UT Austin Lays Off Former DEI Employees

The university is laying off approximately 60 former diversity, equity, and inclusion staff members, according to a statement from the Texas NAACP and Texas AAUP. The university ended DEI-related jobs in compliance with Texas' anti-DEI law.
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Published on April 8, 2024
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  • The Texas NAACP and the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors released a statement saying the University of Texas at Austin is laying off about 60 former diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) employees despite the fact they didn't currently hold DEI positions.
  • Senate Bill 17 banned DEI offices, hiring preferences, enrollment training, and student benefits based on race or ethnicity at Texas public colleges and universities.
  • Forty people reportedly got laid off within the Division of Campus and Community Engagement, formerly known as the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) laid off former diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) staff, even though they do not currently work DEI jobs.

The Texas NAACP and the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released a joint statement saying the university gave approximately 60 former DEI employees a pink slip indicating job termination in 90 days.

Texas implemented anti-DEI bill SB 17 on Jan. 1, 2024. It banned DEI offices, hiring preferences, enrollment training, and student benefits based on race or ethnicity.

A UT Austin spokesperson told BestColleges they could not confirm the number of employees the university laid off.

"At the time when they were issued pink slips, all terminated employees were no longer in DEI-related positions," the NAACP and AAUP statement said. "Therefore, these terminations clearly are intended to retaliate against employees because of their previous association with DEI and speech that they exercised prior to their current assignments."

The university shared an email sent by President Jay Hartzell earlier this week to the community saying that the university is discontinuing the Division of Campus and Community Engagement (DCCE) since it hosted programs that overlapped with other efforts and "remaining DCCE activities do not justify a standalone division."

The DCCE is responsible for initiatives for the campus community, K-12 students, the Austin community, the University Interscholastic League, the UT Elementary School, Disability and Access, and more.

"Our initial focus was to ensure we made the required changes by SB 17's January 1 effective date, but we knew that more work would be required to utilize our talent and resources most effectively in support of our teaching and research missions, and ultimately, our students," Hartzell wrote.

According to the NAACP and AAUP statement, the university gave some former DEI professionals new roles and others new offices. Forty of the roughly 60 layoffs come from within the DCCE, formerly known as the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

Hartzell wrote that associate and assistant deans who previously worked in DEI roles will return to full-time faculty positions, but that a small number of staff roles formerly focused on DEI will no longer be funded.

"These programs will now be distributed to nine different campus units. Given that DCCE had already been modified to comply with SB 17, its dismantling … appears to be an inappropriate and unnecessary response to SB 17," the NAACP and AAUP statement said.

Hartzell told the community he understands how the strong feelings about SB 17 may shape the community's perceptions of the measures. The funding from the previous DEI efforts will go to teaching and research support. All people from eliminated positions have the opportunity to apply for any open positions.

"Respect for our students, faculty, and staff will be essential as we make these changes. The Division of Student Affairs will work to ensure that current student-facing services will continue to be available for the rest of this semester, and student workers also will retain their positions through the end of this term," Hartzell wrote.

This isn't the first anti-DEI cut that caused groups to question the university. In January, UT Austin closed its Monarch program, a program dedicated to supporting undocumented students, citing cooperation with SB 17.

The program provided advising, mentoring, mental health support, a scholarship, and financial workshops to undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students and students with temporary status in the U.S.

Student organization Rooted refuted that the bill applied to Monarch since "immigrants are not a single racial or ethnic group."

"This was a blindside for (Monarch) because we were promised that our program (would) be exempt," an anonymous alum told The Daily Texan, UT Austin's independent student newspaper.

"About 60% of our students were having negative mental health impacts because of their status. Being an immigrant student, we have unique needs and experiences that add to the stressors of being a regular college student."

Rooted is taking the helm from Monarch by transitioning university-sponsored activities and services into student-run programs.

Texas Tech University students also took the initiative after DEI and LGBTQIA centers on their campus were shuttered in accordance with SB 17. The Texas Tech University Gender and Sexuality Association, Rainbow Leaders Association, and the Student Intersectional Leadership Council are continuing galas, Pride weeks, and socials previously sponsored by the university.

Rice University, a private, nonreligious research university in Texas, is exempt from SB 17. So students are extending their benefits to students at affected colleges by giving them honorary memberships to Rice PRIDE, the university's LGBTQ+ undergraduate organization.