Texas educators bow to pressure and halt new diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives

Republican lawmakers in Texas said college DEI initiatives, which benefit the historically disenfranchised, are "forbidden" and "illegal."

New diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in Texas colleges are paused now, due to increasing pressure from Republican state legislators, including the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, and his administration.

The University of Texas System, which has 13 institutions and more than 244,000 students, has suspended such initiatives following a Feb. 4 warning to state agencies from the governor’s office that DEI considerations in hiring are prohibited and violate state and federal anti-discrimination laws, according to The Austin American-Statesman.

“I also think it’s fair to say that in recent times, certain DEI efforts have strayed from the original intent,” UT System Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife said Wednesday, The American-Statesman reported, “to now imposing requirements and actions that, rightfully so, has raised the concerns of our policymakers about those efforts on campuses across our entire state.”

Kevin Eltife, chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents and a Republican former state senator, said Wednesday that it was “fair to say that in recent times, certain DEI efforts have strayed from the original intent.” (Photo: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/USA TODAY NETWORK)

Eltife, who, like all other board members, was appointed by Abbott, shared during the quarterly board meeting on Wednesday that the UT System Board of Regents sought a report on DEI policies for “a chance to review the various policies system-wide.”

During the legislative session, the Republican former Texas state senator noted that the UT System board would embrace lawmakers looking into DEI policies across Texas’ higher education system. He declared that the committee would collaborate with legislators “in any way possible” and implement any new regulations.

Several Texas colleges and universities adopted DEI initiatives that aimed to increase the sense of belonging among marginalized campus groups, such as people of color, LGBTQ individuals and people with disabilities.

While the specifics of the initiatives vary greatly among campuses, they frequently involve broad efforts to find diverse candidates for faculty and staff roles and draw historically underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students.

NBC News reported that universities in Texas, where Hispanics are estimated to be the largest demographic, have had difficulty attracting students who reflect the community and hiring diverse personnel.

According to 2020 federal statistics, UT-Austin, the system’s flagship university, has the second-largest gap between the proportion of Latino students who graduate from the state’s high schools — 51 percent — and the proportion of Latinos it enrolls as freshmen, which is 29 percent.

But conservative political figures in Texas and other GOP-led states have criticized university DEI policies, particularly in hiring, according to The American-Statesman.

The Texas Senate’s leader, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, declared that this session’s top legislative priorities would be banning critical race theory at the college level and outlawing the adoption of DEI policies in higher education.

Black and Latino legislators and civil rights organizations are outraged by the pushback because they believe DEI initiatives help level the playing field for people of color. Employment law specialists claim the governor’s interpretation of DEI initiatives in hiring is flawed.

Gary Bledsoe is the president of the Texas NAACP and a founder of the Black and Brown Dialogue on Policy. He said a conservative approach is taken when creating DEI programs to avoid violating federal anti-discrimination statutes, NBC reported.

“It is a complete misrepresentation to say that DEI programs are illegal and that they violate the Constitution or any statute,” Bledsoe said, “because they don’t.”

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