Texas university clears DEI offices, fires employees in light of new state law: report

Apr 3, 2024 | Latest News | 0 comments

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The University of Texas at Austin fired dozens of employees who worked in their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs to comply with a new state law, according to a report.

University of Texas at Austin President Jay Hartzell announced Tuesday the school’s Division of Campus and Community Engagement is being dissolved and its programs and funding transferred to other divisions. 

The announcement comes as the university works to comply with a new Texas law that came into effect Jan. 1, which effectively dissolved DEI institutions at public colleges and universities throughout the state.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that a person with knowledge about the situation said 60 positions that were related to DEI work were eliminated at UT-Austin. 

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The law mandates that all governing boards of public colleges and universities ensure that their institutions prohibit the establishment and maintenance of a DEI office and the issue of “DEI Statements.” In addition, hiring practices and training are no longer able to use DEI statements.

“I recognize that strong feelings have surrounded SB 17 from the beginning and will shape many Longhorns’ perceptions of these measures,” Hartzell wrote in reference to the new law. “It is also important that this continues to be a welcoming, supportive community for all.”

In the message, Hartzell said student-facing jobs would remain throughout the rest of the semester and that laid-off employees could apply for other positions at the university. 

The firings came after state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R., outlined expectations on how universities will comply with the state law. He wrote a letter expressing the serious nature of the bill, saying that the measure “mandates a fundamental shift in the operation of our higher education institutions.” He added that universities are expected to facilitate a “merit-based environment.”

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Furthermore, he explained that the Texas Senate Committee on Education is expected to hold a hearing in May, probing chancellors and “general counselors” of higher education institutions to show how their universities are complying with the law. If universities fail to comply with the state law, they could lose funding, Creighton warned. 

Among 5 specific questions on compliance, university spokespeople are expected to explain, “How has your institution ensured that there are no DEI offices or officers on campus, or no individuals or organizations performing the duties of a DEI office or officer?”

Cultural graduations were another casualty of the effect of the law, prompting outrage from some students.

When the university’s Multicultural Engagement Center (MEC) was closed in compliance with the state’s law, Black Graduation, Latinx Graduation, and GraduAsian ceremonies were impacted as a result.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, introduced a bill to freeze federal funding to colleges and universities that force students to sign or make statements on DEI.

The University of Florida fired all its DEI employees in compliance with state law last week.

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