Virginia Tech Put on the Hot Seat by FIRE

In March, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, known by the acronym FIRE, sent a letter to the president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University expressing concern about the university’s tenure review process. The guidelines for tenure review state that “university and college committees require special attention to be given to documenting involvement in diversity initiatives.” The policy further states that all candidates for tenure should “demonstrate active involvement in diversity.”

FIRE urged university president Charles W. Steger to remove the diversity language saying that it amounted to a requirement that a certain political orthodoxy be followed by faculty members seeking tenure. FIRE stated that the diversity requirement “intrudes upon the private thought and conscience of free individuals in a free society. This truly does violate the university’s constitutional obligation of content neutrality, and it truly is a ‘loyalty oath’ inimical to academic and intellectual freedom.”

FIRE further stated that it hoped to resolve the dispute amicably but it threatened to use all means at its disposal to pursue its objective.

This veiled threat of litigation prompted Virginia Tech to back down. The university announced that it was removing the diversity requirement. It stated that a faculty member’s effort to increase campus diversity would be seen as a plus in tenure review decisions. But such efforts would no longer be required of faculty members in order to be considered for tenure.