Texas Gov. Abbott Signs Law Banning DEI Offices at Public Colleges, Universities

The new law will also prohibit state-funded institutions from requiring diversity, equity, and inclusion training and diversity statements in hiring.
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Published on June 23, 2023
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  • On June 14, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 17 into law, which made its way through the Texas Senate and the House throughout April and May.
  • Texas public institutions will have to dismantle their diversity, equity, and inclusion offices by Jan. 1.
  • Critics say the bill could impact "marginalized and underserved" college students' success.
  • Senate Bill 18, which codifies faculty tenure, and the Save Women's Sports Act, which prohibits transgender athlete participation in sports, were signed in this legislative session.

Texas is now the second state to ban maintaining and establishing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices on all public college and university campuses.

On June 14, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 17, which bans Texas public colleges and universities from:

  • Maintaining a diversity, equity, and inclusion office
  • Hiring or assigning an employee of the institution or of a third party to serve as a DEI officer
  • Requiring or compelling any person to provide a diversity statement or give "preferential consideration" to any person based on a diversity statement
  • Giving preference to a future employee based on "race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin"
  • Requiring students to participate in diversity training as a condition of enrollment

The bill states that it cannot be construed to apply to academic course instruction, research and creative work, student organizations registered with the institution, or guest speakers.

By Dec. 1 each year, institutions must submit a report to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board certifying their compliance with these laws. But in the meantime, students and employees can bring action against the institution if they are required to participate in any training, according to the bill.

Florida, led by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, is currently the only other state to ban DEI offices and officers at state-funded institutions.

Students, Activists Frustrated by Anti-DEI Bill

At the University of Texas at Austin alone, there are 44 employees in the Diversity and Community Engagement Office — from a women in STEM executive director to an assistant vice president for disability and access — whose positions are now at risk.

Programs created to support students based on veteran and first-generation status, differing abilities, gender identity, race, and national origin are also in jeopardy.

Students, professors, and organizations alike expressed frustration during the bill's journey through the Texas Legislature.

Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, said in a June 14 statement, "The law blatantly ignores a critical fact: The work of diversity officers and programs is core to academic excellence, and to providing leadership for a diverse society and workforce."

Texas Students for DEI have also spoken up.

"The passage of this legislation in Texas demonstrates the willingness of our elected representatives to allow party lines and their own personal agendas to dictate their law-making decisions," they wrote in a statement.

"The implementation of DEI offices and practices may be banned within institutions of higher education, but the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion can never be removed from us, the people."

Texas General Assembly Targets Higher Education

Senate Bill 17 is not the only bill making waves among higher education institutions in the state as of late. The Texas General Assembly this session passed bills banning transgender athletes in sports and radically altering tenure for professors at public universities.

Senate Bill 18, which initially sought to fully eliminate tenure at universities but has since been revised, was signed into law last week. Institutions' governing boards are now required to specify how they grant tenure and how they evaluate tenured faculty. Dismissal of a tenured faculty member must be accompanied by appropriate due process.

The Save Women's Sports Act –– which prohibits people assigned male at birth from participating in women's sports at the collegiate level, even if they are transgender women –– was signed into law June 15.