Monday numbers: UNC and the national anti-DEI wave
(Aerial over the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by Ryan Herron/Getty Images)
Last week the UNC System and its 17 campuses complied with a request from the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations, providing information on all Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility training programs they employ.
The request included a lengthy list of terms to define DEI that reads like a round-up of recent obsessions of conservative activists:
“‘Diversity’, ‘equity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘accessibility’, ‘racism’, ‘anti-racism’, ‘anti-racist’, ‘oppression’, ‘internalized oppression’, ‘systemic racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘gender’, ‘LGBTQ+’, ‘white supremacy’, ‘unconscious bias’, ‘bias’, ‘microaggressions’, ‘critical race theory’, ‘intersectionality’, or ‘social justice.’”
It’s not yet clear what the commission will do with the information. NC Newsline has requested it from the commission and the system, but not yet received it.
The UNC Board of Governors is composed of political appointees chosen by the GOP majority, and the legislature could simply direct the system’s governing board to eliminate DEI efforts, which have become a popular Republican target. Republican lawmakers have shown their willingness to make such decisions for the board, even over members’ strong objections, as with the system’s recently mandated move to Raleigh.
But if action in other Republican-dominated states is any indication, the legislature could be poised to outlaw DEI efforts, a popular conservative target. GOP lawmakers in 17 states have introduced anti-DEI bills so far this year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s excellent DEI Legislation Tracker. The various bills prohibit mandatory DEI training and statements of commitment to diversity to affirmative action in hiring and admissions and specific DEI offices and staff.
Ironically, the current state investigation of DEI efforts comes as UNC-Chapel Hill is defending its use of affirmative action in admissions on America’s largest legal stage. In late October the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in cases over affirmative action in admissions at UNC-Chapel Hill and Harvard University, the nation’s first publicly funded university and its oldest private university respectively.
In arguments lasting nearly six hours, the court’s new conservative majority gave the impression they are leaning toward plaintiffs who are fighting to end the practice, with potential broad consequences for university diversity programs of all kinds. A ruling is still pending.
The DEI probe is not occurring in a vacuum. In the last few months, state lawmakers and the board of governors have made moves that many students, faculty, staff and alumni say spell out a troubling sharp right turn for a university system that has for years struggled with what they call covert and overt political interference.
In January the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees voted to “accelerate” the creation of a long-gestating “School of Civic Life and Leadership” whose original architects described it as a “conservative center.”
BOT members took to the airwaves at Fox News and the pages of The Wall Street Journal to defend the idea, saying it would offer political balance at a university with “no shortage of left-of-center progressive views” and end “political constraints on what can be taught in university classes.”
Mimi Chapman, chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Council, called the action “a solution in search of a problem” and its deviation from a usually faculty-involved process for creation of new schools and curriculum. Many other prominent faculty members and deans have also expressed their concerns.
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has assured faculty that it would be included in the School of Civic Life and Leadership’s design and launch. However, the N.C. House budget proposal released last week includes $2 million for the school’s launch in each of the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 fiscal years.
That’s less than the $5 million in recurring funds provost Chris Clemens, who has described himself as one of the faculty’s most conservative voices, anticipated in a planning document for the school’s development. But the proposed budget bill directs UNC-Chapel Hill to “expend sufficient additional funds” itself to create the school if the proposed budget allocation is insufficient.
In February the Board of Governors adopted a new policy against “compelled speech”, the policy, written broadly, doesn’t give specific examples of “compelled speech.” But in practice, its language would prohibit “DEI statements” — either asking students or prospective hires for their view on diversity, equity and inclusion or asking that they commit to the institution’s values on the subject.
“[T]he University shall neither solicit nor require an employee or applicant for academic admission or employment to affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment, or professional advancement,” the policy reads.
“Nor shall any employee or applicant be solicited or required to describe his or her actions in support of, or in opposition to, such beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles,” it reads. “Practices prohibited here include but are not limited to solicitations or requirements for statements of commitment to particular views on matters of contemporary political debate or social action contained on applications or qualifications for admission or employment or included as criteria for analysis of an employee’s career progression.”
It is not clear how the university intends to square the creation of a school designed to include more conservative views with a policy prohibiting even the discussion of employees’ ideology, beliefs or views on contemporary political debates or social actions.
“It’s more about creating a level playing field,” said UNC Board of Trustees member Marty Kotis in an interview with NC Newsline. “I don’t think you need to specifically hire Republicans or conservatives, you just look for people who can give both views of a subject, who have demonstrated they are not committed to there being only one acceptable view.”
This week, as the UNC system continues its ongoing ideological struggle, a by-the-numbers look at anti-DEI legislation across the country.
28 – Bills targeting DEI introduced nationwide so far this year
17 – States in which those bills have been introduced: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia.
A majority of those states also get low or negative overall LGBTQ equality policy tallies, according to the Movement Advancement Project’s LGBTQ equality map.
2 – States where those bills have been tabled for this session or failed to pass: Utah and West Virginia
6 – States where proposed bills would prohibit DEI offices and staff: Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas.
9 – States where proposed bills would prohibit mandatory DEI training: Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas.
9 – States where proposed bills would prohibit DEI statements: Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas.
The Chronicle’s DEI tracker notes that this list does not include states where – as in the case of North Carolina – the state university system’s governing board has eliminated DEI statements through policy rather than the government proposing to do it through legislation.
6 – States where proposed bills would prohibit identity-based preferences for hiring and admissions: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma.
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