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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.

DEI programs are now gone from Texas universities. How are schools adapting?

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.

A new state law took effect this week banning diversity equity and inclusion programs in state colleges and universities.

Under Senate Bill 17, schools in the Texas university system can't "establish or maintain a diversity, equity, and inclusion office," among other related initiatives.

Republican legislators in the last session said DEI programs don’t provide equal opportunities for broadly diverse workers, or include them where they might’ve been historically excluded.

Ina February 2023 memo, Gov. Greg Abbott’s Chief of Staff Gardner Pate told higher education leaders that the “notion of DEI has been manipulated to push policies that…favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others. Rather than increasing diversity in the workplace, DEI initiatives…proactively encourage discrimination.

“When a state agency adjusts employment practice based on factors other than merit, it is not following the law.”

Abbott signed SB17 into law in June, giving schools just over six months to comply before it took effect Jan. 1.

In August, the University of North Texas became the first state university to announce the elimination of its DEI programs, saying it would dissolve its Division of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access once Vice President Joanne Woodard retired in October.

UNT’s Offices of Title IX, Equal Employment Opportunity, and Affirmative Action moved to the Division of Finance and Administration. The staff and “future work” of the Multicultural Center and Pride Alliance was rolled into Student Affairs, President Neal Smatresk said in a Dec. 1 announcement, “to ensure the university continues to best serve our students and meet their needs.

“While we are changing the structure of some of our work, UNT’s commitment to helping all students succeed remains foundational to our mission,” he wrote.

The school is also creating a new Center for Belonging and Engagement.

UT Dallas, meanwhile, is replacing its DEI office with a new Office of Campus Resources and Support.

“To ensure UT Dallas can continue to meet the needs of our campus community in a manner that is fully compliant with SB 17, a new Office of Campus Resources and Support (OCRS) will be created on Jan. 1, 2024,” the department’s website reads. “OCRS is entirely separate and new to UT Dallas. This office will lead activities that are SB 17 compliant.”

At an August gathering of leaders of University of Texas system schools, UT Dallas President Richard Benson said no DEI employees would lose their jobs, and promised a commitment to DEI goals.

“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.”

Changing names was a tactic shared by others: UT Arlington rebranded its Office of Talent, Culture and Inclusion to the Office of Talent, Culture, and Engagement.

A third of UTA students are Hispanic, and the schools is designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution and an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education.

“We're already the fifth most diverse university in the country, so we look just like the face of Texas,” UTA President Jennifer Cowley told leaders at the meeting in August. “And so your students are finding a welcoming place to be regardless of what legislation happens. It's a home where students from our region and beyond belong.”

Dallas College system spokesperson Liz Scruggs said as for SB17’s long-term impact on affected schools’ employees and students, she concluded it’s too early to tell.

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