Senate bills threaten DEI

Graphic by Aditi Mungale | Mercury Staff

Three Senate bills proposed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick could have serious implications on higher education institutions if they are passed in the legislative session.

The three bills include Senate Bill 16 — Banning Critical Race Theory (CRT) in Higher Education, Senate Bill 17 – Banning Discriminatory “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) Policies in Higher Education and Senate Bill 18 – Eliminating Tenure at General Academic Institutions.

If approved, SB 16 would prevent professors from teaching on CRT and other topics related to sex, gender, race, culture, and diversity in a formal academic setting. If approved, Senate Bill 17 will limit DEI offices at Texas universities.

Antonio Ingram, an assistant counsel attorney at the NAACP Legal Fund, explained the magnitude of the impact these bills could have on diverse institutions of higher education.

“These bills are going to have a disproportionate impact on increasing diversity in all its forms on college campuses,” Ingram said. “It’s really an attack on public education. UTD is so diverse. There’s essentially plurality of racial diversity from Asian Americans, Latino Americans, African Americans, white Americans, are all learning from each other and in the classroom together. These sorts of bills are an attack on multiracial settings.”

Currently, the DEI office at UTD has several committees and projects that promote diversity among student, professors and faculty in all fields.

“There are various forms of bias that we are still struggling with in our country,” Ingram said. “DEI is not giving certain groups a pedestal. It’s remedying past forms of discrimination that are persisting. Think about STEM. We all know that women are underrepresented. And if you want to increase women in STEM, you have to have more women professors, you have to have policies that empower women to feel comfortable in a classroom … DEI is not just giving someone extra [stars]; it’s trying to right historical wrongs.”

In a press release reported on by The Texas Tribune, Sen. Brandon Creighton, who filed SB 17, said he believes DEI practices encourage polarization.

“The elevation of DEI offices on campuses have only furthered divides and created a chilling effect on open dialogue,” Creighton said. “This legislation will ensure Texas college campuses are environments that are open to differing ideas, foster meaningful, reasoned dialogue, and encourage intellectual discourse.”

In December 2021, the Texas legislature passed SB 3, which prevents schools from compelling teachers to discuss “controversial issue[s] of public policy or social affairs” in K-12 education. Education activists argued that the bill could be used to restrict how slavery, Jim Crow and other elements of American history are taught in classrooms.

“In the K-12 space, the same schools that are restrictive in their curriculum, and in that how they impact or how they allow diversity to be talked about in our schools, have created environments that some students experience more bias and bullying, discrimination inside the classroom setting,” Ingram said. “It is important for people to understand how these policies are designed to cultivate certain environments. If these policies are taken away, their schools could be left in a position that does not allow them to [control] these environments.”

Ingram said having professors of a variety of backgrounds can assist students in feeling more comfortable and confident as indicated by research. Ingram argued that the proposed Senate bills could mitigate students’ ability to pursue their interests in a diverse environment.

“Banning the use of diversity statements means schools can’t attract professors of diverse backgrounds,” Ingram said. “Professors who are homosexual … who have gender diversity, sexual orientation, diversity, racial diversity. I’ve seen research journals, where there’s more diversity in the classroom from both the students and the professors, it enriches the learning environment, especially at a place like UT Dallas.”

In 2022, according to The Austin American Statesman,Patrick announced his intention to modify the education code to allow the removal of tenure for professors who teach CRT. Sen. Bryan Hughes more recently filed SB 18, part of Patrick’s goals for higher education, which would ban new hires after September from receiving tenure.

“At a time when colleges and universities have unprecedented endowments, bloated administrative costs and ballooning tuition it is time for lawmakers to reevaluate an outdated practice that guarantees lifetime employment at taxpayer expense,” Creighton said.

UTD’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion gave the following response regarding the impact of the Senate bills.

“While we cannot comment on pending legislation, for decades, our work has included programing and services aimed at supporting all of our students, faculty, and staff,” Yvette Pearson, vice president of ODEI, said. “We remain committed to principles and practices that ensure ‘UT Dallas [is] a place where members of the community from all backgrounds are welcomed, treated fairly and encouraged in their pursuit of excellence’ as communicated throughout the University’s Strategic Plan.”

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