Texas public universities are now at the forefront of a battle against considering diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring.

Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff Gardner Pate sent a letter to all state universities warning that their DEI programs violate federal and state laws.

In the memo, Pate writes that DEI has “been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others.”

“When a state agency adjusts employment practices based on factors other than merit, it is not following the law,” Pate wrote. “Rebranding this employment discrimination as ‘DEI’ does not make the practice any less illegal.”

“The letter from the Governor’s chief of staff is a reminder that state agencies and public universities must follow federal and state law in their hiring practices, including the Civil Rights Act which protects diversity and inclusion,” Abbott’s office said in a statement after the memo was released. “Both federal and state law make equity quotas illegal. The issue is not diversity — the issue is that equity is not equality, and DEI hiring practices conflate the two. In Texas, we give people a chance to advance based on talent and merit. Aspiring to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, we should not be judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.”

Texas Legislative Black Caucus and Mexican American Legislative Caucus members denounced the letter, emphasizing the importance of Texas’ workforce reflecting its diversity.

What is diversity, equity and inclusion?

According to dictionary.com, DEI is “a conceptual framework that promotes the fair treatment and full participation of all people, especially in the workplace, including populations who have historically been underrepresented or subject to discrimination because of their background, identity, disability, etc.”

Here’s how the UT System defines diversity, equity and inclusion:

What is going on with DEI in Texas?

As a result of the memo being sent to university leaders, University of Texas System campuses announced Wednesday they were pausing new diversity, equity and inclusion policies. This isn’t the first time Abbott has pushed back against DEI initiatives in the state.

Abbott signed House Bill 3979 into law in June 2021, banning DEI training at state agencies.

HB 3979 says that state agencies may not “be required to engage in training, orientation, or therapy that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or blame on the basis of race or sex.” And they may not “require or make part of a course” certain concepts, including that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” or “members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.”

What state laws address diversity, equity and inclusion?

Richard Carlson, a law professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, told Houston Public media that it’s illegal for employers to hire individuals based on race, or to use “quota hiring” in an effort to increase workplace diversity. He said that diversity is a broad term and not exclusively based on race or ethnicity as portrayed by Abbott’s office, and that prohibiting DEI could have a stifling effect.

Andrew Eckhouse, a lawyer at Kaplan Law Firm in Austin, told the Texas Tribune that the governor is mischaracterizing the practice’s role in employment decisions. He said that DEI is unrelated to quotas, screenings and exclusions.

“Anti-discrimination laws protect all Americans by ensuring that employers do not make hiring decisions based on race, religion, or gender, while DEI initiatives work in tandem with those laws to encourage companies to solicit applications from a wide range of applicants, which is legal and beneficial,” he said.

State legislatures can take steps to reverse “the illiberal takeover” of higher education through diversity, equity and inclusion, says a January brief published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank.

DEI initiatives “stifle intellectual diversity, prevent equal opportunity, and exclude anyone who dissents from a rigid orthodoxy,” the authors said. Instead, public universities should abolish DEI policies, end mandatory diversity training, end the use of diversity statements in university employment processes and stop factoring in identity in employment, the brief said.

©2023 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit star-telegram.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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