Texas DEI Job Cuts Impact Underrepresented Employees

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Photo courtesy Adam Thomas

Recent documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News have revealed that the majority of employees terminated from the University of Texas (UT) System campuses due to Texas’ new ban on DEI programs were predominantly women and people of color. 

This news comes in the wake of Senate Bill 17, which took effect in January and led to the elimination of DEI initiatives across public universities in Texas.

The documents indicate that 69 staff members, primarily from underrepresented demographics, lost their positions within the UT System. These roles were previously integral to DEI programs, which aim to support Black, Hispanic, LGBTQIA+, and other historically marginalized student groups. Proponents argued that such programs are essential for fostering inclusivity, while critics maintained that they prioritize race over merit and impose a uniform ideological perspective on students.

At a Senate hearing on May 14, UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken reported that 311 positions had been eliminated across the system, a number that will likely fluctuate as ongoing audits reveal further details. While some positions were vacant or reassigned, the majority of those affected were DEI-related staff.

The largest impact was felt at the University of Texas at Austin, where 71% of the 50 terminated faculty and staff were women, and 73% were non-white. At the University of Texas at Dallas, 88% of the 16 affected staff members were women, and 81% were non-white.

The termination of these positions highlights the significant representation of people of color and women in DEI roles. According to a 2023 survey by the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, a substantial proportion of chief diversity officers are Black (51%), Hispanic (11%), Asian (7%), and white (8%). Experts, like Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the association, note that individuals from marginalized groups often pursue DEI work to address persistent inequities and the effects of past discrimination.

Chancellor Milliken emphasized that the DEI ban also resulted in the cancellation of over 600 contracts, trainings, and programs, resulting in a $25 million savings for the university system. This restructuring was meant to comply with the new law before its January 1 deadline, although it has faced criticism for its broader implications on university diversity and staff morale.

State Senator Brandon Creighton, a key proponent of the DEI ban, asserted that the cuts were necessary to ensure a merit-based, race-neutral approach to higher education. However, critics like Pauline Strong, a UT Austin anthropology professor, argue that the loss of so many DEI roles, particularly those held by women and people of color, will negatively affect the overall diversity of university staff.

“It’ll likely impact the demographics of the university in a way that I would consider negative,” Strong told The Dallas Morning News. “Especially given the demographics of the state and of our student body.”

As the UT System adapts to these legislative changes, the impact on its workforce and the broader implications for diversity and inclusion in Texas higher education remain a point of concern and debate.