Conservative Utah Lawmakers Target DEI Efforts in Education

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Through a new bill proposed this week, conservative lawmakers in Utah are targeting DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts at public universities and K-12 schools. Democratic leaders expressed concern about the bill’s potential unintended consequences and the message sent to historically marginalized communities.

The bill follows a wave of similar anti-DEI legislation being proposed or passed in other Republican-controlled states. The goal of the Utah bill is to completely dismantle DEI efforts in education while reframing campus diversity offices. Proponents of the bill argue that specialized offices for underrepresented groups are biased against White students.

The proposal would prohibit publicly funded schools from inquiring about students’, faculty’s, or staff’s views on DEI in the application process and would significantly limit diversity considerations in hiring. Any diversity statements, specifically those mentioning anti-racism, implicit bias, or intersectionality, would be banned in job applications. Exclusions would only apply to those statements required by federal law to receive specific grant funding.

Universities, in particular, would need to train faculty on freedom of speech and academic freedom principles while also creating strategies that promote “viewpoint diversity,” such as implementing campus expression climate surveys. Institutions must also publish book titles and syllabi used in mandatory courses online. Schools that violate the bill would be in jeopardy of losing state funding if they do not “cure” the infraction within 180 days.

The bill suggests transforming DEI offices into more general “student success and support” programs, which would not be based on race. It proposes annual training for employees on separating personal political advocacy from institutional business and eliminates training on “discriminatory practices,” defined similarly to the state’s ban on teaching critical race theory in K-12 classrooms.

The proposal comes just weeks after Gov. Spencer Cox (R) lambasted DEI efforts in higher education, particularly the use of diversity statements in the hiring process. Although the state’s public colleges and universities slightly pushed back on the sentiment, stating that required DEI statements do not match Cox’s description, the University of Utah recently announced that it would eliminate all diversity-related questions for job applicants.