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Okla. governor’s executive order slashes DEI programs, outlaws mandates in higher ed

‘We’re taking politics out of education and focusing on preparing students for the workforce,’ governor said

Massive cuts to diversity, equity and inclusion programs and mandates in Oklahoma’s colleges and universities are in the offing thanks to an executive order signed Wednesday by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

The order requires public higher education institutions in the state “to initiate a review of DEI positions, departments, activities, procedures, and programs to eliminate and dismiss non-critical personnel,” a news release from the governor’s office stated.

The executive order also outlaws the use of public funds or property for departments that “grant preferential treatment based on one person’s particular race, color, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.”

The order effectively forces universities to eliminate their offices of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz said in a statement denouncing the order.

The three-page order also forbids mandatory diversity statements, known as litmus tests in higher education often used to weed out center-right candidates, as well as any required DEI trainings. The order also states no one must “mandate any person to disclose their pronouns.”

The new rules also apply to state agencies.

“We’re taking politics out of education and focusing on preparing students for the workforce,” Stitt stated in the news release.

The order came after Oklahoma’s public universities allocated $83.4 million into DEI initiatives over the last decade, leading critics to call for DEI to be defunded.

As The College Fix reported Nov. 10, line-item details in DEI spending showed campus events that included tens of thousands of dollars to fund drag-queen performances, trans and antiracist trainings, and a presentation on “Black Jesus.”

During the 2022-23 academic year, Oklahoma colleges and universities spent over $10 million on DEI activities and payroll costs — the highest amount in the last 10 years and up from $7.1 million in 2013-14, according to campus officials statewide.

Colleges and universities have until May 2024 to comply with the order, which adds that it does not prohibit “civil discourse and debate or speech that is protected by the First Amendment.”

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a nonprofit center-right think tank that has taken a leading role in exposing DEI spending in higher education in the Sooner State, reported that after Stitt’s order, state Sen. Rob Standridge quickly filed four bills “to eliminate DEI influence from Oklahoma colleges.”

“Senate Bills 130313041305, and 1306 prohibit the establishment of a DEI office or hiring or assigning of employees to carry out DEI practices, among other safeguards. It also states that if the State Auditor and Inspector determines an institution has spent funds in violation of the legislation, the college could become ineligible to receive funding allocation increases from the State Regents in the next fiscal year,” the council reported.

In his statement Dec. 13, Harroz stated “this news evokes deep concern and uncertainty about the future, and in many ways feels like a step backward.”

But like in Oklahoma, dozens of Republican-controlled states have introduced legislation to curb DEI at public universities in recent years, and Florida and Texas have passed laws to rein in DEI on public campuses and enact post-tenure review.

Some Boards of Trustees and Boards of Education have also banned the use of diversity statements or mandatory DEI trainings, including in Iowa, Idaho, North Carolina and Arizona.

MORE: Oklahoma public universities under scrutiny after spending $83.4 million on DEI

IMAGE: Courtesy photo / Office of the Governor

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.