University of Texas System pauses new diversity, equity and inclusion policies
By Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune
“University of Texas System pauses new diversity, equity and inclusion policies” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
The University of Texas System’s board of regents said Wednesday it has put a pause on all new policies that promote diversity, equity and inclusion at its 13 university and health campuses and asked all school leaders to provide a report on their current DEI policies.
UT System board Chair Kevin Eltife said that while the system strives to promote diversity among its students and faculty, “certain DEI efforts have strayed from the original intent to now imposing requirements and actions that, rightfully so, has raised the concerns of our policymakers around those efforts on campuses across our entire state.”
Eltife’s comments, which were first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, did not specify which DEI efforts he considered to cross a line. The UT System did not immediately respond to further questions.
Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to public university and state agencies warning them that DEI hiring practices violated federal and state employment laws and barring them from hiring on factors “other than merit.” Law experts have said the governor’s office mischaracterized the legal practices employers use when considering diversity in their hiring.
Texas Tech University came under fire recently after a conservative advocacy group criticized the university’s biology department for its DEI hiring practices.
Across the country, conservative lawmakers have raised objections with university departments that require so-called diversity statements in which job candidates are asked to write about their experience working with diverse student populations and share ways they plan to help students from all backgrounds be successful.
In response to the governor’s memo, Texas A&M University in College Station recently said it changed its hiring policies. According to an email obtained by The Texas Tribune, the vice president of faculty affairs told college deans late last week that they should consider only a cover letter, resume, personal statement and professional references in hiring.
“There was not a university-wide requirement for applicants to submit a diversity statement, however, some units did require such statements. There was not consistency in the approach or common understanding of how diversity statements were used in the decision-making process,” said Susan Ballabina, Texas A&M’s chief external affairs officer and senior vice president for academic and strategic collaborations, in a statement Tuesday. “To ensure adherence to the guidance highlighted in the letter from the Office of the Governor on February 6, 2023, the Texas A&M administration made a decision, after consultation with the System Office of General Counsel, to standardize faculty application requirements.”
Workplaces across the country have developed diversity, equity and inclusion policies to increase representation and foster environments that emphasize fair treatment to groups that have historically faced discrimination.
Over time, universities have embraced DEI policies as a way to correct past biases, acknowledging that they have historically not served many groups well — including people of color, women, students with disabilities and veterans.
They created offices and hired staff to lead those efforts and make sure their campuses were places where historically underrepresented groups could be successful and graduate.
In recent months, conservative politicians and advocates have targeted diversity, equity and inclusion practices, criticizing efforts to help underrepresented groups as products of left-wing ideology meant to reinforce liberal ideas about structural racism and discrimination.
On Wednesday, Eltife said that board members welcome elected officials looking into DEI policies across Texas, adding that they might consider a uniform DEI policy for the whole system.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University and University of Texas System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that UT System board Chair Kevin Eltife said Thursday that he welcomed a review of DEI policies across Texas. His comments were made Wednesday.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/02/22/university-texas-system-dei-pause/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.