University of Texas professors demand reversal of job cuts from shuttered DEI initiative

A group of professors demand that the University of Texas reverse course on job cuts this week related to the shutdown of a diversity, equity and inclusion program impacted by one of the nation’s most sweeping bans on such initiatives.

Officials at the 52,000-student university, one of the largest college campuses in the U.S., have not said how many jobs were eliminated. University President Jay Hartzell told the campus in a letter this week that additional measures will be taken to comply with the state’s new law. He said the university plans to shut down its Division of Campus and Community Engagement, which houses programs that support student learning and community building.

Hartzell’s announcement also said associate and assistant deans who focused on DEI initiatives would return to their full-time faculty jobs and positions for staff who supported them would no longer be funded.

The school’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors has estimated that 60 people in DEI roles at the campus were let go but have not said how it arrived at that number. In a letter sent Thursday, the group argued that the cuts violated employees’ rights to academic freedom, due process and freedom of expression. It also criticized what it called a lack of transparency about how decisions were made and why input from faculty council was not taken into account.

“Although clearly not the intention, such actions can lead to a loss of trust and a perception of dishonesty,” the letter said.

The changes come as public universities in Texas were forced to make swift changes to comply with a new law passed last year by the state’s Republican-controlled statehouse. Known as Senate Bill 17, it is one of the strictest bans passed on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and took effect on January 1.

School officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. The university this week declined to answer questions about how many faculty or staff members were impacted by the cuts.

The new Texas laws applies to the state’s more than 30 public institutions — which serve over 600,000 students in higher education. It bans the universities from influencing hiring practices with affirmative action and other approaches that take into account applicants’ race, sex or ethnicity. It also prohibits promoting “differential” or “preferential” treatment or what it called “special” benefits for people based on these categories and forbids training and activities conducted “in reference to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

At least five other states have already passed their own bans. This year, Republican lawmakers in over a dozen other states are pursuing various restrictions on diversity initiatives, an issue that some hope will mobilize their voters this election year. The legislation mostly focuses on higher education, though some also restrict DEI efforts in K-12 schools, state government, contracting and pension investments.

The move by University of Texas leaders to shut down the campus’ community engagement division came days after Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton, who authored the bill, sent letters to regents of multiple public university systems inviting them to testify before state lawmakers about the changes made to comply with the new law.

Creighton also warned that simply renaming programs would not be considered compliance and reiterated that non-compliance could lead schools to lose funding.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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