Universities grapple with diversity policies after GOP crackdown
Published in News & Features
AUSTIN, Texas — In July 2020, the president of Texas A&M University appointed a 45-member commission to examine the progress of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the nearly 70,000-student flagship campus in College Station.
The panel’s report, released in January 2021, found both strengths and weaknesses in the school’s approach. But overall, said the commissioners, “there remains within the Aggie community a strong desire to show bold leadership in support of diversity, equity and inclusion … and to ensure that ALL Aggies are welcome and respected at the school we think so grand.”
Two years later, the concept, typically abbreviated as DEI, is in deep disfavor in Texas and other Republican-dominated states, becoming yet another flashpoint in a nationwide culture war over race and gender.
Republican Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, along with GOP lawmakers in at least seven other states, are pushing to ban DEI policies in colleges and universities, arguing that they amount to discrimination based on race.
On Feb. 4, Abbott’s chief of staff sent a letter to the heads of all state agencies, including public universities, warning them that “adding DEI as a screening tool in hiring practices or using DEI as a condition of employment” violates state and federal employment law because such policies “expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others.”
“When a state agency adjusts its employment practices based on factors other than merit, it is not following the law,” Gardner Pate wrote. “Rebranding this employment discrimination as ‘DEI’ does not make the practice any less illegal.
“Further, when a state agency spends taxpayer dollars to fund offices, departments, or employee positions dedicated to promoting forbidden DEI initiatives, such actions are also inconsistent with the law,” the letter said.
Supporters say DEI hiring policies, such as striving to interview a certain number of minority candidates for an open job, are designed to create a workforce that reflects the diversity of the population. The goal of DEI, they say, is to ensure that all people — no matter their race, gender, age, sexual orientation or physical ability — receive fair treatment and feel included in the workplace.
They have an ally in the White House. Two years ago, President Joe Biden issued an executive order declaring that “the Federal Government must be a model for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, where all employees are treated with dignity and respect.” The order says the federal government “must strengthen its ability to recruit, hire, develop, promote, and retain our Nation’s talent and remove barriers to equal opportunity.”
The actions in the Lone Star State ignited condemnation from Black and Hispanic leaders, spawned worry among student and faculty groups and heightened tensions in the Texas legislature. GOP lawmakers effectively poured oil on the fire by adding a provision to a proposed state budget that would eliminate all state money for DEI programs and personnel.
©2023 The Pew Charitable Trusts. Visit at stateline.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.