Major University Lays Off Dozens of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Staff to Comply With Red State Crackdown

By Published on April 4, 2024

The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) will lay off dozens of staff with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) portfolios in compliance with a new state law that bans such entities at public colleges and universities.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed into law Senate Bill 17 — legislation that bans DEI offices, assignment of DEI duties to employees, DEI training and DEI statements in hiring — on June 14, 2023, affecting all publicly-run colleges and universities across the state. After the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, wrote letters to the chancellor of the University of Texas System and other institutions to demand compliance with the law, UT Austin President Jay Hartzell announced on Tuesday that some positions in support of DEI initiatives would “no longer be supported,” according to a statement.

“The positions that provided support for those associate and assistant deans [focused on DEI] and a small number of staff roles across campus that were formerly focused on DEI will no longer be funded,” Hartzell wrote in the statement. The “associate and assistant deans” who led DEI initiatives were drawn from existing full-time faculty and, thus, they will not be laid off by UT Austin, Hartzell noted.

The exact number of positions eliminated is unclear. A joint statement from the NAACP and Association of American University Professors noted that “approximately 60 persons received these pink slips.”

Hartzell noted that employees laid off would have the opportunity to continue working for UT Austin, though no longer in a DEI capacity. “[C]urrent student-facing services will continue to be available for the rest of this semester, and student workers also will retain their positions through the end of this term. Staff members whose positions are being eliminated will have the opportunity to apply and be considered for existing open positions at the University, and resources will be made available to support them,” he wrote.

Senate Bill 17 has been criticized by left-wing entities as damaging the goal of accessibility in higher education.

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“We’ve concluded is that the best way we can advance [diversity] is to eliminate the only thing we’ve ever done to advance the cause of diversity in higher education,” said Democratic state Sen. Nathan Johnson of Dallas County during a debate on the bill in the Texas Senate in April of 2023. “It strikes me as not just ironic or disappointing, but somewhat lazy [and] remarkably unimaginative.”

This legislation threatens to eliminate critical tools still needed to advance educational equity and will negatively impact student outcomes, such as retention and graduation rates,” wrote the Legal Defense Fund in a statement in May of 2023 representing several left-wing civil rights organizations.

Texas is not the only state that has targeted university DEI programs. In June of 2023, the Wisconsin Legislature cut the University of Wisconsin’s budget by $32 million to defund its DEI programs.

“The recent actions by the University of Texas demonstrate that they are taking steps to ensure compliance with SB 17 — the strongest ban on DEI in the nation,” Creighton told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “While any decision to release staff members is a difficult one, the efficiencies gained, and reinvestment into recruiting a diverse blend students and professors, based upon merit, are of the highest priority.”

Texas’ law went into effect on Jan. 1.

 

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