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Bill Ackman, Elon Musk, Mark Cuban debate DEI efforts

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Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, has, like Tesla CEO Elon Musk, made himself heard on DEI. Jeenah Moon—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Billionaires are duking it out on X over diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.

On Wednesday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, wrote: “DEI is just another word for racism. Shame on anyone who uses it.”

That was in support of a long post by hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman on the reasons he pressured Harvard president Claudine Gay to resign, as she announced she would earlier this week. Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, is a Harvard alum and prominent donor to the university. 

Gay received intense criticism last month for her answers to lawmakers over anti-Semitism on campus following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. Specifically, she failed to condemn calls for genocide against Jews as a violation of university policy. That was followed by allegations by conservative activists that she had committed plagiarism in her academic work, and suggestions that she had been unqualified for the role of president, which she assumed last July, in the first place.


“It was a thinly veiled exercise in race & gender when they selected Claudine Gay,” entrepreneur and GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, a Harvard alum, posted to X on Tuesday. “Here’s a radical idea for the future: select leadership based on *merit.*”

When an X user responded to Musk by questioning whether DEI qualifies as racism, Musk countered: “Discrimination on the basis of race, which DEI does, is literally the definition of racism.” 

At this point, another billionaire weighed in: Mark Cuban, the Shark Tank star and Dallas Mavericks owner (last month he sold his majority stake in the NBA team to families linked to Sheldon Adelson, the late Las Vegas casino magnate). 

“Let me help you out and give you my thoughts on DEI,” he responded to Musk. 

“Good businesses look where others don’t, to find the employees that will put your business in the best possible position to succeed,” he continued. “You may not agree, but I take it as a given that there are people of various races, ethnicities, orientation, etc., that are regularly excluded from hiring consideration. By extending our hiring search to include them, we can find people that are more qualified. The loss of DEI-phobic companies is my gain.”

Ackman responded to Cuban, writing

“That’s exactly what I thought until I did the work. I encourage you to do the same and revert. DEI is not about diversity, equity, or inclusion. Trust me. I fell for the same trap you did.”

Musk replied to Ackman with “Yup.” 

Musk, who owns X, has been a frequent critic of DEI in recent weeks. In mid-December, he wrote: “‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ are propaganda words for racism, sexism and other -isms. This is just as morally wrong as any other racism and sexism. Changing the target class doesn’t make it right!”

(The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Tesla in September alleging it failed to probe complaints of racist conduct and has fired or retaliated against employees who reported harassment. In other such cases, Tesla has said that it doesn’t tolerate discrimination and takes such complaints seriously.)

Ackman, in a similar vein, wrote on Wednesday: “DEI is racist because reverse racism is racism, even if it is against white people (and it is remarkable that I even need to point this out).”

In her resignation note, Gay wrote, “It has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor—two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am—and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.”





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