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Some Republican Governors exerting influence over state higher education and DEI

June 08, 2023

Republican dissatisfaction with colleges and universities has been growing for some time. The Pew Research Center detected growing discontent with colleges and universities in 2012 and found that from 2015 to 2019, the number of individuals saying colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country went from 37% to 59%. This increase happened among Republicans, while Democrats and independents who lean Democratic remained largely stable and overwhelmingly positive. This trend is now apparent from recent legislation and political direction from conservative Republican states. Anti-DEI bills have been signed into law in North Dakota and Tennessee, and Florida has signed two anti-DEI bills into law. Texas has final legislative approval on two bills.

The various bills restrict DEI offices and staff, mandatory DEI training, diversity statements, and identity-based preferences for hiring and admissions. North Dakota’s bill, the first anti-DEI bill signed into law in the nation, according to Inside Higher Ed, makes it illegal for educational institutions to ask students or prospective employees to state their commitment to DEI. It also bans making noncredit diversity training a requirement for students or employees.

Tennessee’s House Bill 2670, often called the Divisive Concepts Act, bans race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating, indoctrinating a particular ideology or political viewpoint, and mandatory training in divisive concepts as defined by the legislation. Middle Tennessee State University published guidelines on its website for faculty and staff discussing how the legislation might affect what they do on campus and emphasizes that the bill does not interfere with academic freedom.

Florida’s Senate Bill 958, signed into law on May 15, 2023, states, “diversity, equity, and inclusion beyond upholding the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, or a theory or practice that holds that systems or institutions upholding the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution are racist, oppressive, or otherwise unjust,” would be illegal. The state’s House Bill 999, signed on May 15, 2023, bans Florida colleges from using state or federal funds for programs or campus activities that advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Texas House Bill 1, which received final legislative approval on May 27, 2023,  includes a prohibition on "unconstitutional" diversity, equity, and inclusion programs or practices, stating that “[n]o funds appropriated by this Act may be expended by an entity listed in this article … for the design, implementation, or administration of diversity, equity, & inclusion practices or programs … This prohibition includes, without limitation, the hiring and supervision of employees, mandatory or recommended training, or programmed activities.“ Texas legislators sent another bill to the governor on May 29 prohibiting educational institutions from requiring ideological oaths or statements.

There has been some pushback against the current wave of ant-DEI Legislation. In Utah, with strong opposition from Democratic legislators, two bills (House Bill 451 and Senate Bill 283) have failed to pass. In Wisconsin, where the legislature has not introduced anti-DEI legislation, the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus wrote a statement criticizing Republican efforts to end diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs on UW System campuses.

governors, diversity, inequality, inclusion