UT-Austin Lays Off People in 60 DEI-Related Positions

Senator threatens legal action if schools don't comply with new law

Photo by John Anderson

At least 60 people have lost their jobs at UT-Austin as a direct result of the university’s implementation of Senate Bill 17, which bans initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion in institutions of higher education, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

In a letter to faculty and students Tuesday, President Jay Hartzell explained that the university has “embarked on a multiphase process to review campus portfolios and end or redesign the policies, programs, trainings, and roles affected by the new law.” Most changes were implemented by January, and mostly included renamings: The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement replaced "Diversity" with "Campus." The Gender and Sexuality Center became the Women's Community Center. Other changes were more concrete, like the shuttering of the Multicultural Engagement Center, which housed six university-sponsored student groups, including the Latino Leadership Council and Afrikan American Affairs, and the end of Monarch, which helped undocumented students with internships, applications, and financial aid.

Now, despite the name change, UT has shuttered the Division of Campus and Community Engagement (DCCE), which recently hosted a campus-wide women’s history month celebration, and offered a restorative justice program to help students address problems in relationship dynamics. In his email, Hartzell claims that activities within DCCE “overlap with our efforts elsewhere” and that UT will simply be “redistributing the remaining programs.” Hartzell stresses that disability services, University Interscholastic League, UT charter schools, and other “volunteer and community programs” will be continued as part of other divisions. Funding that was used to support DEI will be “redeployed to support teaching and research.” However, UT declined to answer where the programs or funding will be redistributed.

These changes followed a March 26 letter from state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, to chancellors and regents at various universities. In the letter, he warns that “merely renaming DEI offices or positions” is not complying with SB 17, and that universities’ funding could be frozen or they could face legal action if they don’t comply. In order to track enforcement, SB 17 requires universities to submit an annual plan to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board before they can spend state money each year, and requires universities to testify before a legislative committee outlining actions they have taken to remain in compliance with the law. Creighton’s letter reminded institutions that their first compliance meeting with the Senate Committee on Education will happen in May – written statements are required by May 3.

“Now that SB 17 is law, I’m confident that Texas public colleges and universities can return to their core mission of innovation and education – and if they do not, the Texas Senate will be resolute in enforcement of this legislation,” wrote Creighton.

Editor's note Tuesday, April 2 5:27pm: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that UT fired four people; their positions were eliminated, they were not technically fired. This story has also been updated to reflect the amended number of people laid off to at least 60, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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