June 15th, 2024

North Carolina public universities board repeals policy in vote that likely cuts diversity jobs

By Makiya Seminera, The Associated Press on May 23, 2024.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina’s public university system board voted Thursday to repeal a nearly five-year-old diversity, equity and inclusion policy, meaning its 17 schools will likely join other major universities in cutting diversity programs and jobs.

The 24-member University of North Carolina Board of Governors approved its agenda, which included the diversity policy repeal, with two members voting against the policy. The board’s affirmative vote means the change takes effect immediately, although the system said campus changes are expected to take place at the start of the 2024-2025 school year.

The policy change focuses on removing a 2019 regulation that outlines various DEI positions – such as diversity officers across the university system – and also defines officers’ roles and duties, such as assisting with diversity programming and managing trainings for staff and students.

The new policy does not include the outlined responsibilities of DEI officers and liaisons, suggesting they may be eliminated. The university system said in a document addressing questions about the policy that its goal is not to cut jobs, but some positions could be discontinued to comply with the new change.

Extra funding originally designated to DEI offices will go to “student success initiatives,” the system said.

The policy will not impact classroom instruction or university research, nor will it dismantle student organizations or cultural centers, according to the university system. It passed through the board’s university governance committee last month in less than four minutes with no discussion.

In his meeting remarks, UNC System President Peter Hans said students and faculty should confront “competing ideas” but the role of public universities is to remain neutral on “political controversies.”

“No one can speak for the whole university community on contentious issues because the university is not of one mind about anything,” Hans said.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Hans said he spoke with members of the UNC Faculty Assembly, students and staff who voiced concern about how the policy change would impact diversity. But he said he remains committed to welcoming diversity at the system’s schools.

Public feedback to the board before the vote was largely limited to a submission form on its website, which closed Thursday. As of Monday, more than 250 people had submitted public comments – with most identifying as alumni, according to University of North Carolina system public records.

Just 13 people expressed support for the potential repeal while most others voiced opposition to it. Commenters included students who recounted how they benefited from university diversity programs and parents who said they wouldn’t send their child to a UNC school if the policy changed.

About 35 protesters from schools across the university system gathered outside of the UNC System Office in Raleigh to oppose the repeal.

DEI has become one of the most contentious issues on college campuses in recent years as conservatives have claimed that the practices can lead to discrimination. Advocates, however, say diversity initiatives do the opposite by ensuring minority students’ and faculty’s inclusion in the university community.

Elsewhere, the University of Florida and the University of Texas at Austin both announced job cuts for diversity staff this year. More broadly, at least 20 states have seen Republican proposals seeking to limit diversity and inclusion programs in several public institutions, including universities.

The state’s flagship campus, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, moved to curtail diversity programs last week after the university’s board voted to reallocate $2.3 million in DEI spending in next year’s budget to public safety initiatives instead. During the regular UNC Board of Trustees meeting later in the week, Trustee Ralph Meekins said he was “totally against” the budget changes.

The board’s budget chair, Dave Boliek, said in an interview that the budget cut had been under consideration for almost a year.

“There’s no reason why we can’t, as university trustees, signal that this is the direction the university needs to take. I feel good about it,” said Boliek, who also won the Republican primary for state auditor last week.

More definitive plans to cut DEI funding date back to at least late March, according to UNC public records obtained by The Associated Press. In an agenda sent to another administrator before last month’s Board of Governors meeting, university provost Chris Clemens wrote that a plan to remove at least $1 million from the university’s DEI budget was needed.

He also mentioned in his March 25 email that the administration needed to “prepare for some rapid change.”

In the weeks leading up to the vote, UNC removed its staff page from the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion, which the university’s media relations team said was done as a privacy measure. The office’s website previously listed a 12-person staff headed by Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Leah Cox.

UNC Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts told reporters at last week’s trustees meeting that he was waiting to see what the Board of Governors’ finalized diversity policy would look like before determining what may happen to the diversity office and other jobs.

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