Public colleges and universities in Texas could not operate diversity, equity and inclusion offices and asking for DEI statements during the admissions or hiring process would not be allowed, according to GOP-backed legislation in the state Senate

Senate Bill 17, filed March 10 by Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education, would also allow members of boards of regents to approve or deny hires in positions of authority, such as provosts or vice presidents. Regents to public universities are appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

In a related move, a rider in the $302.6 billion budget plan approved by the House on Thursday says no state funds can go to public colleges and universities “for diversity, equity, & inclusion practices or similar programs, including personnel, training or activities.”

Some private institutions fear that their campuses would also be affected by the measures.

“The elevation of DEI offices on campuses have only furthered divides and created a chilling effect on open dialogue,” Creighton said in a news release. “This legislation will ensure Texas college campuses are environments that are open to differing ideas, foster meaningful, reasoned dialogue, and encourage intellectual discourse.”

DEI statements seeking to “endorse an ideology that promotes the differential treatment of an individual or group of individuals based on race, color, or ethnicity” would be banned, according to the proposed legislation.

Creighton, of Conroe, also designed the bill so that any employee who violates its parameters will be put on a do-not-hire list that will be shared with all Texas public universities. Those on the list would be ineligible for hire until one academic year has passed since their violation. Repeat violations could result in immediate dismissal. These violators would be deemed unfit for hire for five years after their initial termination.

Should the bill pass, universities would also face significant fines for violations.

Although private schools such as Texas Christian University, Texas Wesleyan University and Southern Methodist University would not legally need to adhere to the stipulations in the bill, some experts say they would still be impacted.

“Anything that happens in the state of Texas that appears to limit our ability to be inclusive and equitable harms us within the global marketplace,” said Dr. Maria Dixon-Hall, the chief diversity officer at SMU since 2020. “It’ll make us less of a destination for students seeking out potential colleges, meaning it’ll affect us a great deal.”

Minorities make up 33% of TCU’s student body, and that number is steadily growing each year, according to demographic reports on the college’s website. In the past five years, professors across the campus worked to expand DEI initiatives and prioritized having a diverse faculty, according to Hayat Hokayem, an associate professor and diversity advocate for TCU’s College of Education. She said those efforts remain valuable and needed.

“I think it’s very important for students to see diverse faculty,” Hokayem said. “People in the majority groups are able to see that the other groups can exist in these domains, and individuals in the minority group also get proof that people like them are actively in those positions. What starts here affects future generations and makes our larger society more equitable.”

Since the bill’s filing, eight senators have signed onto it as co-authors, and it has emerged as one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top legislative priorities. 

On Thursday, April 6, SB17 was heard by the Senate’s Subcommittee on Higher Education. A multitude of people waited 13 hours to testify before the Senate, with a majority stating they are against the proposed legislation. 

“This bill is a direct attack on academic freedom at public universities in Texas,” said Katie Williams, a graduate worker in communications at UT Austin. “Our history is a living history, one that we all participate in and we all benefit from all of the voices in our democracy. Please protect it and vote no on SB17.”

After nearly four hours of discussion, the bill was reported favorably to the full committee with Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, being the only one to vote against it. 

SMU’s Dixon-Hall is disappointed that people don’t see the benefits from DEI initiatives.

“It’s sad to me that issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion have become a political football,” Dixon-Hall said. “We’ve become so short-sighted to equate diversity with race and are ignoring the fact that DEI initiatives act as a fantastic opportunity to ensure all Texans have access to higher education, regardless of where they’re from or how much money their parents make.”

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