UT System Freezes Diversity Policies


University of Texas at Austin | Image by f11photo/Shutterstock

No new diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies can be adopted within the University of Texas (UT) System after its board of regents moved to hit the pause button on Wednesday in light of possible legislative action on the subject at the Texas Capitol.

“We welcome our elected officials in the legislative session [to] look into DEI policies throughout higher education in Texas. We will work with them in any way possible, and we will certainly implement any new policies the Legislature puts in place,” said UT System Board Chairman Kevin Eltife in a statement, per NBC 5.

The decision follows a memo that was issued by Gov. Greg Abbott’s office a few weeks ago advising UT System institutions that DEI hiring policies could be illegal.

“The innocuous sounding notion of [DEI] has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others,” read the memo, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The memo’s sentiment was somewhat echoed by Eltife, who said in his statement, “[I]t’s fair to say that in recent times, certain DEI efforts have strayed from the original intent to now imposing requirements and actions that rightfully so, has [sic] raised the concerns of our policymakers about those efforts on campuses across our entire state.”

However, the board of regents’ move appears to be more sweeping than the memo advised, including DEI programs and initiatives that extend beyond hiring.

The Dallas Express spoke with university professor Anne Lewis, an executive board member of the Texas State Employees Union, who claimed, “When you say no new programs, you kill existing programs … that have to be renewed.”

Lewis asserted that many DEI programs are there to welcome and service subsets of the student population like women, LGBTQ people, and those with physical disabilities, groups that were not always welcomed on college campuses.

“It’s the whole culture of the university as it’s evolved that’s being threatened,” she claimed.

Some, however, do not find DEI initiatives all that benign.

Frederick Hess, senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jay Greene, Ph.D., senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, described DEI bureaucracies as “a political commissariat, articulating and enforcing a political orthodoxy on campus,” according to an op-ed they co-authored in National Review in September 2022.

“At many campuses, the DEI bureaucracy started out as a humble ‘multicultural center,’ one which was later joined by a host of organizations focused on racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual identity. Over time, universities created centralized diversity offices to support all these entities and now have increasingly replicated these infrastructures across multiple academic units,” they wrote.

Lewis acknowledged the current state of affairs, noting that a freeze on DEI policies could have far-reaching consequences for academic departments and course offerings dealing with women and gender studies, for instance.

“We think that this is absolutely the wrong decision,” Lewis told The Dallas Express, speaking for her union. “Our public universities need to stand up for academic freedom in all its forms. We shouldn’t have the governor or even the board of regents telling us that we have to cancel some of the most important and successful programs.”

The fate of DEI policies within the UT System will likely stay up in the air until at least the end of this year’s state legislative session.

“We will await any action from the Legislature for implementation by the [UT] System at the appropriate time and if needed, the board may consider a uniform DEI policy for the entire UT System,” Eltife wrote in the statement, per NBC 5.

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