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North Carolina university committee swiftly passes policy change that could cut diversity staff

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North Carolina university committee swiftly passes policy change that could cut diversity staff
April 17, 2024
MAKIYA SEMINERA - AP

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The future of diversity, equity and inclusion staff jobs in North Carolina's public university system could be at stake after a five-person committee swiftly voted to repeal a key policy Wednesday.

The Committee on University Governance within the University of North Carolina Board of Governors that oversees 17 schools, voted in less than four minutes to reverse and replace a policy related to DEI. The full board of 24 members is to vote on the matter again next month, and if approved, the repeal would take effect immediately.

If the policy is fully repealed, the UNC system could join another major public university — the University of Florida in Gainesville — in dismantling its diversity office. Florida's flagship university announced in a memo last month that it was scrapping its office and shifting its funding for faculty recruitment instead.

In Texas, universities saw major cuts in their diversity and inclusion staff in 2024 in compliance with a state ban signed into law last year.

Diversity, equity and inclusion is defined by the American Psychological Association as a framework to guide “fair treatment and full participation of all people,” especially those belonging to minority groups. It has become a recurring point of contention for conservatives who argue DEI programs are discriminatory.

The proposed policy change, first reported by The News & Observer of Raleigh, would impact a diversity, equity and inclusion regulation adopted in 2019. It defines the roles of various DEI positions — such as a system office diversity and inclusion liaison and diversity officers across the university system — and the establishment of a diversity and inclusion council made up of members representing each university, according to the policy.

Under the policy, the officers’ responsibilities include assisting the chancellor with diversity policy and programming, in addition to facilitating training for students and staff.

But Andrew Tripp, senior vice president for the UNC System Office’s legal affairs team, said the change will reaffirm “the university's commitment to non-discrimination and institutional neutrality.”

The policy that could replace the existing regulation does not include the outlined responsibilities of DEI officers and liaisons, suggesting they may be eliminated. Other inclusion efforts such as tracking the university's diversity metrics and giving reports to university boards will continue, the replacement policy said.

UNC-Chapel Hill — the system's flagship campus and whose website says has an office for diversity and inclusion with a 12-person staff — said it was preparing a statement Wednesday and did not immediately have comment.

Immediately after its speedy vote to repeal the diversity policy with no questions or discussion, the governance committee went into closed session to approve February meeting minutes and go over a legal affairs report from Tripp, according to the agenda. Closed sessions are not subject to public record, according to state statutes.

The next meeting of the full UNC Board of Governors is scheduled for May 22-23 in Raleigh, according to the board’s schedule. Any decision by the full board to replace the current policy would take effect immediately.

Members of the UNC Board of Governors are elected to serve four-year terms by the state Senate and House of Representatives, which Republicans have controlled since 2011.

The state's Republican House Speaker, Tim Moore, said there's interest among fellow Republicans in taking up anti-DEI legislation in the upcoming session set to open next Wednesday. He told reporters recently that the state legislature may allow the university boards to review their diversity policies first before introducing any bills.

“It's still at the conversation stage,” Moore said.

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