most recent controversy has arisen at Cornell University and involves a challenge to an official declaration that the university perpetuates “settler colonialism, indigenous dispossession, slavery, racism, classism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, antisemitism, and ableism.” That led to a confrontation with Randy Wayne, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who objected to the statement and led to a controversy at the school.
We also discussed land acknowledgement controversies like University of Washington Professor Stuart Reges who was disciplined because he refused to post the school’s “land acknowledgment” and instead posted an alternative statement.
Haidt objected that “In order to present research at the conference, all social psychologists are now required to submit a statement explaining ‘whether and how this submission advances the equity, inclusion, and anti-racism goals of SPSP.’ Our research proposal would be evaluated on older criteria of scientific merit, along with this new criterion.”
He explained that “most academic work has nothing to do with diversity, so these mandatory statements force many academics to betray their quasi-fiduciary duty to the truth by spinning, twisting, or otherwise inventing some tenuous connection to diversity. I refuse to do this…”
Haidt is a cofounder of the Heterodox Academy, an organization of academics promoting viewpoint diversity.
The issue with the statement is its mandatory elements. There would be no objections for an organization to put forward a policy that encourages members to pursue anti-racism agendas and offers specific elements of how one can pursue such a worthy goal.
However, the Society declared “The Task Force recognizes the need for the organization to make fundamental changes to its priorities and activities in ways that address the goal of anti-racism and equity.” What was an encouragement last year became a mandatory element this year: “We are now rolling the DEI statements out as part of the full review process this year.”
That raises questions of free speech and academic freedom for participants like Haidt. Yet, an academic (particularly less established or more junior academics) must fulfill these statements if they want access to key professional opportunities to present scholarship and research.