Texas lawmaker ramps up oversight of college DEI ban

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Dive Brief:

  • A key Texas lawmaker is upping the pressure on state higher education leaders to ensure they comply with a new law eliminating diversity, equity and inclusion programming.
  • The state last year passed a law banning DEI efforts at its public colleges. The legislation, known as SB 17, took effect Jan. 1 and is one of the country’s most restrictive anti-DEI laws affecting higher ed.
  • State Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, recently directed the leaders of seven Texas university systems to detail their compliance with the law by May 3. The Senate’s education committee, which Creighton chairs, plans to hold a hearing on the matter next month.

Dive Insight:

Lawmakers in Texas, along with those in Florida, have led the charge against DEI in higher education. Both Republican-controlled states have governors who vocally oppose DEI.

Under Texas’ ban, public colleges are prohibited from creating diversity offices, hiring DEI employees, or requiring DEI training for students or employees.

In a series of letters last week, Creighton addressed the chief executives and trustees of seven systems: The University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University, Texas A&M University, the University of Texas, the University of Houston, Texas Tech University and Texas State University.

“As regents, enforcement of SB 17 falls as much upon your shoulders as it does this committee,” he wrote on March 26. 

Those officials must now report to legislators what they are doing to prevent DEI programming from continuing in any form. Creighton requested information such as how college leaders are preparing for state audits required by the new law ​​and how they are ensuring no employees are doing any DEI work.

The law has led colleges to dismantle their DEI offices. In anticipation of the ban, the University of North Texas said in August it would shutter its Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Office. And the University of Texas at Austin closed its Multicultural Engagement Center on Jan. 1 when the law took effect. 

But Accuracy in Media, a conservative news organization, has accused some university officials of attempting to work around the law

Any effort to circumvent the ban — including by renaming DEI offices and jobs without changing their functions — will not be tolerated, according to Creighton.

“This letter should serve as notice that this practice is unacceptable — and also a reminder that SB 17 encompasses stringent enforcement provisions, including the potential freezing of university funding and legal ramifications for non-compliance,” he wrote to college leaders.

Under SB 17, if students and employees are required to take DEI training, they may take legal action against their institution.

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