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With ban looming for DEI offices, what's next for Denton's colleges?

 The University of North Texas welcomed students back in August for the 2021 fall semester.
Al Key
The University of North Texas welcomed students back in August for the 2021 fall semester.

The Texas Legislature has sent Senate Bill 17; which abolishes diversity, equity and inclusion offices in Texas public universities; to Gov. Greg Abbott. Once the governor signs the bill, Texas will be the second state to ban DEI offices, programs and trainings at publicly funded universities.

Florida was the first state to banish equity and diversity offices.

University of North Texas officials didn’t have much to say this week, despite the fact that the university system includes a Division of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access on its Denton campus. According to the division website, about 30 staff members currently work for the division. Leadership of the division didn’t respond to a request for an interview.

“The University of North Texas System is currently reviewing all legislation passed during the 88th Texas Legislature and will continue to adhere to all state and federal laws,” Laken Avonne Rapier, UNT chief communications officer, said in a statement.

UNT was one of the last Texas university systems to announce that it would pause new DEI programs, initiatives and training pending a full review of the system’s hiring policies.

Texas Woman’s University doesn’t have a DEI office or division, but there is a Chancellor’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.

The university offered a statement saying that the legislation hasn’t been formalized with Abbott’s signature.

“The university expects Senate Bill 17 to have a minimal impact on Texas Woman’s,” the statement said. “The university does not maintain a DEI office as defined by the legislation. Texas Woman’s is a state-funded institution that follows the law as enacted, and remains committed to maintaining an open environment that is supportive of students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds.”

Officials with North Central Texas College weren’t available for an interview on Thursday, but the community college does have a division for equity initiatives.

“The Division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion was born out of NCTC’s partnership with Achieving The Dream during its initial planning year,” the website says. “EDI partners with the entire campus community to create, maintain and demonstrate NCTC’s commitment to an equitable, diverse and inclusive learning environment where NCTC students succeed.”

Abbott is expected to sign the legislation, though banning DEI offices at Texas public colleges was a pet project of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who also wanted to eliminate tenure in Texas public universities.

Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, celebrated the passage of the bill he sponsored.

“The days of political oaths, compelled speech and racial profiling in university hiring are behind us,” he said in a statement. “Moving forward, Texas will prioritize the advancement of the most qualified individuals and endorse policies that promote diversity and equality for our great state.”

The Texas House added language to the bill that if a federal granting agency or accrediting body requires DEI programs, Texas schools can submit statements to highlight their work serving first-generation college students, low-income students and underserved students.

Leaders of the UNT and TWU faculty senates, bodies that represent faculty priorities to the administration, didn’t respond to requests for interviews.

However, during the recent meeting of the TWU Board of Regents, the TWU Faculty Senate entered two resolutions into the record. One resolution expressed support for academic freedom and open inquiry. The other expressed support for DEI.

The final three sentences were a ringing condemnation of the Legislature’s move to abolish DEI offices and initiatives.

“Let it be resolved, that the TWU Faculty Senate remains an outspoken supporter of diversity and inclusion,” it reads. “Let it be further resolved, that the TWU Faculty Senate will work to foster a campus climate that promotes inclusivity, and (l)et it be further resolved, that the Faculty Senate opposes any organizational policy or procedure that threatens inclusivity.”