As part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, President Lyndon B. Johnson prohibited discrimination based on race, sex, religion and national origin. Now amidst statewide and national dialogue on diversity, equity and inclusion policies, the legality of these policies has been called into question, with several university systems pausing their DEI policies following a call to action initiated by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
The DEI moniker refers to policies that aim to support groups who have been historically underrepresented or discriminated against and were developed to provide guidance on college campuses to increase representation.
“The innocuous sounding notion of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others,” Abbott’s Chief of Staff Gardner Pate wrote in a memo obtained by The Texas Tribune.
This sentiment has been echoed by other politicians in Texas with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick naming critical race theory and DEI policies in higher education as two of his top 30 priority bills for the upcoming legislative session.
On Feb. 22, the board chairman of the UT System, which encompasses eight academic institutions with about 244,000 students, announced that the system would pause its DEI policies on all campuses.
Following this announcement, other large universities followed suit, with universities such as the University of Houston and the University of North Texas choosing to pause their DEI practices in early March 2023.
“Discrimination is antithetical to our core values, and our employment policies and practices are consistent with these laws,” Shawn Lindsey, UH associate vice chancellor and associate Vice President of media relations, told HR Dive. “We have no offices, departments or programs promoting discrimination in the guise of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
UNT’s press release represented the last major Texas university system to comment on DEI initiatives.
As of now, Abbott’s letter does not establish a scope of restrictions beyond hiring practices.
Texas Woman’s University has yet to comment on the university system’s response.
Maddie Ray can be reached via email at email@example.com.