Release: Critical Social Justice in Maine Higher Education
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 22, 2022
Contact: Jacob Posik
Director of Communications
Maine Policy Institute Releases
“Critical Social Justice in Maine Higher Education”
The report details the presence and proliferation of critical social justice ideology throughout the University of Maine System and the harms it poses to students, staff, faculty and the broader Maine community
PORTLAND, Maine – Maine Policy Institute today released a new analysis titled “Critical Social Justice in Maine Higher Education.” The report details the presence and proliferation of critical social justice (CSJ) ideology within the University of Maine System (UMS), analyzing the UMS itself in addition to the University of Maine-Orono (UMaine), the University of Southern Maine (USM) and the University of Maine-Farmington (UMF).
The analysis finds that the UMS and its affiliated schools are abandoning their core principles of academic excellence, meritocracy and free inquiry in favor of an ideology that seeks to sow division among faculty, staff and students, and falsely stigmatize Maine as a bastion of privilege and intolerance.
Institutions within and the UMS itself have been rapidly adopting Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) goals and policies since 2020. The extensions of the DEI framework across the UMS include the following:
- UMaine and USM have each hired high-level administrators to head up DEI efforts and spend in excess of half a million dollars annually on DEI staff.
- The USM’s “President’s Five-Year Plan” has achieved ambitious DEI reforms including the adoption of aggressive affirmative action plans, the hiring of a DEI hiring coordinator and substantial curricular developments like learning living communities (LLCs) and associated programs.
- USM has an independent committee on campus known as the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Council (IDEC) which is charged with expanding the school’s DEI mission.
- UMaine now insists that job candidates submit DEI statements along with their applications.
- UMF is in the midst of transitioning toward other UMS institutions’ DEI goals since adopting a new three-year strategic plan titled “Reimanging Farmington.”
The report argues that the system-wide effort to infuse DEI into curriculum and student life is undermining each institution’s core mission of academic excellence in favor of political advocacy. For example, the USM’s current general education requirements include two diversity classes. Among the courses that fulfill the requirement are “The Anthropology of Sex and Gender,” “Diversity: Many Voices,” and “Rethinking Gender & Culture.” No student is required to take American government or American history courses at USM, though the courses are available.
In 2021, USM began offering a “Women and Gender Studies: Social Justice Minor and Certificate.” The certificate teaches students “how to make social change happen” through “learning the fundamentals of feminist, anti-racist and political economy debates about radicalized capitalism,” among other things. The minor certificate offers core classes in “Social Justice/Social Change” and a required community-based capstone, in addition to four courses from a list that includes “Deviance and Social Control,” “Police and Prison Abolition,” and “Gender, Race and Health.”
The USM also adopted LLCs in 2021 through the Office of Residential Life, replacing the Entry Year Experience program more rooted in academic pursuits. The selection of LLCs available to students, while not exclusively derived from CSJ/DEI ideology, reflect a profound bias in that direction. Among the LLCs available to students in Fall 2021 included “Social Justice” which explores topics related to “inequalities and barriers, equity and inclusion, and system power imbalances in our society such as racism, classism, sexism, heteronormativity and more.” Not one of the LLCs available to students is dedicated to a study in hard sciences.
The report finds that a transformation is also underway at UMaine. President Ferrini-Mundy’s expansion of CSJ/DEI has reshaped the university into one that has abandoned its historical commitment to hard work and academic excellence and instead has adopted a conventional, albeit expansive, DEI program.
The university’s 2012 strategic plan, “The Blue Sky Project,” emphasized community engagement, the centrality of a liberal arts education, rewarding hard work and a dedication to excellence in academic and research programs. Its new five-year strategic plan, “A Framework for the University’s Future,” expresses a commitment to building an inclusive community, valuing diversity as a necessity for excellence and a newfound focus on equity. The strategic plan does not mention the value of hard work or “excellence” without a DEI modifier.
Job searches at UMaine during 2021-22 often include the requirement that candidates write DEI statements to pledge their fealty to the school’s new governing ideology. An assistant professor in clinical psychology must prove “a record of involvement in activities that enhance diversity, equity and inclusion” and also include a “statement of contributions to diversity” that describes “experience in leadership in fostering equity and diversity and/or potential to make such contributions.” Similarly, an assistant professor in mathematics must provide “evidence of active contribution to diversity and inclusivity in a higher education setting.”
“Critical social justice is a revolutionary redefining of words, said Dr. Scott Yenor, lead author of the report. Diversity used to mean difference or plurality. Now it means more members of victim groups and fewer members of supposedly oppressive groups. Equity used to mean equal opportunity and fairness before the law. Now it means universities must aim at statistical group parity. Inclusion used to mean everyone was welcome. Now it means constructing an institutional climate that elevates and supports the well-being of the aggrieved at the expense of the supposedly privileged.
“University of Maine System schools should be places for academic excellence and free thought, inquiry and expression. Instead, they are quickly becoming factories for progressive political advocacy where you are cancelled or passed upon in hiring for holding views inconsistent with the system’s new governing ideology,” Yenor said.
The report recommends a number of policies to return UMS schools to their core educational missions. These recommendations include:
- Budget cuts equivalent to the amount each institution spends on DEI staff and programming.
- In-depth budget reporting requirements to the Maine Legislature.
- Emphasizing excellence, professionalism and contributions to each school’s core educational mission in hiring practices.
- Banning DEI statements in hiring and instead requiring candidates to submit to free speech and intellectual diversity statements.
- Activism bans, including a report commissioned by the legislature to study university-sponsored political activism.
The report is authored by Dr. Scott Yenor, a Washington Fellow at the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life and member of the National Association of Scholars, and Anna K. Miller, the education policy director at the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Center for American Education.
The full analysis is available here.
Maine Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to expand individual liberty and economic freedom in Maine. Learn more about our work at www.mainepolicy.org.