North Texas Daily

UNT DEI initiatives at risk of removal in anticipation of potential legal troubles

UNT DEI initiatives at risk of removal in anticipation of potential legal troubles

UNT DEI initiatives at risk of removal in anticipation of potential legal troubles
March 08
10:00 2023

University students and faculty are unsure of the future of diversity, equity and inclusion policies on campus as other Texas institutions remove DEI initiatives from their hiring practices.

Texas universities’ removal of DEI hiring practices has come as a reaction to a letter sent by Gov. Greg Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Gardner Pete, to the Employees Retirement System of Texas. The letter described DEI practices as “proactively [encouraging] discrimination in the workplace.” The letter nor the governor’s office has specified who has been affected negatively by DEI policies. Some students feel there are political motivations for the letter’s legal implications.

“What we’re seeing, this attack on higher education, it’s very clear that this is a block on the real histories of America and the real truths that I think nobody wants to talk about,“ Student Government Association President Jermaine Turner said.  “More specifically, it’s about these systems and institutions of white supremacy being upheld and them being so afraid of marginalized communities, being able to rise up and to participate in systems that were not designed or built for us. Yet, we’ve reached the stuff of where now we’re able to obtain them.”

The University of Houston, University of Texas, Texas A&M University System and Texas Tech have all rescinded, removed or placed under review portions of DEI hiring practices on their campuses. Some, like UH and TAMU, have released statements explaining the changes. UH Chancellor Renu Khator affirmed that UH would “stand against any actions or activities which promote discrimination in the guise of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

University of North Texas President Neal Smatresk is set to address the Faculty Senate on “DEI job posting changes” at their March 8 meeting, according to an agenda provided on their website

As of now, it is unclear what President Smatresk will address regarding the university’s DEI hiring initiatives or what stance he will take on the issue. The President’s Office has held several events in the past highlighting the importance of diversity at the university. In a 2020 letter, President Smatresk noted “hiring a more diverse workforce” would confirm “[the university’s] commitment to becoming an antiracist campus.” 

The university’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access office was unable to provide a comment in time for publication.

Currently, the university’s faculty demographics do not reflect that of the student body. While white students represent only 39.6 percent of the students, 62.8 percent of professors are white, according to the UNT 2021-2022 student factbook

Despite Black and Hispanic students representing 14.8 and 24.6 percent of students, respectively, only 5.9 percent of professors are Black and 3.5 percent are Hispanic. This disparity carries over to tenured professors, where 3.8 percent are Black while 64.5 percent are white. 

The governor’s letter is not the only legal worry DEI policies face. Lubbock state representative Carl Tepper filed HB 1006 last December. The bill would effectively dissolve any and all DEI offices in Texas universities at risk of being liable for lawsuits, which the “office of the chief executive officer of the institution or the institution’s system” would have to pay for. 

Some students are hopeful that even if the university removes its DEI policies, those at the university will prioritize diversity and equity regardless. 

“I think that if we still want to continue that value those that are already here, that those that are already hired on will keep that in mind and active regardless of its on paper or not,” said Yesenia Hernandez, vice president of the Latinx Hispanic Student Union. “That’s what I hope to see, especially from our faculty and staff. Regardless [of] whether that DEI language gets removed from documents and our hiring process, that they’re still going to be considering, ‘How do we make sure UNT stays an inclusive space?” 

Featured Image The diving eagle statue located near the Hurley Administration Building reflects the sunrise on March 7, 2023. Maria Crane

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Ayden Runnels

Ayden Runnels

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