UT System Board of Regents Chair Kevin Eltife insisted in a statement earlier this week that the school system celebrates and welcomes diversity on campus, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
“I also think it’s fair to say that in recent times, 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 about those efforts on campuses across our entire state,” he continued.
The news is the latest indication that the burgeoning tide of DEI efforts, which surged in the wake of 2020’s social justice protests, may now be starting to ebb. With Gov. Greg Abbott at the helm, Texas has attempted to keep pace with Florida in eliminating so-called wokeness in education and beyond.
DEI efforts are meant to boost representation and create workplaces where people from historically marginalized groups are treated fairly. But critics argue that certain campuses have actually begun discriminating against employees and job candidates who don’t agree with higher ed’s pro-DEI views.
Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, noted via email that the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office has made it clear that such DEI programs are legal. He also said the University of Texas’ legal department designed the programs, likely with help from private counsel.
“There is simply no basis to pause any such program unless your true intent is to discriminate against and harm Black and Brown citizens," he wrote.
“The language may be a little less overt, but the thrust of the recent action by the Governor and the Board of Regents is simply a recasting of the same types of discriminatory plans that denied us admission to the University of Texas in the first place,” he wrote. “The message is clear, we don't want you here.”
Abbott’s office told state universities and agencies in a Feb. 6 memo that DEI hiring policies are illegal, but many law experts and state lawmakers dispute that claim.
Texas A&M University in College Station claimed to have adjusted its hiring practices following the memo, according to The Texas Tribune. Texas Tech University also recently announced a review of its policies after receiving blowback for its biology department’s emphasis on DEI in hiring.
Conservatives are likely applauding such moves.
Speaking with the state’s Republican Party earlier this month, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick vowed to safeguard college students. His plan? To “erase” college-level DEI programs.
“You have a lot of liberal leftists teaching our kids everything that’s bad about America,” he reportedly said during the conference call. “We need to know and learn from our past and our sins. But we are a great country and we are a great state. And capitalism worked. Not socialism.”
Patrick and Abbott argue that DEI undermines merit-based hiring practices by ensuring the same outcome for everyone. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson also regularly rails against DEI efforts with claims that certain programs “promote bigotry openly” — that is, bigotry against white people.
Civil rights attorney David Hinojosa, who grew up in San Antonio, recently defended an affirmative action college admissions case before the U.S. Supreme Court. He said many students of color face systemic inequalities, and they often “have the deck stacked against them in underfunded and under-resourced schools.”
“Remarkably, we're having these discussions in this country in the 21st century.” – David Hinojosa, civil rights attorneytweet this
The notion of diverse admissions is under attack, he said, as is the idea that diversity is beneficial in employment and society.
“Remarkably, we're having these discussions in this country in the 21st century that should have been eliminated back in 1954, yet they're being resurrected today,” he said.
He added that the governor should be held to account for making reckless statements about DEI. Abbott represents the entire state, not just the Republican Party, and “should be far more responsible to the greater public.”
Hinojosa also pointed to the uprising against racial injustice in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Many universities vowed to embrace diversity and confront inequalities as a result, sparking criticism from conservatives including former President Donald Trump, who sought political gain by painting diversity as a threat to white Americans, he said.
Seeking greater racial diversity in government workforces isn’t illegal in and of itself, Hinojosa said. And DEI training can help teachers, for instance, recognize and check their biases in the classroom.
“To suggest that such training somehow violates some law or the Constitution is outrageous,” he said. “That is the epitome of political grandstanding and, frankly, is representative of the tactics used by white supremacists and segregationists back in the day to ensure that white people in America still had a leg up on others solely because of their race and purported superiority.”