Utah bans DEI programs, joining other states

Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah signed a sweeping bill that cut diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the state’s educational institutions and government offices, the latest state to take action amid the broader national backlash against such efforts.

The law prohibits any program, office or initiative that has “diversity, equity and inclusion” in its name or “claims that meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.” It also requires that student support services be open to all students, prohibiting efforts that focus on students of certain races or genders.

Since the beginning of 2023, at least 59 bills that would roll back diversity efforts at universities, such as hiring statements and mandatory trainings, have been introduced in more than two dozen states and Congress. according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Eight have become law, including in North Dakota, Texas and North Carolina.

A law in Texas, which went into effect in January, bans DEI offices, diversity hiring statements, and faculty and staff diversity trainings. The University of Texas at Austin closed its Multicultural Participation Center last month because of the law. And an official said the university would no longer fund cultural events such as graduation ceremonies aimed at black, Latino and Asian students, according to the student newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin.

The law in North Dakota, which went into effect in August, prohibits mandatory diversity training at the state’s public universities. It also prohibits requiring applicants for hiring, tenure or promotion to “support or oppose a specific ideology or political point of view.” A law in Tennessee bans requiring public university employees to participate in mandatory implicit bias training.

Despite leading a deeply conservative state, Governor Cox had built his image as a moderate. His embrace of the DEI bill represented a somewhat surprising shift, said Michael Lyons, a political science professor at Utah State University. (Cox also signed a separate bill Tuesday requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their sex at birth.)

In a statement, Cox described the law, which takes effect in July, as a “balanced solution.”

“I am grateful to the Legislature for not following the lead of other states that simply eliminated DEI funding without any alternative path for students who might be struggling,” he said. “Instead, these funds will be repurposed to help all Utah students succeed regardless of their background.”

Cox had previously said that some campus diversity efforts had “become very political” and were “doing more to divide us than unite us.” according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Colleges are trying to determine what the bill means for their campuses. Utah State University, for example, has a “Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” The bill would apparently require at least a name change.

On its website, the university acknowledged that there could be “structural changes” to the division, but added that “the work of creating access, opportunity and belonging has always been shared by all USU employees and will continue.”

It didn’t seem like hiring practices would change at Utah State. The university noted that it had already phased out the use of diversity statements last spring and no longer allows them.