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KERA news and the Denton Record Chronicle are tracking the impacts of Texas' Senate Bill 17, the ban on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in higher education on schools, students and educators across North Texas.

'Nobody is going to lose a job,' UTD head says of plans to comply with new anti-DEI law

UT Chancellor J.B. Milliken, UTD President Richard Benson, UT Arlington President Jennifer Cowley, state Senator Royce West
Bill Zeeble
From left, UT Chancellor J.B. Milliken, UTD President Richard Benson, UT Arlington President Jennifer Cowley and state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, at a meeting in Dallas Thursday hosted by West to discuss the impact of anti-DEI legislation on public schools.

The head of the University of Texas at Dallas says employees in the school’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will keep their jobs when the state’s new anti-DEI law goes into effect in January.

Senate Bill 17 requires Texas colleges and universities to end Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs.

“There are things that will continue unchanged,” UTD President Richard Benson said. “There are some things that will continue maybe with a little bit of change. And then there are some things that maybe can't continue.

“But one thing I've told all of my people is nobody is going to lose a job. I don't want them worried about that.”

Benson’s remarks came at an event with other college leaders in Dallas Thursday hosted by state Sen. Royce West.

Benson, along with UT Chancellor J.B. Milliken and UT Arlington President Jennifer Cowley, all said equity efforts remain vital for the future of Texas because the state is so diverse. Their schools will continue that kind of work, even after DEI departments are dismantled.

“But as I've said to some others,” explained Benson, “if you look past what maybe you call it, you know, diversity and inclusion, if it's things like mentoring, recruiting and the like, support, we will continue to do those things. And so it'll go under a different name. But I don't think anyone would have a problem with the actual actions of what we do.”

The University of North Texas earlier this month announced it will dissolve its Division of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access this fall after the office’s vice president, Joanne Woodard, retires. It was the first major university to publicly announce actions in response to SB17.

Milliken said there’s a lot more Texas schools need to do, including in recruitment. He said 51% of all UT students are Black or Hispanic but too many are not applying to UT -- they should.

“Talent is universal. It doesn't respect zip codes, national origin, race, ethnicity, wealth,” he said. “It's universal, but opportunity is not. And our job in education is to match that opportunity with that talent."

Sen. Royce West championed the rule that now allows the top 10% of Texas high school graduates entrance into state colleges and universities. It was his attempt to further diversify student populations. At Thursday’s gathering, he worried about the current state of that law.

“One statistic that I found very disheartening in terms of African-American students,” said West, “I was told that there were over 2,000 African-American students that …graduated with the top 10% of the class that didn't go to a college or university or anything. No one really went after those students. We've got to make sure we have real programs to go after those students.”

As of now, a majority of Texas public school students are Hispanic. That’s predicted to grow over time. These leaders say the healthy future of Texas depends on every student getting access to a quality education.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.