The University of Arkansas announced it would eliminate its diversity, equity and inclusion division last June, six months after Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order that prohibits “indoctrination” and “critical race theory” in public schools.
Today, leaders of the Fayetteville-based campus appear to have followed through, according to interviews with a campus representative and a top Republican lawmaker in the state.
State Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican who co-chairs the Arkansas Legislative Council higher education subcommittee, said in an interview with The College Fix this month that he has been mostly pleased with the university’s efforts in the wake of the executive order.
Sullivan said he has no reason to believe DEI is not being ratcheted down at the state’s flagship public institution, but added “DEI took a number of years to infiltrate our higher ed systems, and it will take time for all of us to be on the same page.”
Sullivan told The Fix he trusted the assurances of the president and the chancellor that DEI at UA is being reallocated correctly.
When Chancellor Charles Robinson announced last June that the DEI division would relocate its staff and resources, and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance would be realigned to Human Resources, some questioned whether that was simply window dressing or an indication of real change.
Stephen Caldwell, chair of the UA’s Faculty Senate, told Inside Higher Ed in June 2023 in an article headlined “Dissolving a DEI Office to Save DEI” that “all of the people on our campus doing that type of work are going to stay and will continue doing that type of work, just reporting to different people.”
But John Thomas, a spokesman for the University of Arkansas, told The College Fix in an interview this month that the elimination of DEI is really taking place.
UA closed its Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, Leadership Development and Strategy Institute late last year, according to Thomas.
The IDEALS Institute, which opened in 2019, had worked to train and conduct DEI research and services for UA and other partnerships with public schools, businesses and government agencies, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.
Thomas also said in an email that DEI employees’ new focus is on “student or employee recruitment and success for the entire campus community.” He said former DEI personnel that were reassigned into student success are now supporting:
Academic and financial outreach support for 5,000 Pell-eligible undergraduates
First-year onboarding support for the 1,000 freshmen and transfer Arkansans who receive Pell Grants
Assisting students to support outcomes-focused student work and achievement
Assisting undergraduate students with identifying on-campus student employment opportunities and providing hiring managers with resources that enable students to have meaningful employment experiences
[I]nterventions for students who begin college as commuters, or receive certain scholarships, or are low-income Arkansans, providing more intentional and timelier outreach to students as they progress
Fundraising initiatives supporting all low-income students from Arkansas
He added the human resources’ retooled focus includes “implementing objectives around attracting, retaining, engaging, inspiring and developing all university employees” and “establishing and implementing structures for talent skills assessment, talent potential for advancement, succession planning, talent flight risks, program nominations, [and] skills profile matches for mentor selection programs,” among other efforts.
The University of Arkansas also appears to maintain a well-balanced student-to educator and student-to-administrator ratio, according to an analysis by The College Fix.
In 2013, UA had approximately 191 administrators per 1,000 students, and in 2022, there were 157 administrators per 1,000 students, according to data provided by UA to the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
Sullivan, in his interview with The College Fix, said the recent changes point to a renewed emphasis and focus “on education and merit.”
He said he still has some concerns about the UA for Medical Sciences and that it is not as dedicated to merit as he would like.
Sullivan and other lawmakers sparred with med school leaders during a hearing in October over the topic of DEI. Sullivan said he and his colleagues are continuing to investigate their concerns.
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