Gov. Greg Abbott characterizes his attack on diversity, equity and inclusion policies as a way to protect Texans against raced-based hiring and the creep of so-called “woke” liberal ideologies, but the governor is either missing the point or deliberately misleading Texans.
In a state which has historically struggled to rectify the lingering effects of racism and the lack of diversity in its state-level workforce, dialing back diversity, equity and inclusion — or DEI — policies would be a significant and unnecessary step backward.
Claims that DEI hiring practices are illegal are unfounded
In a Feb. 4 memo to state agencies and public universities, Gardner Pate, Abbott's chief of staff, cautioned against using DEI policies. He said funding them with state money runs afoul of federal law, a claim disputed by some legal experts who contend there is nothing unlawful about ensuring the broadest cross-section of applicants is considered for jobs or promotion. Still, Abbott's warning was enough for university systems including the University of Texas, Texas Tech University, Texas A&M, the University of Houston and Texas State University to announce they are pausing or reviewing their DEI policies to ensure they pass legal muster.
Abbott's false characterization of DEI as race-based hiring notwithstanding, DEI policies do not promote hiring less qualified candidates because they have a certain skin color, sexual orientation, disability or other distinguishing characteristic. The policies are simply intended to give those who have historically been under-represented or discriminated against equal footing in the job market.
The February memo from the governor's chief of staff said DEI "has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others,” which many have interpreted to mean white people are losing out on opportunities because of their race. The notion that respected universities are hiring black or brown job candidates strictly based on race is offensive, Angela Valenzuela, a professor in the University of Texas' Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, told our Editorial Board.
“It's absurd, and it’s also harmful because it suggests that those of us who are here are here because of that,” Valenzuela said. “To suggest that we are here because we are members of a certain demographic is not only untrue, it's hurtful.”
Abbott told the Houston Chronicle last week that DEI policies are part of a larger effort to “purge conservative thought.” That is another false characterization. DEI does not advocate indoctrinating students, government employees or anyone else with liberal orthodoxy. Instead, it allows different perspectives to be respectfully heard and promotes a sense of belonging and inclusion.
DEI policies are a response to historic wrongs
DEI concepts are not new; they have roots in the civil rights movement. But they took on renewed urgency after George Floyd's murder at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020. The murder sparked a national debate on the role of race in American life, and organizations in business, government, academia and other sectors began to rightfully re-examine their hiring and employment policies to ensure fairness for all. More recently, conservative Republican politicians such as Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have made DEI a red-meat political issue, pushing back on the policies with unfounded, ugly claims suggesting qualified white job candidates will lose out on opportunities because of the policies.
That is not to say there isn’t potential for overreach in the implementation of DEI policies. Texas Tech University is reviewing its DEI policies in part because of complaints that one department closely scrutinized job candidates over their knowledge of DEI. The DEI concept, and certainly the abbreviation, are still unfamiliar to many, evidence that some still have much to learn on the subject.
In his interview with the Chronicle, Abbott said his administration supports diversity, but his attack on programs that foster it suggest otherwise. The governor should back up his words and leave the state's DEI programs alone. Instead of seeking to dial back DEI policies, Abbott should dial back his inflammatory rhetoric, which seeks to pit groups against each other on the premise that one group is being wronged at the expense of others.
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