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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
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North Carolina university system moves to repeal DEI policies

Diversity, equity and inclusion jobs at North Carolina public universities are now in limbo after the university system voted to eliminate DEI programs.

RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) — The board of governors for the University of North Carolina system voted on Thursday to repeal diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies at public universities in the state.

The move comes just a week after $2.3 million in DEI funds were reallocated to public safety.

The policies, which were adopted in 2019, required public universities in North Carolina to employ diversity and inclusion liaisons and officers, track DEI metrics and host diversity-related programs and activities. The governing UNC system will now assume responsibility for these efforts.

The decision will impact all 17 public universities in North Carolina, leaving the jobs of DEI officials in limbo after those positions were not included in the new policy

The board consists of 24 voting members. Members are elected by the state General Assembly and serve four-year terms. Only two, Joel Ford and Sonja Phillips Nichols, voted against the change, which passed as part of a consent agenda on Thursday. 

Among the supporters of the repeal was Dr. Pearl Burris-Floyd, Gaston County’s first DEI officer. She called the original 2019 policy a mistake and said its repeal would create a clearer path forward.

State Democrats, though, have criticized the vote, saying the university system should focus on creating an inclusive environment instead of participating in partisan politicization.  

“Our universities are charged with preparing younger generations for life and work after college," a group of Democrats in the state House said in a statement. "Without diversity-focused programs and staff, we are leaving students with fewer tools to understand one another, thrive in the workplace, and become good citizens."

During the meeting and leading up to the vote, UNC President Peter Hans said the university system wanted to remain neutral and still provide spaces for students to hear different perspectives and ideas. 

“Non-discrimination, institutional neutrality, free expression, academic freedom: They’re all mutually reinforcing concepts and values," Hans said before the vote. 

"We’re here to serve all — not just those who agree with us," he added. "When these principles are faithfully held, they allow diversity in all forms to thrive."

Principled neutrality enhances the free speech rights of students and faculty, Hans argued. “It is critical for higher education to recommit to creating conditions for true dialogue."

Last week, the UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees unanimously voted to reallocate $2.3 million in state funds for diversity funding, using it to fund policing and public safety instead. 

With Thursday's vote, the UNC system follows the lead of many other universities nationwide, which have also cut DEI programs amid conservative backlash.

Unlike in other states, though, the UNC board’s decision precedes any anti-DEI legislation. The University of Florida eliminated all DEI positions after Florida passed a law banning state funding for DEI programs. Meanwhile, the University of Texas laid off more than 50 employees who worked in DEI in April, after state lawmakers banned diversity programs and training.

Republican lawmakers in 20 states have introduced more than 50 bills this year to restrict diversity initiatives, the AP has reported. No such bills have been introduced by North Carolina lawmakers this year, as the Republican-dominated legislature has instead focused on budget issues.

Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, voiced his disapproval of the board’s decision. 

“North Carolina is stronger because of our diversity," Cooper said. "We should work to understand and celebrate our differences, not use them to push right-wing political agendas that threaten students and academic recruitment at our universities."

"It’s time to change the way University leadership is appointed," Cooper added, "so that it better reflects the wide diversity of race, ethnicity and political thought we have in our great state.”

On this front, Cooper’s office has proposed a number of reforms, including increasing the number of UNC board members from 24 to 32 and establishing a so-called “cooling off” period to prevent lobbyists and politicians from immediately moving into board positions.

DEI advocates say diversity, equity and inclusion programs increase inclusion and awareness on campuses. Opponents, meanwhile, claim DEI programs make some students feel unwelcome. 

Despite repealing DEI policies, board members on Thursday emphasized that the UNC system is committed to diversity. Board member Gene Davis said that while DEI programs “have done a lot of good," he wants all students to feel welcome on campus. 

In its updated policy, the board said it wanted to “advance diversity and to foster an inclusive environment that engages, respects, and values all members of the University community.” The new policy will not impact federally-required positions, such as Title IX officers.

Follow @SKHaulenbeek
Categories / Civil Rights, Education, Politics

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