Saturday, March 04, 2023

Exclusive: Gov. Greg Abbott explains his fight against diversity hiring programs on college campuses

Everybody needs to read every word of this U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Fact Sheet: Diversity & Inclusion Activities Under Title VI two-pager. DEI is not only legal but exists because of structural racism in higher education at its root. 

As indicated by David Hinojosa, who directs the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C., this means that without diversity-focused programs and initiatives of the kind outlined in the Fact Sheet above, a lot of preferential hiring on the basis of "fit," as opposed to merit, is more likely to occur.

Regarding the alleged idea of “purg[ing] conservative thought," I've come across some interesting research by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia University that suggests that universities may not be liberalizing communities, so much as communities liberalizing universities. 

With that as the hypothesis or premise in mind, it does seem compelling that universities are located—so many of them—in liberal towns within each state. To be sure, liberalism is a continuum unto itself. Austin, Madison, UCLA, Berkeley, Cambridge, Denver, Ann Arbor and so on, come easily to mind. 

Supposing that this hypothesis is actually true—and Sachs leans in that direction—the policy solution is perhaps rural universities—although that would re-segregate higher education. Not that this would concern some policymakers, but rather that prospective students—an increasingly black and brown demographic—would not be attracted to such institutions when there are great options and alternatives.

Expressed differently, the research suggests that they're not going to ever find all these cadres and cadres of conservative faculty that they seem to think are out there.

Policymakers need to stop churning up moral panics and fear and decide, instead, to adjust to the times that always bring new realities. As Heraclitus once said, "change is the only constant in life." 

Angela Valenzuela

Exclusive: Gov. Greg Abbott explains his fight against diversity hiring programs on college campuses

Photo of Jeremy Wallace

Even as Gov. Greg Abbott successfully pressures Texas universities to retreat from using diversity, equity and inclusion programs, he is adamant that doesn’t mean he’s against diversity on college campuses and in the government.

“Diversity is something that we support,” Abbott said in an exclusive interview with Hearst Newspapers.

THE ISSUE: As Gov. Abbott attacks diversity hiring, Biden launches all-out defense of the programs

The Republican governor said everyone is for equality and anti-discrimination policies. But he contends that diversity, equity and inclusion programs proliferating on college campuses have drifted far from advancing equal opportunity and are instead leading to hiring decisions based on the race of applicants. Further, he says they are part of a larger effort to “purge conservative thought.”

“What we’ve seen in our universities is DEI practices that are there for political purposes, advancing political agendas, blanketed with the perception that they are trying to protect diversity,” he said.

Advocates of diversity and equity programs say Abbott has it wrong. They say the goal is to increase pools of applicants for positions and address systemic barriers that have kept people from underrepresented backgrounds from advancement opportunities in the past.

In the past, many institutions thought they were hiring people based on merit when they were really hiring and promoting people based on how “they fit” with the organization, said David Hinojosa, the director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. That often meant decisions reflected the biases of the people doing the hiring, he said.

“The bottom line is these diversity, equity and inclusion programs are mostly set up because of these institutional biases against people of color,” said Hinojosa, a graduate of Edgewood High School in San Antonio who has argued affirmative action cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Abbott said his fight over DEI is bigger than just one program. He said he’s concerned about the atmosphere of college campuses where conservative ideas are not allowed to be expressed.

“They are purging any conservatives from the faculty and allowing the faculty to be led only by liberal leftists,” he said. 

Universities move to comply

Abbott is already seeing results since his office sent stern warning letters to all public Texas colleges and universities about DEI in January.

First, Texas Tech University officially removed DEI statements from faculty hiring requirements.

Then, the University of Texas last week announced that it had paused all new DEI initiatives and launched a review of existing programs.

On Thursday, the Texas A&M University system ordered all its schools and agencies to remove requirements that job applicants provide personal statements about their commitment to DEI efforts. Some units of the A&M system had such requirements, but others did not.

Those moves all come as the Republican-dominated Legislature has threatened funding for universities that espouse DEI. 

“Unfortunately, we’re paying for these things that we know are bad,” state Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, said during a panel discussion of the matter put on Thursday by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin. “The state of Texas shouldn’t be paying for that.”

DEI has been around for decades, but after the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer in 2020, those programs got a boost as colleges addressed demands that they foster more diverse leadership on campuses. 

“Some university trustees didn’t know what hit them,” anti-DEI advocate John D. Sailer said at the Thursday panel discussion.

Sailer said that nationally, schools are imposing DEI priorities in all facets of university life, including making it a litmus test for promotions, tenure and hiring. The result, he said, is applicants know that if they don’t subscribe fully to DEI efforts, that can be used against them.

“Universities exist for the pursuit of truth,” said Sailer, who is a fellow with the New York-based National Association of Scholars. “But DEI represents a distortion of that mission to pursue social justice and a specific political goal.”

In January, Sailer issued a report on DEI programs at UT-Austin. He said DEI has “invaded every aspect” of the school.

“These policies espouse a specific set of contentious political views, dictate a new curriculum and embed the principles of DEI into the fabric of the university,” his report said.

Less than two weeks after the report, Abbott's staff sent a letter to all Texas public colleges, including UT, the governor's alma mater, warning them about DEI and repeating Sailer's concerns.

“Rebranding this employment discrimination as 'DEI' does not make the practice any less illegal,” wrote Gardner Pate, Abbott's chief of staff.

'Enormous harm'

On the other side, Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe has called the effort to dismantle DEI an attempt to return to Jim Crow-era laws and set back progress that communities of color have made.

“The governor's initiative will do enormous harm and take the state backwards,” Bledsoe said at a news conference last month blasting the effort.

Bledsoe says it is absurd for Abbott to claim he supports diversity when he’s going after the very programs that are helping to diversify institutions.

“You cannot support diversity and kill DEI,” Bledsoe said.

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