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The Texas legislature has given final approval to a new bill seeking to prohibit diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at publicly funded universities in the state.
The legislation, known as Senate Bill 17, received final approval from both chambers of the Texas legislature on Sunday. The bill received a vote of 82 to 61 in favor of the final version from the House.
Under the bill’s provisions, Texas universities would be required to dismantle their DEI offices, programs, and mandatory training within the next six months. The hiring practices at these institutions would also need to be “color-blind and sex-neutral.”
However, the bill would not impact admissions, course curriculum, student organizations, faculty research, or data collection. In a move to address concerns about the potential consequences of the legislation, the final version of the bill stipulates that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board must conduct biennial studies to evaluate the effects of these changes on student enrollment, retention, and graduation rates, broken down by race, sex, and ethnicity.
State Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Republican and sponsor of the bill, hailed the bill’s passage.
“The elimination of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion offices will result in millions in savings for taxpayers and restore a culture of free inquiry, meritocracy, equal opportunity, genuine innovation within Texas higher education,” he said on Twitter.
In further comments obtained by The Texas Tribune, Creighton declared that the era of “political oaths, compelled speech, and racial profiling” in university hiring is now in the past.
“Moving forward, Texas will prioritize the advancement of the most qualified individuals and endorse policies that promote diversity and equality for our great state,” he said.
The bill, which was similar to the version approved by the Texas House of Representatives a week ago, underwent slight modifications during the conference committee stage.
One provision that ensured DEI employees would be reassigned to positions with similar pay was eliminated. Instead, the final version of the bill allows universities to provide letters of recommendation to DEI employees.
Opponents Say DEI Misunderstood
State Sen. Nathan Johnson, a Democrat, argued on the chamber floor that diversity in academic hiring is a shared goal, and he called the bill to rescind DEI “lazy and remarkably unimaginative.”
“[W]e know it works better to have that diversity of experience and perspectives in everything—corporate boards, academic institutions, Senates; everywhere,” Johnson said on the Senate floor.
“But I just don’t think we’ve taken sufficiently seriously this question of how we’re going to do better than we’re already doing,” he continued. “And I think we have an obligation to take that question more seriously than we have been before we take a bunch of steps backwards and retract what we’ve already done.”
Other critics of the bill argue that it demonstrates a misunderstanding of the role of DEI in addressing historical systemic exclusion in Texas’s higher education institutions.
Members of Texans Students for DEI said in a statement to The Texas Tribune that lawmakers have “fundamentally misunderstand” the role of DEI in reconciling “a longstanding history of systemic exclusion in Texas’s institutions of higher learning.”
“DEI represents a dedication to create and maintain an open and supportive environment for all students regardless of background,” the group stated.
In February, Gov. Greg Abbott instructed state agencies to cease considering diversity in hiring, asserting that DEI policies violate anti-discrimination laws.
The bill now awaits Abbott’s signature. If signed into law, Texas would become the second state in the country, after Florida, to enact such legislation.