Professor raises concerns about President Washington’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence task force

 Professor of Economics Daniel Klein writes letter to president expressing concern over the intent of the task force


Professor of Economics and JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center Daniel Klein expressed his concern for the intention of the recently announced Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence task force in a letter sent to President Gregory Washington on Oct. 6.

In July, Washington announced ARIE as a campus-wide initiative that will “examine practices and traditions at George Mason University to see if racial biases exist,” and “build intentional systems and standards of anti-racism that will keep racial injustices from regenerating,” according to an article on the Mason website. 

In his letter, Klein expressed his belief that the ARIE task force plans to “remake [Mason] into an exemplar of anti-racism and inclusive excellence” are “far-reaching.” Klein explained that he is apprehensive of the intent of the measures — he believes they are being put into place to “reduce dissent from left ways of thinking.” 

Klein hypothesized that the need to reduce dissent from leftism may be an unconscious motive. “There is a lot in the subconscious mind that could be driving behavior […] The reducing of dissent from leftism may not be a conscious goal, but it may be a subconscious impetus,” he said.

In an interview, Klein explained his chief concerns with ARIE, saying, “I see many potential dangers, from enforced conformity of thought, to threats to academic freedom and exacerbating tensions on campus — and I mean ideological tensions, not racial tensions.” 

Klein also explained his goals for writing the letter. “A chief goal is to make sense of the ARIE agenda,” he said. “I worked out my own thinking by writing the letter. The letter might help others to make sense of ARIE and to recognize the full stakes of its programs […] Another goal of my letter is to help our Mason leaders to avoid falling into decisions that, I think, will turn out badly for Mason students and Virginia residents.”

ARIE plans to work to ensure that all campus community members are welcomed and respected as fully equal at Mason. This will be accomplished through a number of changes in university policies, including inclusive excellence planning, implicit bias training and the appointment of equity advisors in each academic department, among others. But a main concern for Klein is that, to him, racial inequality does not seem prevalent on Mason’s campus.

“Humans harbor all sorts of vices, including racial bigotry,” he said. “But I’ve not seen any evidence that the vice of racism is at all significant on the Mason campus […] Has anyone presented any evidence? Not as far as I know.”

Klein also highlighted the fiscal health of Mason, with concerns that ARIE may negatively impact Mason’s income. In his letter, he explained that the university’s income mainly comes from taxpayers, tuitions and grants, and Mason becoming “ideologically uniform” may turn people away. “Many potential donors, parents and students are turned off by academic leftism. It dominates at most colleges and universities, especially the more prestigious ones,” he said.

Klein held that Mason can compete with other institutions for funds from students, donors and grants by being ideologically diverse.  He explained that Mason should take the diversity of opinion among Virginia taxpayers into account, “otherwise a large portion of Virginia residents might call for defunding the university.”

As a whole, colleges and universities lean to the left, and Klein explained that Mason is not an exception. But Klein believes these plans will perpetuate leftism in academia at Mason, which may have negative side effects. “ARIE heightens the perception that there are leftist dogmas which students, faculty and staff must subscribe to to be accepted as part of the Mason community. ARIE will tend to drive non-left families and students away,” he said.

Klein also noted his concern that ARIE will prevent free speech and academic freedom on campus. 

Some leading universities and colleges have called for academic freedom and free speech on campus, but Mason has not called for such protections on campus. “I’m very concerned about injury to free speech and academic freedom,” he said. “Mason is one of a small minority of schools awarded a green-light rating in free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and I’d hate to see Mason lose that rating.”

Klein’s chief concern is that Mason will lose its ideological diversity and conform to leftist thinking with the employment of the ARIE task force. In his letter, Klein openly supported liberal values of diversity of thought, political discourse and cherishing social difference. 

Klein explained that Mason institutions like the Antonin Scalia Law School and the economics department are standouts in non-left scholarship. With the implementation of ARIE, Mason may become less distinguished in that area, which may in turn lead to less of a draw for parents, students and donors.

Klein explained that if non-left institutions at Mason are diminished, groupthink and ideological monoculture will set in and ideas will not be challenged, which can extend off-campus and into entire academic networks. Klein believes that non-left institutions are vital to keeping dissent in academia alive. 

“[Mason’s] leadership in classical liberal, conservative and libertarian perspectives is a draw for the university,” he said. “It is a reason that students from all over the country and the world come to [Mason]. I should think that the university would wish to build on that leadership and proven excellence.”

While Klein holds that ARIE may bring conformity of thought to campus and across academic institutions, Mason is not the only university to implement anti-racism policies. Schools such as Temple University, Colorado College and College of the Holy Cross, among others, have committed themselves to implementing anti-racist policies on campus.

In an article on the Mason website, Washington noted that not everyone on Mason’s campus feels as though they are equal, or that they are treated equally. While the work of ARIE will be broad, by identifying and recommending improvements to practices across the university, Washington said, “The hope is to make certain that Mason is an inclusive and equitable campus community where everyone is valued, supported and experiences a sense of belonging.”

Professor of Integrative Studies and History and ARIE chair Wendi Manuel-Scott explained the importance of ARIE, highlighting the people George Mason held in bondage, and the evolution of Mason due to the work of students, faculty and staff since this time. 

Manuel-Scott explained that Mason should celebrate its diverse student body, but “one of [our] other strengths is that we have students, faculty and staff who work every day to make sure that every member of our community feels seen, feels supported.” 

She continued, “The near 100 committee members that are part of ARIE, they are committed to creating a campus where everyone feels included, and in fact, that deep and expansive level of inclusion will allow Mason to be an exemplar among other universities.”