Colleges Are Beginning to Feel the Impact of Anti-DEI Measures

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With Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas approving Senate Bill 17 on June 14, the state became the latest to reckon with extensive legislation that eliminates campus DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) offices.

The final text of the bill prohibits universities from creating diversity offices, hiring employees to conduct DEI work, or requiring any related training. Asking for diversity statements from students and employees is also now unlawful. 

To comply, universities will undergo audits to ensure their spending of state funds is in accordance with the new law. A requirement to reassign staff to different, similarly paid positions at their institutions has been removed; instead, letters of recommendation can be provided for displaced employees. 

Senate Bill 18, a measure that codifies tenure restrictions and increases the frequency of tenure review, was also approved by the Texas governor.

“This is a sad occasion for all students at Texas’ public universities,” Paulette Granberry Russell, president of National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, said in a statement. “By dismantling diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and offices at these institutions, Texas lawmakers have chosen to prioritize a political agenda instead of the success of these students.”

The measure is comparable to Florida’s Senate Bill 266, which took effect on July 1. That legislation bans public colleges and universities from spending state or federal funds for DEI programs and activities that support or engage in political or social activism unless required by an outside accrediting body. It also eliminates general education course requirements that teach theories about how systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in U.S. institutions. 

Required diversity statements in faculty hiring are also banned under Florida’s House Bill 931.

In the states of Tennessee and North Dakota, governors have signed similar bills into law. Copycat bills and measures loom in other states including Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Oregon.

Anti-DEI Consequences

Schools across the country are already feeling the impact of the anti-DEI movement. Faculty and staff in Florida have reported a “chilling” effect on academic freedom and free expression, according to a report by the Special Committee on Academic Freedom in Florida, part of the American Association of University Professors. 

Before these laws took effect, many institutions — including the Texas University System and three regent universities in Iowa — paused certain DEI programs. Even with no proposed legislation on the table, threats from politicians have compelled other schools to abandon some DEI practices. For example, the University of Wisconsin System recently announced its departure from DEI statements in job applications, and more recently, the University of Arkansas dissolved its DEI office.

New Threat

The effect that anti-DEI measures would have on institutional accreditation has been a long-running concern. A Florida law proposed in early June, known as the Fairness in Higher Education Accrediting Act, puts diversity requirements for public colleges and universities at risk on a federal level. 

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., proposed the bill, which would prohibit higher education accrediting agencies from considering a school’s DEI and affirmative action policies, or lack thereof, as criteria for its accreditation.

This article was published in our July/August 2023 issue.

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