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UT Austin lays off around 60 staffers to comply with Texas DEI ban

UT Austin is reinstating its standardized testing requirement for admissions starting with the Fall 2025 semester.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
UT Austin is reinstating its standardized testing requirement for admissions starting with the Fall 2025 semester.

UT Austin has eliminated multiple staff positions focused on diversity, equity and inclusion in the latest effort to comply with Texas' anti-DEI law.

Around 60 staffers were laid off Tuesday, according to the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors and the Texas NAACP.

Senate Bill 17, which bans Texas public universities from having DEI programs and trainings, went into effect Jan. 1. At the beginning of the year, UT Austin closed its Multicultural Engagement Center, which housed student groups like Latinx Community Affairs, the Asian Desi Pacific Islander American Collective, and Queer and Trans Black Indigenous People of Color and Allies. It also shut down Monarch, a program that offered support and scholarships to undocumented students. Members of these groups say they have struggled to continue their organizations' work on campus.

On Tuesday, the university went a step further and announced it is closing the Division of Campus and Community Engagement and laying off some employees who worked on DEI.

"The new law has changed the scope of some programs on campus, making them broader and creating duplication with long-standing existing programs supporting students, faculty, and staff," President Jay Hartzell wrote in an email to the UT community.

To "reduce overlap" and "optimize" resources, Hartzell said UT Austin will move some of the programs DCCE manages to other parts of the university. It will also reassign some employees focused on DEI to other duties, while laying off others.

Forty of the 60 layoffs came from DCCE, the Texas AAUP and NAACP said. The two groups also said some staffers who had transitioned to different positions and were "no longer working in DEI designated jobs" were still laid off.

When asked for comment, the university directed KUT to Hartzell's email.

UT's announcement comes a week after state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe — author of SB 17 — said in a letter he was "deeply concerned" that universities were making superficial changes to comply with SB 17, like renaming offices or job titles.

"This letter should serve as notice that this practice is unacceptable — and also a reminder that SB 17 encompasses stringent enforcement provisions, including the potential freezing of university funding and legal ramifications for non-compliance," Creighton wrote.

The Division of Campus and Community Engagement was previously known as the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. UT Austin changed the name on Jan. 1. The university has also renamed several other organizations since SB 17 went into effect.

DCCE supported programs to help the university "offer education to those who may face the most significant challenges in accessing it," according to its website. Programs included First Generation Longhorns, the Disability Cultural Center and Women in STEM. Most recently, the division hosted a Women's History Month celebration.

It's unclear which programs won't continue. KUT reached out to employees at DCCE, but didn't receive any more information.

Texas' Senate Committee on Education will conduct a hearing next month to monitor state universities' progress on implementing SB 17. University chancellors are asked to give updates on how they're eliminating DEI initiatives.

Copyright 2024 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Chelsey Zhu