DAILY SIGNAL: Chris Rufo’s Quest to Abolish DEI

Chris Rufo was in Washington, D.C., last week to accept The Heritage Foundation’s prestigious Salvatori Prize and visited The Daily Signal to share his thoughts on a range of topics. Over the next two days, we will feature his interview on our podcast.

For part one today, we cover Rufo’s recent reporting on NPR and the plagiarism plague at America’s leading universities. He also shares an update about his campaign to abolish DEI—the controversial idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion that has infested American businesses, colleges, and even our government.

And you won’t want to miss Rufo’s advice for how high school students should approach college and what parents need to think about sending their kids to public school.

Check back tomorrow for more from Rufo on his award-winning book, “America’s Cultural Revolution,” and what he has planned next as writer, filmmaker, and activist. Subscribe to “The Daily Signal Podcast” so you don’t miss part two.

Listen to part one of the interview or read an edited and abridged transcript below.

Rob Bluey: It’s great to have you here. Thanks for making the visit with The Daily Signal. Any plans to stop by NPR while you’re in town?

Chris Rufo: That’s a good idea. We could stop by NPR, see how they’re doing over there. They’ve been in some hot water lately. May have had something of a hand in that.

Bluey: Tell us the backstory for our listeners who might not know the full story.

Rufo: A month or two ago now, Bari Weiss’s outfit, The Free Press, had this great story from a longtime NPR editor who basically confirmed what conservatives have known all along: NPR has drifted very far to the Left. There’s no ideological balance. It doesn’t represent the public, and it’s run by people who are committed activists and ideologues who don’t care about the news. They care about pushing a propaganda line.

Anyone who’s really been thinking about it could see that, but hearing it from the insider caused something of a stir. And then on the back of that reporting, I did some other reporting on NPR’s new CEO, a woman named Katherine Maher, who is just like a caricature of a kind of far-left managerial leader.

I exposed some of her tweets, which were almost like parodies, left-wing haikus. They were really kind of poetic in their own way. And then I really dug into her background as a left-wing operator, regime-change activist overseas, and then turned the screws on NPR, which if it would hope to actually be public radio representing the public, really can’t have someone who is such a kind of left-wing ideologue in charge.

At a minimum, let’s be clear, the public should not be paying a cent for NPR, and I think that we’ve shifted public opinion on this in recent months in the right direction.

Bluey: And it obviously followed on the heels of the other successful campaigns when it came to some of America’s highest profile university leaders. The president of Harvard is out of a job because of the plagiarism allegations that you surfaced.

Rufo: Is it possible to reform NPR? Is it possible to reform Harvard? Is it possible to wholesale reform the federal government in the immediate term? No, that is a generational project. But what I’ve tried to do is demonstrate that at least tactically we can score victories.

As I’m thinking about different activist campaigns, I’m always thinking about three points of leverage. How can we find a target that has a kind of opening where we could do some good reporting, good investigation, good agitation, so to speak, and then how can we take away their money? How can we take away their power? How can we take away their prestige?

Ideally, two of those, of course, three of those is great. I’ve found that as a rule of thumb, you need to hit an institution along two of those axes in order to really be successful at changing policy, changing staffing, changing kind of programming, changing the ideological balance. Whatever your specific kind of reform is, it takes an enormous amount of pressure.

And so one of the things that I’ve been trying to study as I’ve been working on this in practice is how does that work? How does pressure work? How do institutions work? How does media work? How does money, finances, budget work? And then trying to figure out how, through storytelling, through reporting, through more direct activism, how can you start to shift those conditions?

The theory is that over time, if we can do this enough, if we can do this successfully, if we can demonstrate how to wield power in a meaningful way and in a way that makes things better, you could have more significant reforms building up over time.

Bluey: You document how significant the problem is in your book “America’s Cultural Revolution.” There’s a lot of work to do. Let’s stick with higher ed for just a moment because that’s an area where there has been some movement. How big of a problem is the plagiarism scandal?

Rufo: You’re kind of limited by time resources, but certainly when we broke the story that the president of Harvard was a plagiarist, she had plagiarized a large number of passages in her doctoral thesis. Then there was some additional reporting from Aaron Sibarium at the Washington Free Beacon. And then some follow-up reporting from me that showed she had plagiarized the majority of all of her academic papers. She was the president of the most prestigious university in the world. That’s untenable.

Of course, as we started to look elsewhere, we’re finding plagiarism everywhere. We’re finding particularly extreme high rates of plagiarism among DEI administrators. It seems like DEI administrators at universities have a hard time completing doctoral thesis without plagiarizing material. And we found them even in some of the more left-wing ideological academic departments. We’re uncovering plagiarism, but discovering it is somewhat tedious, time-consuming work.

You have to run papers through the plagiarism software. You have to do by hand side-by-side vetting. You have to write stories and reach out to sources and request comment. It’s actually a pretty big effort. But what I think we’re demonstrating, at least in a moderately substantial way, is that plagiarism is very much a real problem.

The irony is that their work is actually awful as a matter of quality. It is not like these papers are good. These papers are awful. The papers are devoid of substance. These papers are intellectually vacuous. These papers contribute nothing to the world. They don’t create new knowledge or suggest ways to improve our societies, but for a variety of reasons, that’s not really enough you have to say.

That they are fraudulent is what gets people’s attention. And so the plagiarism campaign has been quite fun, and it will be continuing to produce some stories in the future.

Bluey: It seems that critical race theory or diversity, equity, and inclusion policies have diminished the importance of merit. Is there any hope that that will change or is already changing in some places?

Rufo: It’s already changing in many places.

One good example is that many universities after COVID scrapped the requirements for SAT scores for college admissions. And the reason was, I think twofold. One is that they were correctly sensing that affirmative action, which is a nice euphemism for racial discrimination, was going to be correctly deemed unconstitutional by the courts, which has happened. And they also, in a deeper way, they’ve been grappling with what are very real racial disparities for a variety of complex social scientific reasons.

All of the educational interventions, hundreds of billions of dollars, have not been sufficient in closing what’s called the achievement gap and, therefore, closing a disparity in college readiness. So rather than comply with the law, and rather than be honest about disparities, college administrators said, “If it’s going to be illegal and if we’re giving up on closing disparities, we should just scrap the requirement for test scores.”

That was the theory. And those of us who want the best universities and want to have the best students and want to have a fair and equal process could see this is not going to work. This is going to be worse than what happened before. And sure enough, that happened.

But now you’re seeing universities pulling back. They’re actually reinstituting SAT requirements. We have universities that are scrapping their DEI statements voluntarily. And then of course in red states, we’ve now abolished the DEI bureaucracies in seven states. That will expand to upwards of 20 states.

Public opinion has also shifted, even at center-left publications. They are now softening on some of these DEI programs. If something does not work, eventually people are going to say, “Hey, wait a minute, this is just not practical. This doesn’t work.”

People also sense when a system is deeply unfair. Again, DEI is just a polite way of rewarding certain groups and punishing other groups on the basis of their ancestry. Americans also will say, “Hey, this is not the right approach.” And I think we’re steadily making progress on that.

The fight is still in its beginning stages, but we’re in a better position now than we were a year ago.

Bluey: What practical advice do you have for students as they’re trying to decide whether or not it’s worth the massive investment in college?

Rufo: That’s a hard question and a very personal question. Each family will have to make its own decision, but I think there are two components to the right answer.

The first is that there is a popular line or meme in some conservative circles: Don’t go to college, go to trade school, drop out of college. College is not a good investment. College is indoctrination center. College is not the right way.

Frankly, some of the trades are very lucrative, and the highest paying trades are probably more lucrative than the lowest paying college majors. But still, in general, there is a return on a college education. Politically speaking, a good functioning and successful conservative political movement has to have college graduates and elite college graduates. That’s a fact.

Even when college education was in its infancy in the United States during the period, the founding period, the Founding Fathers were, for the most part, college graduates at a time when almost no one went to college. And if you look at their professions, they were lawyers, large landowners, physicians, scientists, merchants. Those are high prestige, high education, high intelligence kind of fields.

Given that we’re now 250 years later in a more complex economy with higher levels of general education with larger post-secondary institutions, the idea that we could have a successful political movement without a large number of very smart, very educated people, I think is misguided. It’s actually a completely wrong position.

The second part of the answer is then, therefore, what do you do as an individual? Then it becomes a little more complex. But what I would say is that if you are a child or if you’re a young person, if you have intellectual gifts, you should absolutely go to college, and you should absolutely go to the best college that you can get into for your desired field of study for whatever personal calculations you have to make.

If you have your head on straight, if you’re independent-minded, if you can connect with the right people, it’s still a worthwhile endeavor and we should not give up on universities. We should fight to make universities better. That’s my view.

Bluey: Given the state of our K-12 public schools in this country, is there any hope for reform or are parents better off looking for alternative options where they maybe have more control or say in the outcome of their child’s education?

Rufo: Parents are looking for alternatives. Parents are looking for better options. Parents are demanding an education that reflects their values, not the values of university humanities departments. We’re seeing that happening.

Probably when you and I grew up, it was the standard practice for educated or professional-class people to move to a good neighborhood with good public schools, send Johnny to kindergarten, and then go through school. That’s it. It’s all laid out for you. That the situation has changed. You have to be much more discerning.

Homeschool is an option for many families. Private school, religious or parochial school, are great options. There are a huge number of options that are emerging, kind of like a great new experimentation in K-12.

We’ve had more options now for primary and secondary education than at anytime in multiple generations. This is a very positive development.

For policymakers, it’s necessary to reform public schools because they’re not going to go away anytime soon. So you have to deal with it as it is. But you should also create the alternative, which is now law, I think in seven or more states, which allows parents to take their education dollars anywhere to any school of their choice. That is a game changer. It changes the whole system.

It makes public schools better and more competitive, and it gives parents this great resource where they can take typically between $7,000 and $8,000 per year per child to any institution of their choice. That’s going to, over the long term, create better options.

Bluey: The investigative reporting and activism you’ve done has led to a lot of those changes. So you’ve had a direct hand it.

Rufo: It’s still hard as a parent. The policy fight is much easier. Providing an education for your own kids in some ways is more of a challenge because it’s a human endeavor. It requires a huge effort, and you have to adapt it to your kids’ personalities and whatever struggles and challenges they’re facing.

I would just say to anyone who has kids in school, it is very difficult. Do the best that you can, except that no school and no system is going to be perfect. And just try to do the best that you can within the means that you have.

Stay tuned for part two of our interview, coming Wednesday, on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”

The post Chris Rufo’s Quest to Abolish DEI appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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