Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
The Texas A&M University System is starting to take stock of all university activities, programs or groups that try to foster a diverse and inclusive campus environment as it prepares for a new law to go into effect next year. That law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 14 bans diversity, equity and inclusion offices, trainings and programs at all of the state’s public colleges and universities.
According to a June 13 memo obtained by The Texas Tribune, A&M System leaders have launched a “Systemwide Ethics and Compliance Program Review” to ensure its universities are following state and federal equal employment opportunity laws and the new bill that bans DEI offices, Senate Bill 17. They directed presidents at the system’s 11 public universities to provide copies of all campus work related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
The memo provides one of the first glances into how university leaders are responding to the legislation, which faced broad opposition at the Capitol from state Democrats, faculty and students. Texas became the second state in the country behind Florida to ban such offices and programs that are meant to help students from all backgrounds succeed on campus and can also boost diversity of its faculty.
DEI efforts became a popular way for university leaders to create more inclusive working and learning environments for students and faculty from underrepresented backgrounds, including people of different races or ethnicities, military veterans or people with disabilities.
In the letter, system leaders cast a wide net in their request for information, instructing university presidents to provide “documents and information” about all diversity programs, trainings and initiatives that are provided by the university’s DEI office or by a specific college or academic department. University leaders must provide details on all programs that “promote different treatment of, or provide special benefits to, persons due to their race, color or ethnicity, if any.”
The memo also asks for a list of faculty organizations that support faculty of a particular gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation as well as any employee and student handbooks, mission statements or media communications that focus on DEI efforts.
The memo asks that universities provide details on the source of funding for each program, initiative, training or campus organization. Universities must provide the information to the system by June 30.
System spokesperson Laylan Copelin said a system working group is gathering information as it reviews the law and developing a plan for implementation.
DEI offices often coordinate mentorships, tutoring and programs to boost people from underrepresented groups in fields like science and engineering. They help departments search widely for job candidates and ensure that universities don’t violate federal discrimination laws.
Critics accuse DEI programs of pushing what they characterize as left-wing ideology onto students and faculty and say that these programs prioritize social justice over merit and achievement.
SB 17, which Abbott signed one day after this letter was written, says universities cannot create diversity offices, hire employees to conduct DEI work or require any DEI training as a condition for being hired by or admitted to the university. All hiring practices must be “color-blind and sex-neutral.”
The bill would also prohibit universities from asking job candidates to provide written answers about how they consider diversity in their work or sharing how they would work with diverse populations, commonly known as diversity statements. Critics have equated diversity statements with ideological oaths, while supporters say they help ensure job candidates are prepared to support students from all backgrounds.
The legislation would not affect course instruction, faculty research, student organizations, guest speakers, data collection or admissions.
It does include language saying that if a federal granting agency or accreditation agency requires DEI programs, a Texas university or employee can instead submit a statement that highlights the school’s work helping first-generation college students, low-income students or underserved student populations.
In the memo, Texas A&M System leaders said university presidents should note if they believe any “trainings/activities/presentations” that refer to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation are required to comply with state or federal law or to maintain accreditation, or if they are required “for the purposes of enrollment or to perform any institutional function by an employee.”
Disclosure: Texas A&M University and Texas A&M University System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Go behind the headlines with newly announced speakers at the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, in downtown Austin from Sept. 21-23. Join them to get their take on what’s next for Texas and the nation.