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Top DEI staff at public universities pocket massive salaries as experts question motives of initiatives

Top diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) employees at major public universities earn massive six-figure salaries for leading initiatives that some experts found to be ineffective and instead enforce a “political orthodoxy.”

A review of salary data shows that the universities of Michigan, Maryland, Virginia and Illinois, plus Virginia Tech, boast some of the highest-paid DEI staffers at public universities, a Fox News review found. These institutions’ top diversity employees earn salaries ranging from $329,000 to $430,000 – vastly eclipsing the average pay for the schools’ full-time tenured professors.

Four of the colleges justified the DEI leaders’ salaries, citing the executives’ seniority and the importance of their responsibilities. The University of Illinois did not return a request for comment. 

Experts identified these universities as having some of the most bloated DEI staff in the country and said they each rack up millions in costs each year.

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Jay Greene, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, said that while the “ostensible objective” of DEI is to make college campuses more welcoming and inclusive, he doesn’t believe that is the purpose of the initiatives.

“Instead, the effective purpose of diversity, equity and inclusion is to create a political orthodoxy and enforce that political orthodoxy, which fundamentally distorts the intellectual and political life on campus,” Greene told Fox News. 

The five schools shelling out top-shelf salaries to DEI personnel have between 71 and 163 individuals devoted to diversity efforts on campus, according to a study Greene co-authored.

‘Lots and lots of tuition dollars’

Greene and James Paul, director of research at the Educational Freedom Institute, co-authored a comprehensive study of DEI bureaucracies in higher education. The pair examined 65 universities of the five “power” athletic conferences because the schools “tend to be large, public institutions chosen by many students simply because of geographic proximity,” the study said.

“It’s becoming almost an all-consuming priority where even large numbers of staff who don’t have official responsibilities for DEI – don’t have it in their job titles – are nonetheless working on it and see it as one of their top priorities,” Greene told Fox News. 

Mark Perry, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Michigan, also touched on this notion. He said diversity staff has expanded outside of DEI departments. 

“What’s happened over the last five to 10 years is its spread out in decentralized ways,” Perry told Fox News. “At the University of Michigan, each college, school, or department on campus will have a diversity officer, including the library, the arboretum, school of nursing – the college of engineering at Michigan has about 10” diversity officers.

Greene said it’s “shocking,” given the large scale of investments, that there is “no evidence to show it’s achieving its ostensible purposes of helping improve racial climate, tolerance and welfare of students.”

He added that a university with an average DEI staff of 45 people – along with the costs of diversity initiatives – can involve tens of millions of dollars per year. Greene said that’s a “severe undercount” since it doesn’t include “all of the other efforts made by people who don’t have this in their job titles.” 

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Michigan, for instance, devoted $85 million in 2016 to diversity initiatives over a five-year period, the Detroit Free Press reported. 

The efforts included a program for incoming freshmen “to help assess and then develop skills for navigating cultural and other differences,” enhanced programming for new faculty members on “inclusive teaching methods,” programs to recruit and retain a more diverse pool of students, faculty and staff and “an innovation grant program to catalyze new ideas from students, faculty and staff for addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” the Free Press reported.

Although it’s difficult to track exactly how much a college spends on salaries for DEI projects, Perry was able to tally the DEI payroll at Michigan. 

He said the university injects $15 million in total compensation to DEI bureaucrats, including $11.8 million for payroll and $3.8 million in benefits. He added that universities view expanded DEI efforts as part of their academic mission. 

“They’re supporting that mission with lots and lots of tuition dollars,” Perry said.

“It’s become a very expensive part of the university’s bureaucracy,” he continued. “Faculty have been concerned for a long time about administrative bloat in higher education. When you look at the cost of college over the last 10, 20, 30, 40 years, college tuition fees have gone up more than any other consumer product, good or service.”

Perry said that the explosion of DEI in administrative bureaucracy “is generating a huge cost to the university and ultimately then the students and their parents and taxpayers.” 

DEI executives raking it in

Greene’s study shows that the University of Michigan has the most DEI personnel out of the universities, with 163 individuals working on such efforts as of 2021. 

Robert Sellers, Michigan’s vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, is also the highest-paid DEI official from the top 15 colleges on their list, a Fox News review of pay at the universities found. 

Michigan’s most recent faculty and staff disclosures reveal that Sellers earns an annual salary of nearly $431,000. According to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education, his contract is substantially more than the average salary of Michigan’s full-time professors, which sits around $174,000.

“We believe Rob Sellers’ pay is appropriate for the executive-level position he fills at U-M and it is in line with the salary of others with similar responsibilities,” Rick Fitzgerald, the associate vice president for public affairs at Michigan, told Fox News.

“He is both a vice provost with duties well beyond diversity and the university’s chief diversity officer,” he continued. “As chief diversity officer, he advises the president on universitywide activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Sellers is not alone in his lucrative pay. Other schools with massive staff devoted to DEI initiatives also dish out handsome paychecks to their top equity personnel. 

Georgina Dodge, the vice president at the office of diversity and inclusion at the University of Maryland, which employs 71 DEI personnel, makes $358,000 a year, a database of Maryland public employees shows. 

The average Maryland full-time professor salary is just over $157,000.

COLLEGE PARK, MD - AUGUST 2: Cole Field House dedication ceremony show off the new indoor practice field at the University of Maryland August 02, 2017 in College Park, MD.  The complex will eventually include the Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance, a clinical treatment center and space for UMD's Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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“Our Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion is an experienced higher education administrator, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and a valued member of the president’s leadership team,” the University of Maryland’s chief communications officer, Katie Lawson, told Fox News. 

“She is responsible for directing the office that investigates on-campus sexual misconduct and discrimination and the office that coordinates disability accommodations, as well as leading large-scale, campuswide trainings and acadmemic [sic] support programs that serve thousands of students,” Lawson said.

Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice provost for inclusion and diversity at Virginia Tech, which has 83 DEI personnel, earns over $351,000 annually, a search of a Virginia public employee pay shows. 

The average Virginia Tech full-time professor salary sits at nearly $142,000.

“As a land grant institution and consistent with our teaching and research mission, Virginia Tech is committed to fostering and supporting a campus community that is welcoming to all,” Virginia Tech’s associate vice president for university relations, Mark Owczarski, told Fox News.

“We are grateful for the important work Dr. Pratt-Clarke, who, as a vice president and member of the president’s cabinet oversees the offices of strategic affairs and diversity and inclusion, does on behalf of Virginia Tech and the commonwealth we serve,” Owczarski said.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 8: Students walk across The Lawn as in-person classes are underway at the University of Virginia on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. 

Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Virginia, which has 94 employees devoted to DEI, makes $340,000 a year, records show. 

The average Virginia full-time professor salary is nearly $175,000. 

“The University of Virginia’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Partnerships is a member of the University’s Executive Leadership team who has a broad portfolio of important initiatives that span the entire institution,” Brian Coy, a spokesperson for the university, told Fox News. 

 

“Our Vice President, Dr. Kevin McDonald, is a national leader in his field and we are grateful for his service to the University,” Coy continued. “His pay is commensurate with other UVA senior executives who have pan-University responsibilities and it reflects the importance we place on creating an environment where people from every perspective and walk of life can live, learn, and work successfully.”

Sean C. Garrick, vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Illinois, which has 71 DEI employees, earns nearly $330,000 annually, salary disclosures show. 

The average Illinois full-time professor salary hovers around $152,000. 

Ethan Barton produced the accompanying graphic.

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