Utah bans DEI programs, joining other states

Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed a sweeping bill into law that scales back diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the state’s educational institutions and government offices, the latest state to take action amid a broader national backlash against such efforts.

The law prohibits any program, office or initiative that has “diversity, equity and inclusion” in its name or “claims that meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.” It also requires that student support services be open to all students, prohibiting efforts that target students of certain races or genders.

Since the beginning of 2023, at least 59 bills have been introduced in more than two dozen states and Congress that would roll back college diversity efforts, such as hiring announcements and mandatory trainings. according to The Chronicle of Higher EducationEight of these are now law, including in North Dakota, Texas and North Carolina.

A Texas law that went into effect in January bans DEI offices, diversity hiring statements, and diversity training for faculty and staff. The University of Texas at Austin Closed its Multicultural Engagement Center last month because of the law. And an official said the university would no longer fund cultural events such as graduation ceremonies geared toward Black, Latino and Asian students, according to the University of Texas in Austin’s student newspaper.

The law in North Dakotawhich went into effect in August, bans mandatory diversity training at the state’s public colleges. It also prohibits applicants for appointment, tenure or promotion from “endorsing or rejecting any specific ideology or political position.” A law in Tennessee bars requiring public university employees to participate in mandatory implicit bias training.

Despite leading a deeply conservative state, Governor Cox had built his brand as a moderate. His embrace of the DEI bill marked a somewhat surprising shift, says Michael Lyons, a professor of political science at Utah State University. (Mr. Cox also signed a separate bill on Tuesday that would require transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to their sex at birth.)

In a statement, Mr Cox described the law, which comes into effect in July, as a “balanced solution”.

“I am grateful that the Legislature has not followed the example of other states that have simply eliminated DEI funding without an alternative path for students who may be struggling,” he said. “Instead, this funding will be repurposed to help all Utah students succeed, regardless of background.”

Mr. Cox had previously said that some diversity efforts on campus had “become very political” and that they were “doing more to divide us than to bring us together.” according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Universities are trying to figure out what the law means for their campuses. For example, Utah State University has a “Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” The law would, it seems, require at least a name change.

On its website, the university acknowledged that “structural changes” could occur in the department, but added: “the work to create access, opportunity and belonging has always been shared by all employees at USU and will continue to be shared.”

There was no indication that Utah State’s hiring practices would change. The university noted that it had already phased out the use of diversity statements last spring and no longer allows them.

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