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Texas’ ban on diversity, equity and inclusion has led to more than a hundred job losses at state universities

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A ban on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in higher education has led to more than a hundred job losses on Texas college campuses, a hit that is being repeated or expected in scores of other states where lawmakers are taking similar rolling out policies during an important election year.

Universities across Texas rushed to make changes after the Republican administration spoke out. Greg Abbott signed the law last year. On April 2, the president of the 52,000-student University of Texas at Austin — one of the largest college campuses in the U.S. — sent an email saying the school would close its Campus and Community Engagement department and cut jobs to comply to the ban, which came into effect on January 1.

More than 60 employees at the University of Texas at Austin have been laid off as a result of the law, according to the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors. The group said it compiled the list based on affected workers who had been contacted and that the number could be higher. University officials declined to confirm the number of positions eliminated.

Officials at other schools, in response to questions from The Associated Press, indicated that a total of 36 positions had been eliminated between Texas A&M University in College Station; Texas Tech University in Lubbock; Texas State University at San Marcos; The University of Houston; Sam Houston State University in Huntsville; and Sul Ross State University in Alpine. Officials said no one was released; people were assigned new jobs, some resigned, and vacant positions were closed.

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Earlier this week, officials at the University of Texas at Dallas announced that about 20 positions would be cut, in accordance with the law. University officials declined to comment on how many of these positions are currently filled.

Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, applauded the actions of the University of Texas in a post on the social media platform the legislature works,” Phelan wrote.

Texas is one of five states that recently passed legislation targeting DEI programs. At least twenty others are considering it.

Florida was the first to implement a ban last year, with the vocal support of then-Republican presidential candidate Governor Ron DeSantis, who often derides DEI and similar diversity efforts as “woke” policies of the left. In response to the law, the University of Florida announced more than a dozen terminations last month.

The regents of the Universities of Wisconsin reached an agreement with Republican lawmakers in December to limit DEI positions at the system’s 20 campuses in exchange for obtaining money for hiring and construction projects. The deal imposed a hiring freeze on diversity positions through 2026, and shifted more than 40 diversity-related positions to focus on “student success.”

Republican lawmakers who oppose DEI programs say they are discriminatory and promote left-wing ideology. Some are counting on the issue to resonate with voters this election year. Democratic DEI supporters say the programs are necessary to ensure institutions meet the needs of increasingly diverse student populations. Party lawmakers have introduced about 20 bills in eleven states that would require or promote DEI initiatives.

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Texas’ anti-DEI law, which Abbott enthusiastically signed last year, bans training and activities conducted “with regard to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” Additionally, the law, also known by its legislative title, SB17, prohibits employees from making hiring decisions influenced by race, sex, color, or ethnicity, and prohibits promoting “differential” or “preferential” treatment or “ special” benefits for employees. people based on these categories.

SB17 states that the ban does not apply to academic education and scientific research. That’s why Professor Aquasia Shaw was so surprised when he heard last week that her supervisor would not renew her contract. Shaw said she has not been given a reason for the termination, but given the timing, she suspects this is the new law.

Shaw has taught courses at the intersection of sociology, sports and cultural studies in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Her faculty page on the university’s website states that her focus is on “sociology of sport and cultural studies, sport management and diversity, inclusion and social justice.” A course she taught this semester was titled Race and Sports in African American Life. But she said she had not been involved in DEI initiatives outside of her teaching.

“I was under the impression that teaching and research were protected, so… I’m trying to grapple with the idea and deny that this couldn’t be the reason I was targeted,” she said.

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In March, Republican Senator Brandon Creighton, author of SB17, sent a letter to public university boards of regents across the state, inviting them to testify in May on the changes made to achieve compliance. He warned that renaming programs, rather than changing their intent, would not be enough.

Creighton’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The law’s impact was felt in Texas even before it went into effect. In anticipation of this, University of Texas at Austin officials last year changed the school’s Diversity and Community Engagement Department to the Campus and Community Engagement Department. The name change didn’t make it; it was closed this month. School officials said some of the division’s projects would be moved, while others would be closed. They gave no details.

Shaw said she was the only person of color in her department. She said she saw on X that other university employees had been let go and started contacting them. At least 10 of the other laid-off faculty and staff members she contacted are also from minority backgrounds, she said.

Losing her job was a big blow to Shaw, who had already planned classes for this summer and fall. She said her superiors previously told her they hoped to renew her contract.

“I’m so disheartened to see that the very thing I was worried about ended up happening,” Shaw said.

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