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UNT pauses diversity hiring initiatives amid Gov. Abbott’s warning

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The University of North Texas is among the last systems in the state to make such a statement, which was prompted by Gov. Greg Abbott’s Feb. 6 memo to state agencies warning that diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are illegal in hiring.

Michael R. Williams, the chancellor the University of North Texas System, told faculty, staff and students in an official statement Wednesday afternoon that he has paused any new diversity, equity and inclusion “policies, programs, and trainings” until a full review of the system’s hiring policies is complete.

“The UNT System is built on a people-first, values-based culture that fosters an inclusive, welcoming, and safe environment for all,” Williams said. “We champion our people over programs and prioritize investing in talent that lives our values, aligns with our shared vision, and believes in our greater purpose. The UNT System does not support discriminatory hiring practices, and we will always follow state and federal hiring and employment laws.”

UNT is among the last systems in the state to make such a statement, which was prompted by Gov. Greg Abbott’s Feb. 6 memo to state agencies warning that diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives — often known as DEI policies and programs — are illegal in hiring.

When Abbott’s memo went out, officials from the state’s six university systems began announcing reviews of their hiring policies.

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University of North Texas President Neal Smatresk speaks to Faculty Senate members during a meeting Wednesday. Smatresk discussed Chancellor Michael R. Williams’ statement announcing that the UNT System is pausing any new diversity, equity and inclusion programs, policies and trainings until all hiring policies are reviewed.

During a Faculty Senate meeting on Wednesday, UNT President Neal Smatresk briefed senators on the statement 30 minutes before they convened.

When asked to answer some questions from faculty, he demurred, citing the presence of media in the session and explaining that “I don’t want to make up policy on the fly.”

But Smatresk pointed back at Williams’ statement about committing to the people-first culture.

“I think the chancellor did a really good job of threading the needle on this,” Smatresk said. “I believe that he had, last Monday, very productive conversations with legislators. I think his position is thoughtful.”

Smatresk and UNT Provost Michael McPherson told the senate they don’t see the university backing away from its mission to serve an increasingly diverse student body, a trend that cuts across the entire system.

UNT is a minority-majority campus that was recently designated as a Hispanic-serving institution. Last June, UNT announced it was among the founding members of the brand-new Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Research Institutions, a coalition committed to increasing not only Hispanic enrollment in graduate STEM studies, but also the number of Hispanic faculty teaching STEM courses.

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One faculty senator brought forth a question from a constituent, explaining that the governor’s memo was an untested opinion. The constituent asked if any policy shifts could open the university to legal jeopardy.

“I don’t know how much you guys really understand about what happens down in Austin in politics,” Smatresk said. “When a lieutenant governor and a governor start to rattle their sabers and ask for a response, generally, you answer. Sure, we can wait for the bill to drop. Or we can attempt to have a thoughtful conversation and try to be part of a modulating discussion.”

McPherson said it is reasonable for search committees to ask candidates how they would bring their experience to bear on students in the UNT System.

Lucinda Breeding-Gonzales
University of North Texas Provost Michael McPherson speaks during a Faculty Senate meeting on Wednesday at the University Union. McPherson said that search committees will be able to ask job candidates how they would create an inclusive classroom for UNT’s diverse student body.

“What I have communicated with the deans is that it is perfectly reasonable to talk to job candidates about how they would meet our diverse student body where they are,” he said. “How would you create an inclusive classroom environment for our students? There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what we are. That’s what we do.

“So if there was language in the job posting that requested a diversity, equity, inclusion competence statement, that was pulled out. But we’re also told that reinserting statements similar to the one I just made would be just fine.”

The chancellor did not offer a timeline for the hiring policy review in his statement.