Mar 29, 2023 - News

University of Texas narrows affirmative action language

Illustration of a word balloon drawn in chalk on a chalkboard being erased.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The University of Texas has whittled down the public-facing information about its affirmative action policy to a single paragraph.

The big picture: Edits to the university's affirmative action website come as top state Republican officials have threatened to bar public universities from using state money for diversity programs.

  • University officials say the language on the affirmative action website is in keeping with federal labor posting obligations and is unconnected to political friction around diversity matters.

Catch up quick: Through at least last month, the university had a more robust explanation of its affirmative action policies available online.

  • "UT Austin is obligated to achieve and maintain a workforce that is representative of those in the recruiting area with requisite skills," per the page previously, which Axios retrieved through the Wayback Machine internet archive.
  • The site had included a section titled "Diversity Demographics" with links to statistical information "to establish availability pools when hiring applicants whether they be from our local metro area or from across the globe."

All that language has now disappeared.

Plus: The mission statement of the university's Division of Diversity and Community Engagement no longer includes language that it "advances socially just learning."

Between the lines: Now just three sentences long, the university's affirmative action site explains that the university's affirmative action policy "is legally required due to the university's status as a federal contractor."

What they're saying: Top UT officials have declined Axios interview requests regarding diversity and hiring practices, but spokesperson Brian Davis said the affirmative action website underwent a redesign that coincided with a rebranding.

  • "There are no changes to UT policy regarding affirmative action," Davis tells Axios.

Why it matters: The university has long been buffeted by competing forces — progressive faculty and students who want to see a more diverse UT and the conservative lawmakers suspicious of affirmative action who control the school's purse strings.

By the numbers: Five years ago, UT's staff of 12,672 was 62% white, 22.4% Latino, 6.9% Asian and 6.6% Black, per university data.

Meanwhile: Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp in early March directed all universities and agencies in the system to remove diversity, equity and inclusion considerations from their employment or admission practices.

  • "No university or agency in the A&M System will admit any student, nor hire any employee based on any factor other than merit," said Chancellor Sharp.

Flashback: Gov. Greg Abbott in February ordered state agencies to stop considering diversity in their hiring practices — and the UT System Board chair Kevin Eltife instructed UT to halt any new DEI initiatives.

  • "The innocuous sounding notion of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others," Abbott chief of staff Gardner Pate wrote to state agency heads.
  • And this month, the Texas House Committee on Appropriations added language to the state budget bill that would ban colleges and universities from using state money on diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

The other side: "This is just good politics, to go anti-DEI," Gary Bledsoe, an Austin attorney and head of the Texas NAACP, tells Axios. "It's all about politics and race — there's so much anti-Black sentiment in conservative households now, because of the inaccurate information that has continued to be propounded to them."

What we're watching: The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn affirmative action admissions policies at college and universities.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that changes were made to information on the university’s affirmative action website, not to the school’s affirmative action policy, according to UT officials.


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