Oklahoma Governor Signs Executive Order Abolishing DEI Programs at State Institutions

The order prohibits state colleges and universities from creating or maintaining diversity, equity, and inclusion departments, positions, activities, or training.
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Margaret Attridge is a news reporter for BestColleges focusing on higher education news stories in California. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2022 with a BA in journalism and government and politics....
Published on December 15, 2023
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  • A new Oklahoma executive order bans state colleges' and universities' diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs.
  • Under the new regulations, public institutions won't be able to create or support DEI positions, departments, or activities, including staff training.
  • Oklahoma University President Joseph Harroz said the order "evokes deep concern."

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed an executive order banning state colleges and universities from using state funds for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, becoming the latest state to ban DEI from public institutions.

"In Oklahoma, we're going to encourage equal opportunity, rather than promising equal outcomes," Stitt said in a press release. "Encouraging our workforce, economy, and education systems to flourish means shifting focus away from exclusivity and discrimination, and toward opportunity and merit. We're taking politics out of education and focusing on preparing students for the workforce."

The order restricts the use of state funds, property, or resources to promote DEI initiatives, including faculty positions, departments, activities, and programs "to the extent they grant preferential treatment based on one person's particular race, color, sex, ethnicity, or national origin over another's."

The executive order prohibits DEI education, training, loyalty oaths, and statements on job applications. It also bars institutions from mandating that a person disclose their pronouns.

Colleges and universities have until May 31, 2024, to comply with the order and eliminate or dismiss non-critical personnel involved in DEI departments on campus.

Stitt targeted DEI programs in his February 2023 State of the State address, saying, "… when we send our kids to college, we expect our tuition to pay for their education, not their indoctrination … I want our universities to have less DEI officers and more career placement counselors."

Oklahoma University (OU) President Joseph Harroz confirmed in a statement that OU would have to comply with Stitt's order, eliminating their DEI offices and programs. Still, Harroz said the news of the order "evokes deep concern" and that the state's flagship university will "remain committed to ensuring an education from the University of Oklahoma remains accessible and available to all."

Oklahoma joins the ranks of states like Florida and Texas in implementing anti-DEI legislation targeting departments and positions on college campuses.

In 2023, over 30 bills were introduced nationwide limiting or prohibiting college DEI programs and resources.

In May, Florida became the first state to pass legislation defunding the promotion and continuation of DEI programs and banning institutions from offering any general education course that teaches "identity politics, or is based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities."

Texas' new law will go into effect in January 2024. It bans, among other things, public colleges and universities from maintaining DEI offices, requiring diversity statements, and mandating students take part in diversity training.

While anti-DEI actions remain popular in Republican-led state governments, students don't show the same enthusiasm. A 2023 BestColleges survey found that over half of students (55%) would consider transferring if their college were to abolish DEI initiatives.

Additionally, a majority (59%) of the students surveyed said that if a college they were considering had abolished DEI initiatives, it would have impacted their decision to enroll.