In February, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an order that the state’s public institutions stop using diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices as part of their hiring process.
The reverberations are already being felt.
The University of Houston, for example, recently announced that it will no longer consider DEI statements in its hiring practices, Houston Public Media reported.
“In order to ensure compliance with state and federal law, we will not support or use DEI statements or factors in hiring or promotion anywhere in the University of Houston System,” said UH Chancellor Renu Khator, in a statement.
The university embraces diversity and understands its responsibility to “foster an open, welcome environment where students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds can collaboratively learn, work and serve,” Khator added.
“We will continue to ensure our policies are consistent with state and federal laws, and we stand against any actions or activities which promote discrimination in the guise of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Putting Policies on Hold
With its announcement, the University of Houston joins at least two of the state’s other large higher education institutions to publicly respond within weeks of Abbott’s memo.
For instance, the Austin-based University of Texas System (UT) is at least temporarily halting any policies that promote diversity, equity and inclusion at its 13 university and health campuses, The Texas Tribune reported.
In comments first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, UT’s Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife echoed Khator’s commitment to celebrating and striving for diversity on the system’s campuses, but made clear that the institution will be putting new DEI programs on hold.
“Given the clear legislative focus, we have paused any new DEI policies on our campuses and have asked for a report on current policies across all our campuses,” Eltife said.
“This will give our board a chance to review the various policies systemwide. We will await any action from the Legislature for implementation by the University of Texas System at the appropriate time and, if needed, the board may consider a uniform DEI policy for the entire UT System.”
Roughly 100 miles down the road, Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp has made a similar announcement recently, directing all universities and agencies in the Texas A&M University System to remove DEI statements 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 Sharp, who also ordered all A&M institutions to review employment and admission practices and confirm their compliance in the wake of Gov. Abbott’s directive.
Sharp’s systemwide edict standardizes faculty and staff applications, limiting them to a cover letter, curriculum vitae, statements about research and teaching philosophies, and professional references, according to an A&M statement. Sharp also instructed A&M universities and agencies to make all websites or printed materials dealing with employment and admission practices compliant with Gov. Abbott’s order.
Lawmakers Push Back
While a handful of the Lone Star State’s largest universities have been quick to comply, the governor’s mandate has been met with controversy outside academia.
As The Texas Tribune reported, Black and Latino lawmakers have condemned Gov. Abbott’s order, characterizing his assertion that DEI policies are illegal as incorrect, “a lie” and “a diversion” from addressing the issues affecting Texans, the Tribune’s Kate McGee wrote.
“We will not be complicit in his attempt to use minorities as pawns for [Abbott’s] political game,” said state Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Missouri City Democrat and chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, at a Feb. 14 press conference that also included representatives from the state’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Texas Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
And, referring to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calling the elimination of “discriminatory diversity, equity and inclusion policies in higher education” as one of his top legislative objectives, Reynolds described these priorities as “code for anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-LGBTQ [and] the majority of the state.”
“They are slapping us in the face,” Reynolds said, “and saying you’re not welcome anymore.”
At the same press conference, state Rep. Cheryl Cole (D-Austin) spoke on the role that diversity, equity and inclusion policies play in the hiring process in workplaces, college campuses and government offices.
“These offices don’t exist to be racist against white people,” said Cole. “They exist to foster, affirm, engage and strengthen diverse communities, because ultimately diversity is our strength.”