U.S. colleges and universities have long been revered for the space they cultivate to reign in voices of different backgrounds and perspectives. ACE and PEN America recently created a report that preaches how a student’s exposure to different viewpoints, some of which can be difficult to hear, is fundamental to higher education.
However, Republican lawmakers in more than a dozen states believe that the office responsible for curating a rich, multi-dimensional campus is “fomenting radical and toxic divisions”: the office of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Conservative think tanks Manhattan Institute and Goldwater Institute have helped shape GOP lawmakers’ rationale against DEI. Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at Manhattan Institute, helped shape Florida Gov. Ron Desantis’ catalyzing piece of legislation against Critical Race Theory. He has since advised DeSantis through his dismantling of DEI across Florida’s state institutions.
As the ire grows against DEI and Critical Race Theory, which lawmakers usually associate with DEI for its capacity to “indoctrinate” students, opposing leaders have found different strategies to end its programming in higher education.
Most recently, Wisconsin lawmakers and the University of Arkansas are one legislative body and school leader to target DEI programs.
School strategies to end DEI
DEI office closure
On Wednesday, Chancellor Charles Robinson announced in an email that the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, would dissolve the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Staff members will be reassigned to different departments related to student success, student affairs, human resources and others with no layoffs planned.
Faculty Senate Chair Stephen Caldwell believes the campus is in a “post-DEI environment” that doesn’t require the values of DEI to be structured in a single office. Similarly, Robinson maintains the school has affirmed that equal opportunity, access and belonging are critical to our land-grant mission and university values,” according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The move most likely stems from Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ executive order that “prohibits indoctrination and critical race theory in schools.”
Similarly, the private institution New College of Florida abolished its Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence and fired its top officer.
Prohibit public institutions from using state, federal dollars on DEI initiatives
This strategy is the most popular DEI lawmakers use against DEI and may be the most effective. This strategy prohibits public colleges and universities from funding its programming whatsoever, suffocating it in the process. At least six states have proposed this legislation, with varying results.
- Lost in the House after passing in the Senate.
- Signed into law by Ron DeSantis
- House bill referred to education committee as of May 4
- Referred to appropriations committee as of March 23
- Senate bill read on May 18
- Failed to pass
Order the closure of DEI offices
Texas became the second state behind Florida to dismantle DEI at the state level successfully. However, Gov. Greg Abbott’s signed bill forthrightly refuses public institutions from establishing or maintaining a DEI office instead of targeting their financial appropriations.
Nebraska is the only other state to try this method. However, lawmakers soon molded it into a study researching the benefits of DEI programs in higher education.
Slash schools’ DEI budget
Wisconsin’s top Republicans are looking to cut the University of Wisconsin system’s DEI budget by more than $32 million, according to CBS 58. They devised this specific cut after reviewing a public records request listing all DEI staff positions. With UW’s system spending $16 million a year on DEI, the state’s 2023-25 biennium budget will effectively kill all funding and appropriate it elsewhere.
”The university has gone from being an institute of higher education to an institute of indoctrination,” Senator Robin Vos said, according to The Center Square. “If they want to increase their funding, they have to show they can prioritize things to grow the economy, not grow the racial divide.”
The proposed state budget cut would affect 13 universities across the UW system.