Regents approve new policy that prohibits ‘diversity pledges’ from prospective employees, students

photo by: John Hanna/Associated Press

This photo from Friday, April 12, 2024, shows the sign above the door to the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging inside the main administration building on the main University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kan. Republican lawmakers across the U.S. are seeking to restrict diversity initiatives on colleges campuses, arguing that they enforce a liberal orthodoxy.

A new policy that will prohibit “diversity pledges” at state universities — but won’t require schools to close their offices related to diversity initiatives — won quick and unanimous approval by the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday.

While diversity-related issues surrounding higher education have been divisive in several states across the country, Regents at their monthly meeting expressed no concerns with the new policy that will prohibit universities from asking people who are applying for jobs or for admission as students about their views on diversity.

Some universities across the country have required such diversity statements to be made by applicants, explaining their philosophy on diversity issues or pledging allegiance to certain diversity principles.

Regents approved the new policy after the Kansas Legislature, led by Republican lawmakers, approved a bill that prohibits such pledges. That bill hasn’t yet been signed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who has until Friday to veto the provision. If it’s vetoed, the Legislature could attempt to override the veto.

At Wednesday’s meeting, which was held at Fort Hays State University, Regents indicated that wasn’t a fight they were interested in having.

“This is our good-faith effort to try to listen to the Legislature as they listen to the people,” said Regents Chair Jon Rolph, who made the motion to approve the policy and was the only Regent to speak about it at Wednesday’s meeting.

In his brief remarks, Rolph acknowledged that universities in the state perhaps have used such diversity pledges in the past, but said his understanding is that it “mostly has not been a practice over the course of the last year,” which coincides with when legislators began expressing concern.

The Journal-World reported on the proposed policy last month, and Rolph said then that the policy wouldn’t require universities to eliminate their staff positions related to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives. The end result is likely to be that universities won’t have as part of their application processes a requirement that potential employees or students make statements about their DEIB beliefs.

Rolph last month said some applicants who are applying for jobs directly related to DEIB initiatives indeed may be questioned on that front as part of the application process, “but broadly across the university that every applicant needs to provide a statement before they are ever interviewed, it is just not something that we feel we need to do in Kansas.”

Republicans in at least 20 states have sought to limit DEI initiatives, arguing that they are discriminatory and enforce a liberal political orthodoxy. Alabama and Utah enacted new anti-DEI laws this year, and a ban enacted in Texas last year has led to more than 100 job cuts on University of Texas campuses.

In Kansas, the law awaiting the governor’s signature allows a fine of up to $10,000 for a violation and includes provisions in the next state budget to withhold nearly $36 million from the state universities unless they publicly confirm that they don’t have such requirements. Higher education leaders have said such a budget cut would be devastating to the finances of universities. Wednesday’s approval of the new policy makes that scenario less likely.

“I don’t think we ever would have had a state law if this was their policy at the outset,” Republican state Sen. J.R. Claeys, the author of the budget provisions, told the Associated Press earlier this week.

Claeys, who is also an adviser to GOP state Attorney General Kris Kobach, another DEI critic, said a new Regents policy is a positive step because it ensures that all of the universities are following the same guidelines.

But, he added, “I wouldn’t expect them to enact any enforcement on themselves.”

Others say that such policies reflect “a gross misrepresentation” of the purpose behind DEI statements from applicants.

“The intended purpose is to provide an opportunity for prospective employees to reflect on their experiences and how those experiences complement the mission and values of an institution to support a diverse campus community,” said Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, in an email statement to the Associated Press.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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