Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed an executive order this week banning DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs at state agencies and public colleges and universities.
Effective immediately, the order eliminates state funding for all DEI positions, departments, activities, and trainings “to the extent they grant preferential treatment based on one person’s particular race, color, ethnicity or national origin over another’s,” according to a press release from Stitt’s office.
“Encouraging our workforce, economy, and education systems to flourish means shifting focus away from exclusivity and discrimination, and toward opportunity and merit,” Stitt stated in the press release. “We’re taking politics out of education and focusing on preparing students for the workforce.”
Stitt has directed all state agencies and universities to submit a comprehensive report by May 2024 outlining their existing DEI programs and positions and any changes implemented in response to the order, including reductions in “non-critical personnel.” Non-compliance will result in a review by an appropriations committee and potential funding cuts.
During a public announcement of the order, Stitt said that the state’s universities need “to stop sending six-figure salaries to DEI staff.” However, according to data from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, approximately $10.2 million was spent on DEI programs over the past decade, accounting for 0.3% of the total higher education spending in the state, reports KFOR.
University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz Jr. addressed students and alumni in a letter responding to the executive order, stating that the news “evokes deep concern and uncertainty about the future, and in many ways feels like a step backward.”
“Please be assured that key to our ongoing successes as the state’s flagship university – now and forever – are the foundational values that have served as our constant north star: access and opportunity for all of those with the talent and tenacity to succeed; being a place of belonging for all who attend; dedication to free speech and inquiry; and civility in our treatment of each other,” Harroz wrote.
Oklahoma State University officials also issued a statement indicating they are evaluating the order to ensure the school is adhering to legal obligations “while continuing to cultivate a welcoming environment for all students, faculty and staff.”
Oklahoma joins a growing list of states taking aim at DEI initiatives in higher education. Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a bill mandating public universities dissolve their diversity offices and reduce support for DEI programs. In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a law prohibiting the allocation of public university funds for DEI programming.