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Texas A&M University System bans diversity statements from job applications

John Sharp.JPG
Ben Torres
/
The Texas Tribune
John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, speaks during a press conference at the PalmWood Event and Conference center in downtown Fort Worth on May 19, 2022.

The system is the latest to make changes after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state agencies to stop considering diversity in their hiring practices.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp has directed leaders of its 11 universities and eight agencies to stop asking job candidates for statements about their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in their applications.

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office sent a letter to public universities and state agencies saying that DEI hiring practices violated federal and state employment laws and barring them from hiring on factors “other than merit.” Legal experts have said the governor’s office mischaracterized the legal practices employers use when considering diversity in their hiring.

Sharp said Thursday he directed all A&M system universities and agencies to review their employment and admissions practices. He said he is standardizing hiring practices systemwide by limiting faculty and staff applications to a cover letter, curriculum vitae, statements on research or teaching philosophies and professional references.

“No university or agency in the A&M System will admit any student, nor hire any employee based on any factor other than merit,” Sharp said in a directive sent to university leaders Thursday.

Universities and system agencies were also directed to make sure websites and printed materials related to employment and admissions practices reflect these changes. Texas A&M University has not considered race in student admissions since 2003.

Abbott’s order prompted multiple universities to make changes to hiring, particularly in the practice of asking job candidates to submit diversity statements, which are typically one- to two-page letters in which job candidates are asked to share their experiences working with diverse populations and their commitment to helping a diverse group of students succeed. Critics have characterized them as political litmus tests.

Last week, the University of Texas System announced a pause on future DEI initiatives and called for all universities in the system to review their DEI policies.

UT System board Chair Kevin Eltife said last week that while the system strives to promote diversity among its students and faculty, “certain DEI efforts have strayed from the original intent to now imposing requirements and actions that, rightfully so, has raised the concerns of our policymakers around those efforts on campuses across our entire state.” The university has not responded to requests for more specifics about which efforts he was referring to.

Texas A&M University in College Station had already directed departments to no longer require diversity statements in future job postings, according to emails obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Texas Tech University also came under fire recently after a conservative advocacy group criticized the university’s biology department for evaluating job candidates based on their understanding of diversity initiatives and commitment to fostering an inclusive atmosphere among students and faculty. The university said it was reviewing hiring practices within its departments to ensure other areas were not using similar criteria.

Conservative lawmakers and advocates criticize DEI initiatives as political litmus tests that require potential or current employees and students to subscribe to progressive political views that squelch certain types of free speech and prioritize social justice over merit and achievement.

“The innocuous sounding notion of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others,” Gardner Pate, Abbott’s chief of staff, wrote in his letter to university and state agency leaders last month.

When many public and private universities were founded, they admitted only white men as students. Over time, universities opened their doors to other groups, including people of color and women, often as a result of legal challenges in which judges ruled that policies prohibiting certain groups from enrolling were discriminatory.

Yet even as universities started to accept students from more diverse backgrounds, many universities have acknowledged over time they have not created environments that serve certain groups well, including people of color, women, disabled students and veterans.

As the state’s demographics have shifted, universities have created offices and hired staff with the intent to ensure schools were serving these students. Many schools recommitted to these efforts after George Floyd’s murder, when students demanded schools commit to fighting systemic racism within higher education and offer more academic and emotional support to help them succeed.

Many Texas universities were already making efforts to better support students of color, low-income students and first-generation students as these institutions ponder their role in preparing the state’s future workforce and helping students from all backgrounds earn a postsecondary credential or degree.

In recent months, conservative politicians and advocates have targeted diversity, equity and inclusion practices, criticizing efforts to help underrepresented groups as products of left-wing ideology meant to reinforce liberal ideas about structural racism and discrimination.

At a panel on diversity, equity and inclusion practices at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual policy summit Thursday, state Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, said the state must pass legislation banning the use of DEI in public universities.

“We [have to] pass these laws to have that backup for our university and university regents who are doing some kind of patchwork quilt of different regulations and different policies in our various state universities so the state provides that uniformity,” Middleton said. “So that’s another important thing on the Legislature acting on this subject and making sure it’s the same for all.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has listed removing DEI policies from hiring at universities as one of his Senate priorities, though a bill has not yet been filed.

This week, Rep. Carl Tepper, R-Lubbock, filed a bill that would prohibit universities from creating DEI offices that work to influence “the composition of the faculty or student body of the institution with respect to race, sex, color, or ethnicity, other than through the use of color-blind and sex-neutral admissions and hiring processes in accordance with any applicable state and federal antidiscrimination laws.”

The legislation also would prohibit offices from creating policies or training in reference to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation.