University of North Carolina System Eliminates DEI Policy

UNC's Board of Governors voted to repeal a policy that advanced diversity, equity, and inclusion, replacing it with a policy that commits institutions to neutrality and nondiscrimination.
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Updated on May 31, 2024
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  • The University of North Carolina (UNC) System's Board of Governors voted to remove a policy that required schools to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
  • All 17 schools in the UNC System will have to end DEI efforts by Sept. 1.
  • Students rallied against the board's vote, voicing their support for DEI.
  • UNC faculty are also frustrated with the vote, and the secrecy surrounding it.

The University of North Carolina (UNC) System's Board of Governors has officially repealed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies from all 17 institutions.

The May 23 vote ends a 2019 DEI policy designed "to advance diversity and to foster an inclusive environment that engages, respects, and values all members of the university community and to ensure such efforts are carried out in an effective manner."

Instead, the new policy, which institutions will need to comply with by Sept. 1, requires that universities commit to "institutional neutrality and nondiscrimination."

Universities in the UNC System also won't be able to train employees and faculty on "political controversies of the day," any specific "view of social policy," or "matters of contemporary political debate."

The system's former policy also outlined DEI job roles across the system. These roles face an uncertain future as universities in the system determine how the policy change will affect DEI departments.

UNC Board member Gene Davis during the meeting acknowledged the gains in student retention and graduation rates attributable to DEI programs but voiced support for the new policy, saying it still commits universities in the system to be welcoming to all.

"The University of North Carolina System serves a diverse student body, just as you'd expect in a fast-growing state. And our public institutions welcome all North Carolinians — a constitutional mandate and mission we are committed to upholding," Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey wrote in an op-ed ahead of Thursday's vote.

"With that in mind, the changes in the UNC System's recently proposed diversity, equity, and inclusion policy are designed to keep public universities in line with the law, and with principles of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity. Most of all, we want to make sure a commitment to diversity doesn't become a commitment to political groupthink."

The only two "no" votes came from board members Sonja Nichols and Joel Ford.

Outside the meeting, students gathered to protest the removal of the DEI policy. According to Niner Times, police escorted the protesters out of the building and arrested two.

UNC System Schools Await Guidance on DEI Policy Repeal

UNC-Chapel Hill sent a community update May 28, saying that the "goal of this policy is not necessarily to cut jobs, but to move our universities away from administrative activism on social and political debates."

The university said it will take time to determine how many positions it'll need to change or cut, but any saved funds will go to student success initiatives.

UNC-Chapel Hill also clarified that the university's cultural centers will continue to serve students, but any programs and services to help academic performance will now comply with the new requirements for "institutional neutrality and nondiscrimination."

North Carolina Central University, a historically Black institution, wrote that it's awaiting guidance on how to implement the new DEI policies.

"As a nationally-ranked historically Black university and a leading institution in the southern region, NCCU has nurtured a welcoming environment for nearly 114 years, providing a quality, hands-on education to all," the university said in a statement.

"We are dedicated to providing our students with training and programs that help them thrive. This dedication is the cornerstone of 'The Eagle Promise,' a pledge we make to our scholars, promising they'll be ready to pursue and succeed in their future endeavors with our supportive environment."

Students, Lawmakers Voice Support for DEI

Nehemiah Stewart, an MD/Ph.D. student at UNC-Chapel Hill studying neuroscience, stood alongside Democratic lawmakers at a May 22 press conference to voice his opposition to the repeal of the 2019 DEI policy.

"When we get students familiar, give them core skill sets to find survival in these foreign environments, we increase their chances for success," Stewart said. "These DEI programs, I've seen with my own eyes, brought forward our new generation of clinicians, engineers, lawyers, thought leaders, and I've been just so honored to be a part of it in my journey."

The lawmakers, including state Rep. Maria Cervania, D-Wake, warned that eliminating DEI programs would diminish the diverse workforce North Carolina has built.

UNC System Board Moves With 'Speed,' 'Secrecy'

Many UNC faculty and students have voiced their concerns over how the board voted to remove the DEI policy.

The board added the vote to the agenda the morning of its April 18 meeting and voted on moving the policy repeal forward in just four minutes with no discussion or questions.

"We are stunned at the speed, the secrecy and the exclusion,” said Wade Maki, head of the UNC System's Faculty Assembly and a professor at UNC-Greensboro, according to Open Campus.

"Very few people in the UNC System seemed to know this was coming. We had no testimony, no questions, no discussions and now that it's been put on the consent agenda, there's not likely to be any.”

The student-run group Southern Student Action Coalition filed a complaint against the UNC System with the North Carolina attorney general, alleging students were denied access to the meeting.

UNC-Chapel Hill Diverts DEI Funds to Campus Police

Ahead of the Board of Governors' vote, UNC-Chapel Hill voted unanimously May 13 to divert $2.3 million in DEI funding toward campus public safety — namely, law enforcement.

"I think that DEI in a lot of people's minds is divisiveness, exclusion, and indoctrination," said Marty Kotis, vice chair of the board's budget and finance committee, in the meeting. "We need more unity and togetherness, more dialogue, more diversity of thought."