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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.

To comply with DEI law, UNT counsel edits faculty policy regarding academic freedom

A sign that reads UNT University of North Texas with the mascot of a large bird.
The University of North Texas campus.

University of North Texas administrators made another policy change earlier this month to comply with the Texas Legislature’s ban on diversity, equity and inclusion offices, training, programs and hiring statements.

This time, university officials removed a reference to “diversity, equity and inclusion” from the policy regarding academic freedom and responsibility.

The North Texas Daily, the student news outlet at UNT, reported that faculty and staff received an email May 7 from Assistant Vice Provost Angie Cartwright. University administrators and UNT Faculty Senate leaders didn’t respond to messages from the Denton Record-Chronicle by Thursday evening.

“Recently, the Office of General Counsel of the UNT System ruled that a sentence in UNT Policy 06.035 Academic Freedom and Academic Responsibility was legally insufficient. UNT Policy 06.035 has been revised to align with Texas Senate Bill 17,” Cartwright said in the email obtained by the Daily.

The earlier policy read: “Faculty members are expected to promote and maintain diversity, equity and inclusion, congruent with the teaching, service and scholarly expectations.”

The updated version reads: “Faculty members are expected to promote and maintain, congruent with the teaching, service, and scholarly expectations,” a classroom and curriculum free of harassment and discrimination.

Texas lawmakers passed SB 17 in the 88th legislative session in 2023, and the law went into effect Jan. 1 this year. Across the state, university administrators have implemented the bill while some students and faculty have criticized colleges for what the Legal Defense Fund, a prominent racial justice legal organization, called part of a slate of “anti-truth” bills.

“The implementation of this misguided measure would be devastating for generations of Texans from all backgrounds,” the organization said in a statement released a year ago.

“If enacted, S.B. 17 will undermine the ability of educators and administrators to create a diverse and welcoming campus and threaten the quality of higher education in Texas as a whole. This legislation threatens to eliminate critical tools still needed to advance educational equity and will negatively impact student outcomes, such as retention and graduation rates for Black students, Latinx students and students from other underrepresented communities.”

While Texas Republican lawmakers remain hostile to measures that promote DEI in hiring, staff training and programs at public universities in the state, lawmakers didn’t pre-empt state and federal laws in taking aim at what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called liberal indoctrination. Courses and research can still study and use content about race, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. All Texas public colleges have to comply with federal and state anti-discrimination laws, including Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“UNT System institution policies, programs, trainings, and activities may promote and advance equal opportunity, equal access, and inclusion, which is required by federal and state law,” UNT General Counsel said in Nov. 30 guidelines sent to UNT administrators, faculty and staff.