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Gov. Abbott signs law abolishing DEI offices at Texas colleges, universities

Texas becomes second state after Florida to abolish DEI offices in higher education

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday signed into law legislation that eliminates diversity, equity and inclusion offices at the state’s public colleges and universities.

“An institution of higher education may not establish or maintain a diversity, equity, and inclusion office or hire or assign an employee of the institution, or contract with a third party, to perform the duties of a diversity, equity, and inclusion office,” states the legislation, Senate Bill 17, which takes effect at the start of the spring semester of the 2023-24 academic year.

Exceptions spelled out include “academic course instruction,” “research or creative works by an institution of higher education’s students or faculty,” and activities by student groups.

The new law also bans “ideological oaths,” or DEI statements, for hiring and enrollment.

“The days of political oaths, compelled speech, and racial profiling in university hiring are behind us,” state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the bill’s co-author, reportedly said after the bill’s passage. “Moving forward, Texas will prioritize the advancement of the most qualified individuals and endorse policies that promote diversity and equality for our great state.”

Any student or employee required to participate in any actions that violate the law “may bring an action against the institution for injunctive or declaratory relief.”

In response to the new law, Texas Students for DEI said the group is not surprised, but disappointed.

“You have put the quality of higher education in Texas at risk. We will continue mobilizing advocates for DEI and tenure, regardless. Thank you to everyone who has been supporting us in this fight; we won’t give up,” the group stated on Twitter.

Texas becomes the second state, behind Florida, to abolish DEI offices in higher education. A North Dakota bill also signed into law this spring bans public universities from requiring DEI statements or noncredit diversity trainings for students and staff, Inside Higher Ed reported.

The new Texas law requires public universities eliminate the use of race, sex or ethnicity as a measuring standard for employment or academic programs. Essentially, universities are required to make “color-blind and sex-neutral” decisions, it states.

Joe Cohen, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, told The Fix via email that in order to “protect free speech and preserve academic freedom, the bill appropriately states that these requirements will not apply to classroom instruction or research conducted at the institutions.”

“These are positive developments that will advance the free speech and academic freedom rights of students and faculty who have too often been subject to censorship in the name of promoting particularly narrow conceptions of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Cohen said.

Several groups have expressed concern, including those who are set to lose their jobs in DEI offices. The Texas legislature added a provision to protect former employees, allowing them to transfer to other jobs on campus.

“A public institution of higher education may provide to each employee in good standing at the institution whose position is eliminated as a result of the implementation of … this Act, a letter of recommendation for employment for a position at the institution or elsewhere,” it states.

MORE: Gov. Abbott signs Texas law banning biological men from female collegiate sports

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About the Author
Rachel Culver -- The Master's University