University of Texas at Austin Lays Off Former DEI Staff

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The University of Texas at Austin Main Building

The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) is laying off approximately 60 staff members and is closing its Division of Campus and Community Engagement (DCCE), formerly the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

While UT Austin has not officially confirmed the exact number of individuals losing jobs, the Texas NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and the Texas Conference of AAUP (American Association of University Professors) estimate in a news release that approximately 60 staff members are affected, 40 of whom are DCCE staff. 

The announcement by Jay Hartzell, UT Austin president, comes amid the latest pressure put on public higher education institutions in the state to abide by Senate Bill 17, a state law banning DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) across public higher education institutions, which went into effect in January.

Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton sent a letter to institutions informing leaders that by May 3 they need to answer in writing to the Senate Committee on Education about how they are complying with five aspects of the law — DEI office prohibition, bans on DEI training requirements, merit-based hiring, diversity statements, and audit compliance. 

In the letter, Creighton says that it is unacceptable for institutions to “merely rename their offices or employee titles,” and reminds leaders of enforcement provisions included in SB 17, including the potential to freeze university funding.

According to Hartzell’s announcement, the decision was made to “reduce overlap, streamline student-facing portfolios, and optimize and redirect resources” to teaching and research. 

Hartzell said UT Austin will continue to operate programs led by DCCE in other divisions, like disability services, the University Interscholastic League, the UT charter schools, and volunteer and community programs. In addition, funding used to support DEI programming prior to SB 17 will be redeployed to support teaching and research, returning associate or assistant deans, formerly focused on DEI, to full-time roles.

The AAUP and NAACP say professionals who were laid off from their roles received pink slips giving them 90 days notice before their termination goes into effect.

“We call on University of Texas at Austin officials to be forthcoming about these terminations, their impact on University services to students and the community, and the provisions made to displaced staff, who until today had been assured that their positions were not in jeopardy,” the organizations said.