Viewpoint Diversity About DEI? The Business Schools Weigh In

Viewpoint Diversity About DEI? The Business Schools Weigh In

Aug 09, 2021 Debi Ghate

I had the opportunity last month to be part of an important discussion about “DEI.” I’ve put the acronym, which stands for diversity, equity and inclusion, in scare quotes because, as our discussion revealed, it is far from clear what people mean when they use it. What is clear is that there are diverse viewpoints about what it should mean in the context of how we teach the business of business.

From Academia to Wall Street: Discussing DEI at Business Schools” was co-hosted by Heterodox Academy and Philanthropy Roundtable and featured three accomplished business school professors: John HasnasRavi Kudesia and Alison Taylor. Why did we co-host this webinar and why do we think it’s an urgent topic?

The connection between philanthropy and higher education is perhaps obvious: Foundations and individual donors provide generous support to universities to help make teaching and scholarship possible across all disciplines and approaches. Beyond this, Heterodox Academy is a nonpartisan collaborative of thousands of professors, administrators and students committed to enhancing the quality of research and education by promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning. All of HxA’s members have embraced the following statement: “I support open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement in research and education.”

At the Philanthropy Roundtable, we work with donors who seek to strengthen our free society by advancing liberty, opportunity and personal responsibility. Viewpoint diversity and academic freedom are essential for scholars to find the best solutions to our toughest problems in communities. So, we believe the work Heterodox Academy is doing is essential.

Beyond that, DEI has become a controversial issue in both of our sectors: the academy and philanthropy. As a nonprofit organization, the Roundtable has been asked to provide demographic information for its staff, board and even the donors we work with as part of DEI mandates from funders. We have consistently declined to provide this information – and we don’t collect it. Affirmative action and other similar policies have long been debated in the academy and even today there are lawsuits over admission policies.

Diversity and inclusion are clearly desirable in healthy business environments. Enthusiastically bringing together people of various experiences, skills, knowledge sets and backgrounds can yield new thinking and solutions. In the academy and in philanthropy, we are dedicated to doing just that: solving problems that help us navigate our world with success. So, our webinar delved into this question: How does DEI and viewpoint diversity factor into what we’re teaching at our business schools?

Here are some of the topics we covered:

  1. If there are no standard definitions for DEI, what does it mean?
  2. In corporate America and in other sectors such as philanthropy, DEI has come to stand for something other than “viewpoint diversity.” In some cases it can sound like a checklist to make sure there are enough of each “kind” of person in the room. What is the difference between DEI and viewpoint diversity?
  3. How does discussing DEI help students navigate differences between people, and how much of it is managing viewpoint diversity versus other types of diversity?
  4. When it comes to DEI, is there a difference between the ethical and the political?
  5. Is this really a new issue in business schools?

Hasnas, Kudesia and Taylor provided us with a lot to consider—from Hasnas explaining why he refuses to use the acronym DEI, to Kudesia sharing why diversity is not enough for successful business teams, to Taylor providing a global view about DEI being a unique American construct. I came away wishing I could go back to school and take each of their classes.

Watch the whole conversation here. Thank you to the Heterodox Academy team for co-sponsoring this with us and for hosting!