In a 83-62 vote, the Texas House passed a bill Monday to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices and programs from the state’s public colleges and universities.
The bill now returns to its author, Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, who will either concur or disagree with the House’s version. If the Senate concurs, the bill will head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed and become law. Otherwise, both the House and the Senate will appoint a conference committee to try to find a compromise version of the bill.
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At the heart of the debate are different understandings of DEI’s role in higher education. Those who oppose DEI argue it favors race over merit, while those in support say it fosters inclusion and reduces discrimination.
The proposed legislation would eliminate DEI offices and ban DEI training and DEI statements.
Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, who filed the House version of the bill, said during the House debate Friday that Texas is spending millions of dollars on DEI despite lacking evidence that DEI programs have increased minority recruitment and hiring.
“DEI is present in some form in almost every Texas campus,” he said. “We must recruit the best people in every field regardless of race and gender.”
Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, asked Kuempel whether employees in DEI offices will lose their jobs. Kuempel said he assumes they’ll be reassigned to student services.
An amendment was added to ensure employees would not lose their jobs. Some Republicans, including Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, disagree with such a move. Tinderholt said this bill is one of the most important ones this cycle because Texas has allowed “leftists to infiltrate our universities for far too long.”
He proposed an amendment that would remove the wording that would allow employees to be reassigned and another amendment that would require a yearly study on the impact of the bill.
Kuempel did not support the amendment.
History of the bill
Creighton introduced the bill in March. During subsequent Senate debates, he argued that DEI programs are not working the way they are meant to. Instead, he said, they are discriminatory, favoring certain groups over others.
Creighton also argued that, when universities require diversity statements from job applicants, they’re violating the applicants’ First Amendment rights.
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The bill, he said, “does not harm diversity efforts, but it does remove divisive agendas that have been seen to be carried out through DEI units, personnel and certain departments.”
The bill has received significant pushback from Texas Democrats, including members of the Black Legislative Caucus.
A vocal opponent has been Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, who told The Dallas Morning News in early May that the bill would discourage students and academics from coming to Texas.
During an April public hearing of the Senate higher education subcommittee, dozens of Texans, including students and faculty, waited almost 12 hours to testify against the bill. The subcommittee voted 4-1, along party lines, to advance the bill. West was the sole vote in opposition.
“It’s wrong,” West said at the hearing. “As opposed to trying to fix the isolated incidents and make it a better program, you’re talking about dismantling the entire program.”
Sports and research
When the bill reached the Senate floor, some Democratic lawmakers argued that the proposal could lead colleges and universities to struggle to comply with NCAA requirements.
The NCAA, the national organization that regulates college sports, could penalize Texas’ college athletic programs if the state eliminated DEI efforts, the senators argued.
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Democratic senators also argued that eliminating DEI from Texas would affect researchers’ ability to get federal grants, which often require some kind of DEI component.
Many federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have extensive DEI programming.
In a written statement early May, Creighton told The News that “innovative research conducted at Texas colleges and universities is completely exempt from the policies in Senate Bill 17.”
He added that, “if federally funded grants require a DEI statement, which would be compelled speech, I have serious concerns that they are in violation of the First Amendment.”
During the Senate debates, Creighton was not receptive to possible amendments that would make exceptions for college sports or research grants.
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The Senate voted 19-12, along party lines, to advance the bill.
But after the bill was discussed by the House higher education committee, a new version included a provision that would make exceptions for research grants. That version was not passed by the House. Instead, new amendments made the House version similar to the Senate’s.
After long hours of debate and multiple attempts to delay the process by Democrats, Kuempel created his own amendment that requires a yearly study on the effect of the bill regarding minority recruitment and retention. The study would be conducted by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The House version also requires colleges and universities to assign DEI officers to other departments and positions with similar pay.
Earlier this year, Abbott’s office sent a letter to governmental agencies, including universities, stating that DEI hiring practices are illegal.
“The innocuous-sounding notion of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others,” the letter read.
Since then, the University of Texas System has announced a pause on new DEI policies and the Texas A&M University System banned diversity statements from job applications.
This year alone, 20 states have introduced 34 bills aimed at dismantling DEI. Only two bills, in Florida and North Dakota, have been signed into law.
The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.
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