Apr 10, 2024 - Education

University of Texas at Dallas lays off DEI staff

Illustration of the Texas State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

UT Dallas is the latest Texas public university to lay off staff due to the new law barring diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state institutions.

Why it matters: Texas is one of at least nine states to pass legislation limiting or prohibiting DEI programs on college campuses.

  • Anti-DEI bills have been introduced in 21 states since 2021.

State of play: Senate Bill 17, which took effect in January, bars public universities from maintaining offices or programs dedicated to supporting historically underrepresented groups, such as people of color or members of the LGBTQ community.

  • Critics of the programs say they are discriminatory and emphasize assisting only certain groups.

The latest: UT Dallas is eliminating 20 jobs and its Office of Campus Resources and Support at the end of the month to comply with SB 17, university president Richard C. Benson announced this week.

  • The move comes a week after UT Austin laid off at least 60 people who had worked in DEI positions. Most of the jobs were in the Division of Campus and Community Engagement, per the Austin American-Statesman.

Friction point: The bill author, state Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), sent letters last month to the chancellors and boards of regents at Texas public universities saying the organizations have made progress complying with the law but many appear to have simply renamed their DEI programs.

  • "I am deeply concerned with the possibility that many institutions may choose to merely rename their offices or employee titles," Creighton wrote.

Zoom in: To comply with the law, the University of North Texas in December moved its staff from the Multicultural Center and Pride Alliance into Student Affairs. UNT president Neal Smatresk noted that the school would support everyone, "including our first-generation, low-income and underserved students."

  • The law states that it does not limit the support of low-income and first-generation students.

Between the lines: The Republican-dominated Legislature passed SB 17 shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action at colleges. The ruling keeps schools from explicitly considering applicants' race during the admissions process, which could reduce Black and Latino representation on campus.

Of note: Student organizations are not affected by SB 17 and can continue to host programs on race, gender identity and sexual orientation.

What's next: The state Senate Committee on Education plans to hold a hearing in May to determine whether universities are complying with the law.

  • University leaders have until May 3 to submit written responses detailing how their schools have eliminated DEI programs.
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