Texas universities scramble to become complaint with anti-DEI law

In the wake of Texas’ new restrictions on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs within public colleges, the University of Texas-Austin announced this week that they were laying off 60 workers staffed in the university’s Division of Campus and Community Engagement (DCCE).

“The layoffs were announced a week after state Sen. Brandon Creighton, the Republican sponsor of Senate Bill 17, notified public colleges that they had until May 3 to submit statements describing how they were complying with specific requirements of the law,” the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. “Those include eliminating all diversity, equity, and inclusion offices and officers, ending all diversity training, and banning any preferences based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”

However, as the Texas branch of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Texas NAACP said in a joint statement, none of the layoffs were related to DEI initiatives. 

“These terminations clearly are intended to retaliate against employees because of their previous association with DEI and speech that they exercised prior to their current assignments,” they explained. “In addition, the way cuts were made in DCCE make it clear that racial and ethnic discrimination was the clear purpose of this action.”

Instead, DCCE staff were eliminated to meet the new standards laid out in Senate Bill 17, which demands that universities demonstrate to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that they are cooperating with the law before they can access state funds. Failure to comply results in a loss of public financing for one year. 

It also allows students or faculty forced to attend any DEI programing to sue colleges like UT Austin. 

Such cuts mean that programs like the University Interscholastic League, the UT Elementary School and Disability and Access will be uprooted. Additionally, three full-time positions in charge of UT Austin’s Women’s Community Center were also eliminated — which comes just months after the university closed its Gender and Sexuality Center and renamed it the Women’s Community Center in order to be more in line with SB 17’s mandate. 

“Let’s be very candid: SB 17 was not designed with women in mind, it was not designed for people of color in mind, and was not designed with students and other minority groups that greatly benefit from the resources that promote inclusivity in mind,” said Mexican-American Legislative Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Christina Morales in a statement released by Texas Democrats.

Since the start of 2023, 11 anti-DEI bills across nine states have been successfully passed in state legislatures. 

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