Opinion – Originally published in Frederick County Progressives by Dr. William Reid
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) refer to an organizational framework that seeks to promote the fair treatment and full participation of all people, particularly groups historically subjected to discrimination based on identity or disability.
Maryland has a strong DEI program at its colleges and universities, partly due to its significant minority representation and elected Progressive politicians within the Maryland General Assembly. There is a movement to abolish DEI programs, and the battle is not just in red states; a debate to abolish DEI programs occurred at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We must stay vigilant against attempts to pass anti-DEI legislation and other efforts to undermine the democratic principles of fairness and equal opportunity.
The following is an example of a defeat in ongoing DEI efforts and what we should do as a community to fight against anti-DEI legislation:
The Texas legislature has passed SB17 (“Banning DEI Policies in Higher Education“). This law prohibits Texas public colleges and universities from creating or maintaining anti-discrimination offices. The bill also prohibits Texas public colleges and universities from using state funds for non-academic purposes, including DEI-related activities; the law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2024. This bill also forbids faculty, students, and staff from receiving critical training that helps prevent potentially discriminatory action against students. These trainings are necessary for Texas universities and colleges to prepare for incidents of discrimination on campus or to take steps to prevent them from reoccurring. SB17 implementation will immediately impact the ability to provide services and support for student success and retention. These services range from counseling to health care and more. This law is especially harmful to students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, international students, and other historically marginalized groups on campus.
The introduction of SB 16, 17, and 18 in Texas was arguably a response to the belief that Texas colleges and universities were too liberal. This trifecta of laws was the latest coordinated attack on higher education in Texas and nationwide. Although unsuccessful, proponents of SB17 also supported SB16, which sought to prohibit teaching concepts related to race, religion, politics, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation and end tenure and academic freedom at public colleges and universities across Texas. While SB 18 (“Eliminating Tenure at General Academic Institutions“) was unsuccessful in denying tenure to newly hired professors, it did manage, with vaguely worded language, to curtail due process rights for tenure-track faculty. It negatively impacts faculty’s academic freedom.
DEI is an embedded set of practices and procedures used in academic accreditation, targeted student success programs, NCAA Division I participation, and more. DEI programs also ensure students’ and faculties’ federal protections against discrimination through the intersections of Title IX, protecting people from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, and Title VI that protects people from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Moreover, most of our nation’s public colleges and universities remain Equal Opportunity and DEI-compliant employers in carrying out contracts with the federal government, thus putting anti-DEI states out of compliance with Federal DEI requirements.
SB17 is another form of white supremacy that is rooted in hatred, bigotry, and racism, similar to the “Jim Crow and Poll Tax laws” that prevented school desegregation and voting rights access for minorities, respectively. SB17 will be detrimental to students and their academic opportunities at public universities in Texas. Challenges to the law will likely occur in court; however, it is unclear how this challenge will play out because there are no significant legal efforts to stop SB17’s execution. The Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Texas Association of Diversity Offices in Higher Education, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Black Brown Dialogues on Policy opposed the legislation. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, LULAC and the NAACP LDF cannot immediately challenge this law; they must wait for the new law to create unjust circumstances, often called “ripeness,” for a lawsuit. Currently, the Federal government is considering withholding funds from Texas colleges and universities that are not compliant with federal DEI requirements.
As a result of SB17’s passage, we must “take action” and educate ourselves about what this law entails, work together as a community to ensure its repeal before it metastasizes throughout our country, and encourage our federal elected officials to undertake concrete actions in support of withholding funds from colleges and universities that are not in compliance with Federal DEI requirements. In this regard, at a recent “meet and greet,” Congressman David Trone (US Senatorial Candidate from Maryland), when asked about SB17, said he favored withholding Federal funds from public colleges and universities that do not comply with Federal DEI requirements. In conclusion, it is incumbent on all of us to take action to support and protect DEI programs. If you think anti- DEI laws do not impact you, then you are wrong, and they are likely coming after you next.
Dr. William Reid
Chair, Frederick County Progressives, a chapter of Progressive Maryland