Documents detail how Texas’ DEI ban is changing university campuses

Documents detail how Texas’ DEI ban is changing university campuses
1 month 3 weeks 5 days ago Friday, May 24 2024 May 24, 2024 May 24, 2024 3:00 PM May 24, 2024 in News - Texas news
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, asked university system leaders to give an update on how they have been implementing the state's DEI ban. Legislators have warned they may pursue new laws to enforce the ban during next year's lawmaking session. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

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In the most comprehensive picture yet of how Texas’ DEI ban has changed campuses across the state, recent communications with lawmakers reveal the range of steps university leaders have taken to comply with the law and keep billions in state funding.

University system leaders described their efforts in written responses to Sen. Brandon Creighton, the author of the DEI ban, after the Conroe Republican warned them they could lose their funding or face legal consequences if they weren’t following the law, which went into effect in January.

In documents obtained by The Texas Tribune and in public testimony before senators, leaders from all of Texas’ seven university systems said they have closed multicultural offices, fired or reassigned DEI staff and stopped requiring diversity statements, or letters in which job candidates in academia share their previous efforts to promote diverse learning spaces and help students of all backgrounds succeed.


Read Texas university systems’ responses to questions about their compliance with the state’s DEI ban

(5.2 MB)

Some described how they’ve changed their operations to comply with the law and continue supporting some students. Texas Woman’s University leaders said they opened a center for first-generation students after closing their DEI office. More than 50% of incoming students in the system are the first in their families to attend college.

A few system leaders said they did not need to make any major changes because they never had big DEI programs on their campuses. At a Texas Senate higher education subcommittee meeting this month, Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall said most of his schools had no DEI offices to begin with.

The documents also show the guidance administrators are giving staff on how to respond to diversity-related questions in federal grant applications without running afoul of the DEI ban.

Texas colleges get billions of dollars in federal grant money, which they depend on to pay for research. Securing these funds helps schools recruit high-quality faculty and build on their reputation; for some, they’re critical in their quest to elevate their status as research institutions.

Many federal grants require applicants to describe their efforts to make their fields more diverse or explain how their research benefits underserved communities.

In FAQs to support staff and faculty, University of Houston administrators offered some talking points to help them keep those grants in a post-DEI reality. Officials recommended emphasizing the school’s compliance with non-discrimination laws and their efforts to support low-income and first-generation college students.

Despite those efforts, university leaders have said it's been difficult to strike a balance between the DEI ban’s requirements and grant funders’ expectations.

“We’ve struggled with how to handle grants,” Daniel H. Sharphorn, the vice chancellor and general counsel of the University of Texas System, told lawmakers this month. “I don't know that we've learned enough to know what the impact is going to be.”

[Under scrutiny from legislators, Texas university leaders attest to how they’re complying with the state’s DEI ban]

Texas Woman’s University provided similar talking points to address staff concerns about how the DEI ban might affect universities’ accreditation, a status that indicates schools offer quality education programs and allows their students to access federal financial aid. To get their accreditation recertified, which is required every 10 years, all public universities have to prove they are meeting an accrediting agency’s standards, which can include DEI requirements.

The primary agency for institutional accreditation in Texas, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, is one of the few accreditors that does not have a DEI-related standard, which means Texas colleges do not risk losing accreditation with that agency for complying with the DEI ban, said Rosalind Fuse-Hall, the accreditor’s director of legal and governmental affairs.

But Texas higher education institutions might still run into snags with other agencies that provide accreditation for specific college programs and do ask about schools’ DEI efforts, Fuse-Hall said.

In addition, some university systems explained how they’ve changed their training policies, revealing they’re taking different approaches to comply with the new law.

The University of North Texas System eliminated any voluntary DEI training it used to offer through LinkedIn. The system said in its written response to senators that it developed a program to scan voluntary training offerings for DEI-related keywords and automatically remove any that come up as a match.

Texas Woman’s University, meanwhile, continues to allow faculty to access professional development libraries that include DEI training modules, so long as participation in those trainings is “truly voluntary,” the school’s response said.

Lawmakers have yet to indicate whether they're content with the universities' responses but have previously said they're ready to pass more bills to bolster enforcement if they feel schools need to do more to comply with the ban.

The Texas Tribune partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage.

Disclosure: Texas State University System, University of Texas System, University of Houston and University of North Texas 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.

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Correction, : An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall said during a hearing his schools didn't have DEI offices before the state's DEI ban went into effect. He said the universities didn't have DEI offices for most of his tenure at the helm of the system.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/05/24/texas-dei-ban-higher-education-brandon-creighton/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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