Legislation May Negatively Affect Diversity and Inclusion Efforts at North Carolina Universities

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The North Carolina General Assembly will consider consolidating the diversity and inclusion operations at the state’s 16 public universities into “a single office headed by an equal employment officer … in order to promote effectiveness and efficiency,” according to North Carolina’s 2017 budget bill.

Senate Bill 257 was passed on June 28 when the Republican-controlled legislature voted to override the veto of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. His objections to the bill included the creation of “a tax plan that will cause the state to fail to fund … community colleges and universities,” according to a press release.

Cooper did not, however, directly mention Sections 10.13(a) and 10.13(b) of the bill, which call for an evaluation of the costs of all “policies related to diversity and nondiscrimination adopted by each constituent institution” of the University of North Carolina (UNC) system. The two sections make up a small portion of the 458-page budget, but they represent what could potentially be a massive overhaul of diversity and inclusion efforts at the system’s 17 campuses, which include 16 universities and one residential high school.

Section 10.13(a) requires the UNC Board of Governors to conduct a study detailing “policies intended to promote equal opportunity, diversity, or inclusiveness” at each UNC campus and to calculate the costs related to the staff positions in charge of implementing such policies. Furthermore, it states that the board must also “consider the feasibility of developing equal opportunity plans at each constituent institution that consolidate all equal opportunity services” into a single, system-wide office.

Section 10.13(b) requires that the board submit a report of its findings to the North Carolina Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee by January 1, 2018.

According to committee co-chair Sen. Chad Barefoot, the sections were authored by Sen. David Curtis, a Republican. Curtis’ office did not respond to INSIGHT Into Diversity’s request for comment.

The GOP-controlled legislature is responsible for appointing the members of the UNC Board of Governors thanks to a law signed by outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory last December, which effectively stripped the incoming governor of the power to make such appointments.

While it is not known what findings or suggestions it may present to the committee in January, the board has already gained attention for taking steps to diminish diversity and equality efforts at UNC campuses. On September 8, the board passed a motion banning UNC law schools from participating in litigation — a decision widely condemned by human rights activists on the grounds that it targeted the UNC Center for Civil Rights, which was the only unit within the university system to actually engage in litigation. The center provides pro-bono legal services for minority and low-income populations.

The Board of Governors did not return INSIGHT Into Diversity’s requests for comment on Senate Bill 257.