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Sweeping Utah bill to ban DEI advances in Republican-controlled statehouse

A Republican-backed bill to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion policies in Utah public universities and government agencies recently passed the House and is before the Senate.

Utah state Rep. Katy Hall and state Sen. Keith Grover introduced the bill earlier this month to bar the state’s public universities from requiring adherence to a specific ideology as a condition for graduation or employment.

The Utah House voted along party lines last week 58-14 to recommend the bill forward.

If approved, students or job applicants would no longer be required to pass an “ideological litmus test” by submitting materials or attending training sessions that align with certain ideologies.

Universities in Utah would also need to provide annual training on freedom of speech, develop strategies, including inviting speakers, to promote viewpoint diversity, and hire a third party to conduct campus-wide surveys assessing the level of comfort among students, faculty members, and staff in freely expressing their opinions.

Furthermore, the bill requires universities to replace DEI programs with the more general “Student Success Offices,” which “provide support, guidance and resources that equip all students,” according to a statement released by the two Utah lawmakers.

Backers of the Equal Opportunity Initiatives bill say it is aimed at ensuring that higher education institutions in Utah remain “neutral on political issues” and “a free marketplace of ideas.”

“We believe campuses should embrace viewpoint diversity, academic freedom, freedom of expression and institutional political neutrality,” Sen. Grover stated in a news release.

Lucy Atwood, chairwoman of the conservative campus group Young Americans for Freedom at the University of Utah, told The College Fix via email she has “experienced first-hand the effect political bias in institutions can have, which has affected our free speech rights, and opportunities.”

Atwood called the bill “an extraordinary triumph for free speech, university neutrality, and equal opportunities for all.”

University of Utah’s spokesman Shawn Wood, in response to a request for comment from The Fix, cited a Jan. 17 letter that the university’s president sent to faculty and staff.

“We reaffirm today that we are a campus that welcomes everyone, across geography, ideology and identity,” President Taylor Randall said in the letter, adding that the university remains “committed to building bridges between communities, creating opportunities for connection, and fostering a healthy campus environment where everyone has an opportunity to succeed.”

Similarly, Amanda DeRito, a spokesperson for Utah State University, told The College Fix via email that “USU welcomes a robust exchange of ideas and seeks to foster an environment where all members of our campus community can gather, associate, and express themselves freely.”

The university “will work within the guardrails of state law to ensure USU is a place where everyone has the opportunity to succeed,” she said.

While Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (pictured above) has already suggested he would sign the bill should it come to his desk, the state’s Senate and House Democratic leaders have vehemently pushed back in a joint statement, denouncing the bill as “limiting opportunities for all Utahns.”

“The impacts of this bill stretch far beyond higher education, directly affecting our public schools and all government entities,” Sen. Luz Escamilla and Rep. Angela Romero stated, urging Utah Republicans to “provide an opportunity for public input and to champion a transparent and democratic discussion on this life-altering legislation.”

MORE: More Texas colleges appear to dodge new law banning DEI offices

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About the Author
Matthew Xiao -- Cornell University