This Iowa Bill Would Defund DEI Offices at Public Universities

If passed, the bill would require institutions to reallocate the money spent on DEI offices toward merit-based scholarships for low- to middle-income students.
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  • The bill would prohibit state spending on DEI offices and officers.
  • The three public universities in Iowa have just under 130 employees who work full-time positions in "the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice."
  • University representatives in Iowa are concerned about several consequences if the bill is passed — from accreditation to vulnerability to more lawsuits.

The three public four-year universities in Iowa — the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa — could be prohibited from spending money on offices and staff affiliated with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) under a new bill moving through the Iowa House.

The bill notes that "prohibition does not affect a public institution of higher education's funding of academic course instruction, creative works, [and] activities of registered organizations," however, it strikes down spending on DEI offices and officers.

House Study Bill 218, filed Tuesday night by Republican lawmakers, bans universities from spending any state funds for the upcoming year until first reporting their compliance with the bill. It also allows students, faculty, staff, and alumni to sue the universities to prevent any violations.

Iowa lawmakers have pressed the state's university presidents on their spending toward diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in recent weeks, according to The Gazette.

Prior to a hearing with the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee, lawmakers sent the university representatives a list of questions, including how many DEI-related staffers the schools employ.

The universities have a combined 128.5 employees "who work full time in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice," according to The Gazette.

"These employees are in roles that directly support students with disabilities, military-affiliated students, multicultural students, women majoring in STEM disciplines, and other historically underrepresented populations," said the Iowa Board of Regents, the governing board that oversees the three public universities.

They also are tasked with supporting international students in obtaining visas and adjusting to life on campus in the U.S.

State Rep. Taylor Collins, R-Mediapolis, during the hearing pointed to the salaries of the institutions' diversity, equity, and inclusion officers.

Collins noted that the executive officer of DEI from the University of Iowa earns $255,000 a year, a vice president at Iowa State University earns about $247,000, and the chief diversity officer and the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Northern Iowa earn a combined salary of $200,000, according to The Gazette.

"If my math is correct, that's about $750,000 for four people," Collins said during the hearing. "Do you believe that's a good use of taxpayer money?"

During the hearing, University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson emphasized that the school competes in a national marketplace.

"I can't underscore enough how much we're fighting for talent at Iowa," she said. "We're being raided all the time by peer institutions, for faculty, for surgeons, for researchers, and we are always calibrating our salaries according to the national marketplace."

The board of regents is concerned about other consequences, too. They think the bill could expose them to more lawsuits since DEI training can help to prevent certain lawsuits.

The board believes that if the bill were passed, federal contracts that the institutions hold with agriculture and defense worth hundreds of millions of dollars could be jeopardized, Iowa Public Radio reported. The bill could also impact the universities' relationship with national accrediting bodies and the NCAA.