Missouri State hires DEI champion as next president

Red states tend to take one step forward and two steps back on inclusivity, asserted the next president of Missouri State University, Richard Williams.

The former high school athletic trainer,…

Red states tend to take one step forward and two steps back on inclusivity, asserted the next president of Missouri State University, Richard Williams.

The former high school athletic trainer, who goes by “Biff” and has been a university president for 10 years, made the remarks during an open forum on Feb. 15, when he was one of three finalists for the Missouri State job.

Monday the university announced its selection of Williams, who takes over for the retiring Clif Smart in the summer.

“Knowing that Utah is a very red state, we know that it’s very similar to other red states, where at times we take one step forward with inclusivity,” he told the moderator. “But because of our actions, we take two steps back.”

His implication: Utah and Missouri are similarly conservative and, it seems, moving backwards on the issue.

Williams was referring to his presidential tenure at Utah Tech, and how he helped grow the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts there. 

In fact, it appears to be his proudest accomplishment, as it is listed first under “University Achievements” on the second page of his academic CV, which is a staggering 33 pages long and, by page 19, includes such accomplishments as graduate and undergraduate students whose thesis committees he was once on. 

“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” reads the first subhead under achievements. 

“Created new space for the Center for Inclusion and Belonging and hired full time support staff including the university’s first Chief Diversity officer, LGBTQ+ Coordinator, Latinx Coordinator and Women’s Resource Center Coordinator,” the CV continues. 

Williams’ doubling down on DEI comes at the same time many states and universities are abandoning it, believing it has become an ideology that actually reinforces racism and discriminates based on race and sex. 

Last year, the larger University of Missouri even cut its diversity statements as state Rep. Doug Richey, R-Liberty, introduced legislation that would outlaw DEI statements in state universities. 

“We all understand that the terms individually of diversity, equity, and inclusion can mean a whole host of things depending on the context – most of which none of us in this room would have a problem with,” he said when he introduced the bill, which did not ultimately pass. A similar bill, HB 2619, is expected to be debated by the House as early as next week. 

“However, when you put them together programmatically, and the way in which they have been in our current landscape, that’s when you begin to see ideology taking over….” added Richey. 

During the forum, however, Williams claimed that his was a data-driven approach, and because he was open with Utah lawmakers, he was able to stay out of hot water.  

“And so front and center, we wanted to make sure that we were looking at the data, looking at the needs of our students, and then addressing that way, and then communicating what we were doing so that the state Legislature knew what we were doing,” he said. 

Williams’ CV also boasts being “recognized as a top diversity employer,” and increasing the number of women in leadership by 54%. 

Such diversity hiring has come under the same criticism as other DEI practices, such as affirmative action, which was struck down last year by the Supreme Court in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard. 

In another example, critics of former Harvard President Claudine Gay argued she was unfit as president because of a thin academic CV and multiple instances of plagiarism discovered in her work. They posited her hiring was because she was a black woman who championed DEI. 

Williams’ final DEI accomplishment is helping his former university change its name from Dixie State University to Utah Tech. 

“Dixie” had always been part of the university’s name, apparently referring to the southern part of the state, but because some feared its connection to the Confederacy of the Civil War-era, there was an effort to change the name, which was ultimately successful. 

But opponents of the change accused Williams and other supporters of catering to “cancel culture” and being influenced by the tenets of Critical Race Theory. 

As for his new job, if Williams means what he says, Missouri State should expect more of the same, as anything less “inclusive” would be one step forward and two steps back.