Texas and Arkansas deep-six DEI offices in colleges and universities

June 17, 2023 • 11:20 am

The pushback to affirmative action is already beginning, even before the Supreme Court has handed down its decision—probably one that will end race-based school admissions. Two states, Texas and Arkansas, are already dismantling their DEI programs, the former by law and the second by “choice.”

The article below, from the Dallas News, notes the passage of a bill in Texas (promoted by Republicans and fought tooth and nail by Democrats) that will get rid of all DEI offices and programs in higher education. It’s been signed into law by Republican governor Greg Abbott.

Click to read

The Texas bill does more than just close DEI offices; it also eliminates any DEI training (usually conducted by those offices) and the use of mandatory DEI statements in hiring.   The newspaper doesn’t quote anybody favoring the bill, but does quote two opponents of the bill:

This is a sad occasion for all students at Texas’ public universities,” Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, said in a statement“By dismantling diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and offices at these institutions, Texas lawmakers have chosen to prioritize a political agenda instead of the success of these students.”

Academic quality is enhanced and not diminished by DEI programs, she said. ”Even if diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and offices are dismantled, our nation is diverse and diversifying, and diversity on Texas campuses will not disappear,” she said.

”The passage of [this bill] sends a strong message to current and prospective faculty and students that Texas does not welcome a strong, diverse, empowered higher education community,” Pat Heintzelman, president of the Texas Faculty Association, said in a statement. “We are already losing good people as a result of this legislation for no good reason. Texas is now less competitive in higher education than it was just months ago.”

And they quote the President of UT Austin, who isn’t explicit about the bill but clearly was against it given his statements favoring diversity initiatives:

UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell is one of the few college leaders to make a public statement about the bill prior to the governor signing it in early June.

He asked for the community’s patience while his team works to understand “the contours of the new legal framework and how the UT System will implement its oversight under the new legislation.”

“What will not change is our University leadership’s commitment to attracting, supporting and retaining exceptionally talented staff, faculty and students with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and fostering and celebrating diversity across our community,” Hartzell wrote.

The Texas legislature also tried to pass a law completely eliminating tenure (a way to get rid of professors who don’t say the right things, teach the right things, or behave the right way), but that one failed. They did, however, make explicit the criteria under which professors could be dismissed:

Currently, tenure policies indicate professors can only be terminated for a justifiable cause or under extreme circumstances, such as program discontinuation or severe financial restraints.

Under the new law, universities will now be able to dismiss professors for exhibiting “professional incompetence” or “moral turpitude;” neglecting duties or professional responsibilities; failing to complete post-tenure reviews; violating laws or policies of a university or institution; being convicted of a crime; or engaging in unprofessional conduct.

In most places I know of, you can already be dismissed as a tenured professor if you’re guilty of many of these things, but “engaging in unprofessional conduct” is slippery and subjective.

The Arkansas Advocate reports a similar decision by the state’s flagship campus in Fayetteville. Click to read:

This initiative, which will close down the DEI offices and relocate the employees, wasn’t in response to a state law but was apparently the initiative of the University itself, probably anticipating the Supreme Court decision. Further, the University was already under criticism by Republican state officials, including Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Sanders has already issued an executive order banning “indoctrination” of secondary-school students with views like Critical Race Theory.  The legislature, though, had previously failed to “end state-sponsored affirmative action programs.’

There are two ironic things about Arkansas’s decision. The first is that it was announced by Charles Robinson, the first black Chancellor at the University of Arkansas. The second is that Robinson (unless he really approves of the ban) is trying to make the best of it by pretending, along with the school’s director of media relations, that it’s was done simply to improve the University. It may well do that, but it’s probably not the reason they’re taking this pre-emptive action. They want a system in place that can do an end-run around the Supreme Court decision without violating the law. Look at this gobbledygook:

UA Director of Media Relations John Thomas said in an email to the Arkansas Advocate that all DEI office employees will have the opportunity to be reassigned to a new position in a different unit focused on student or employee recruitment and success.

The goal of this restructure is to further the university’s mission, Thomas said.

“Aligning resources directly to the ‘front lines’ of our support for student success and employee recruitment and development will provide direct access, achieve measurable results and help us better fulfill our land-grant mission for which we are accountable to the people of Arkansas,” he said.

In Wednesday’s email, Robinson said he wanted to share a progress report on the university’s strategic planning process, which he said “has affirmed that supporting equal opportunity, access and belonging are critical to our land-grant mission and university values.”

“It is my belief based on my experience as having served as Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Provost — and now as Chancellor — that we can accomplish better outcomes by reallocating resources into these essential areas,” he said. “We must strengthen our ability to achieve measurable results that enhance opportunity for all Arkansans.”

In general, I’m not in favor of big DEI offices or programs in universities, as they’re usually intrusive, helping the university skirt the Bakke that forbade quotas (look at what Harvard did!), fostering and sometimes requiring patronizing diversity and equity training, promoting the quashing of free speech (as recently happened at Stanford), and sucking up an enormous amount of resources with very little to show for it. UC Berkeley, for example, pays 400 people: 150 employees and 250 students, to maintain DEI programs, all requiring $25 million a year. To me that is a program far too bloated, and using up tons of money that could support teaching and learning.

DEI programs also participate, in some places, in promoting requirements or requests for “diversity statements” of job applicants, something I see as illegal: compelled speech that violates the First Amendment. They are self-perpetuating, with a palpable interest in maintaining DEI programs, and the jobs of those involved by constantly supporting a narrative that involves racism and racial divisiveness.

Their overall effect seems to me negative, and in net inimical to free speech and academic freedom. At Harvard, the DEI mentality clearly was involved in discriminating against Asian students, using the ruse that they had lower “personality scores”, which I find ludicrous and unconvincing. And that is one of the two cases the Supreme Court is taking up.

Still, I think there’s room for a few diversity experts in universities—just not whole offices and huge university-wide initiatives. Genuine experts in discrimination can protect entire groups of students from discrimination: not just blacks and Hispanics, but first-generation students as well as religious groups like Muslims and Jews who argue that they often face discrimination. Somebody with expertise has to adjudicate these cases.  And perhaps a few DEI people can help construct ways to widen the net for attractomg students without lowering admissions standards, making sure that all prospective students are reached so they can have equal opportunity for admission.

Arkansas is shifting its DEI resources into other channels, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing:

Beginning in the fall, existing resources and personnel currently assigned to the DEI Division will be incorporated in Student Success, Student Affairs, Human Resources, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance and University Advancement “so that these areas can expand programs around access, opportunity and developing a culture of belonging for all students and employees,” Robinson wrote.

Additionally, the Office of Equal Opportunity & Compliance will be “formally aligned” with Human Resources while also maintaining a direct reporting line to the chancellor’s office.

The decision to reallocate the DEI Division’s resources comes at a time when initiatives addressing topics like diversity and race are facing pushback nationwide.

UA Director of Media Relations John Thomas said in an email to the Arkansas Advocate that all DEI office employees will have the opportunity to be reassigned to a new position in a different unit focused on student or employee recruitment and success.

Now this may be a distinction without a difference, but surely all schools are going to have to make big changes when the Supreme Court rules out race-based admissions.  Many schools, of course, have declared diversity to be a top priority, almost coequal with education, and it will be interesting to see how they deal with the overthrow of the 1978 Bakke decision, which will come any day now.

h/t: Mark

16 thoughts on “Texas and Arkansas deep-six DEI offices in colleges and universities

  1. The President of the National Association of diversicrats summarized the pointlessness of her own status perfectly: “”Even if diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and offices are dismantled, our nation is diverse and diversifying, and diversity on Texas campuses will not disappear, she said.” This decisive argument for ending a superfluous waste of funds should convince everyone.

  2. I’m wondering how much diversity there is among Diversity Equity and Inclusion offices in Universities and Colleges. Are some of them less rigid than others? Might a DEI office frown on “diversity statements” for jobs and research grants, considering them unnecessary or even harmful? Could a college use it to downplay the centrality of race and focus instead on respecting different viewpoints? Is there any DEI program that assures students that using someone else’s Preferred Pronouns is up to them and it’s not “hateful” to decline because you don’t accept Gender Ideology?

    I suspect there’s variation — that’s almost inevitable in diverse environments— but so much of the rationale behind DEI itself seems like it’s all or nothing. If there is moderation, it may not withstand student challenge or the next set of directors.

    1. I do not share your suspicion (or is that really more hope than suspicion?) that there is meaningful variation of how diversitycrats see their mission. Okay, there are a few lonely souls that want affirmative action along class lines. There usually is variation around the mean, but on this issue I think it’s minimal.

      From a blogpost by Brian Leiter, from december 2022 (emphasis added by me):

      Nature also ran an article on the socioeconomic background of current faculty, which found that,
      “faculty are up to 25 times more likely to have a parent with a Ph.D. Moreover, this rate nearly doubles at prestigious universities and is stable across the past 50 years. Our results suggest that the professoriate is, and has remained, accessible disproportionately to the socioeconomically privileged, which is likely to deeply shape their scholarship and their reproduction.”

  3. Every time I hear about a squabble over “affirmative action” I hear the angels sing “Yes!”

    What else is the marketplace of ideas? Here’s what I hear the heavenly choir sing next:

    Universities should enroll by any criteria they choose — nothing is actionable. Expose their strategy … or not. Offer the world utter transparency … or not.

    Uni should DISCRIMINATE. It means to examine candidates with the utmost keen gaze, then chose according to your philosophy.

    Your degree certificates will be worth “X.” You will have a reputation.

    If you are an employer, would you look favorably on a graduate of “Woke University?” (Some might!)
    What about “Payolla-For-Admittance U?”
    “We Don’t Admit [race] University?”

  4. In my country, elementary and middle schools must have “committee for protection against discrimination”. This means that 2 or 3 teachers, in addition to their normal duties, take upon themselves to deal with complaints such as: A sixth-grader of Arab origin claims that another sixth-grader has called her “nasty Arab” (true story; when asked, the other girl, of Roma origin, explained, “but she called me “dirty Gypsy” first). I haven’t heard of such committees at high schools and universities; maybe they exist but have less work, because older students behave better. Bottom line: committee members have normal teaching jobs, and hence no interest to make everyone’s life hell for the sake of their job security as anti-discriminators.

  5. There are less draconian ways a state can diminish the impact or at least slow the growth of DEI organizations at public colleges, universities and probably soon school districts. A legislature can deny institutions the authority to use state or student funding for the efforts. Or restrict student funding to voluntary fees imposed by students upon themselves. Depriving public institutions of some of their most reliable funding streams to pay for the programs may at least slow the growth of the programs and give them more funding competition. If that or an outright prohibition happens, institutions may well retitle DEI employees, give them a garble of duties and disperse them within various offices and institutional units. If that happens, it will probably be harder than it currently is for DEI employees to amass excessive power.

    If affirmative action is declared unconstitutional, admission officials will still find ways to identify and recruit promising students from underrepresented student groups. Absolute numbers and percentages of some student groups will fall if objective admissions criteria are retained. So campus officials and advocacy organizations will seek alternative criteria or processes to improve the percentages of students admitted from various groups. We’ll end up with different models to improve the admission and hopefully retention statistics of historically underrepresented students. Campus life will still be overwhelmingly welcome to people from different ethnicities and cultures, with the possible exception of unabashed Republicans or Americans who are perceived to either lean too far to the right or who, at some point in their lives, have expressed an idea deemed to be phobic by somebody somewhere.

    And the cultural pendulum will keep swinging as we try to right current and historic wrongs and prepare students for their roles in their lives and history. So sayeth I, opining away instead of cleaning my house. Unfortunately, it still hasn’t cleaned itself. So next …

  6. The funny thing for me is that the basic motives of DEI make sense and I agree with them. The idea of all people from all backgrounds having full access to the world around them is in my book very reasonable.

    The problem is it has gone totally toxic on all sides, no one is clean.

    1. I’ll bite. Why is it reasonable that a person of modest intellectual capacity should have “full access” based on his race to a professional or academic education when that means displacing—zero sum, you know—a candidate of greater ability and preparation? You do know that’s what DEI has as its basic motives, right?

      If you just mean Don’t be racist or sexist or homophobic, fine, but DEI assumes that white people can never not be racist, etc, and so DEI makes those admission and hiring decisions for them, using race etc. as the criterion..

      1. I meant in the sense of “opportunity”. Simply said, I don’t care about your background, just your merit.
        I’m autistic (high functioning) and had my share of hell from in part from being both very bright and also incapable of written work (I couldn’t write well until my mid 20s and even now suffer).

        Pretty much, yeah. In the day people of the groups you said were often pushed out, later they made inroads and the old guard made a fuss and later still DEI came to support the groups, but instead of supporting them, it just acted like the old guard who also became just as toxic.

  7. A study about the “heritability” of academic achievement that does not even bother to mention, let alone systematically take into account, that genetically smart parents tend to have genetically smart children, is not worth the paper it’s printed on.
    In terms of DEI staff diversity – it would be nice to see what field they have a degree in. My guess would be lots of (gender| African| disability) studies (which I strongly suspect to be different flavors of the same bullshit)

    1. This was meant as a reply to Peter in thread #2 above. Apparently I used the wrong reply field :-/

  8. I’m stumped about the photo of the contradicting traffic signs, unless it’s been photoshopped. A definitely American-style word sign and a more Canadian-style wet-noodle pictogram on the same pole seems a little suspicious. There is some kind of auxiliary lane to the right of the traffic island. Perhaps the mix of signs is trying to resolve conflicts created by that lane. A larger view of the intersection, such as what a motorist would actually see, might resolve matters.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *