New anti-DEI law for public Texas colleges presents hiring challenges

The law requires publicly-funded universities and colleges to close their diversity, equity and inclusion offices, creating hiring challenges.

click to enlarge Kate McGee, higher education reporter at The Texas Tribune, moderates a panel with Renu Khator, John Sharp and Tedd Mitchell, at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Sept. 22, 2023. - Texas Tribune / Eddie Gaspar
Texas Tribune / Eddie Gaspar
Kate McGee, higher education reporter at The Texas Tribune, moderates a panel with Renu Khator, John Sharp and Tedd Mitchell, at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Sept. 22, 2023.
As the state’s public colleges work to dismantle their diversity, equity and inclusion offices in accordance with a new law, three university chancellors on Friday discussed at The Texas Tribune Festival how the law’s impact has interfered with hiring efforts.

Senate Bill 17, which goes into effect at the beginning of next year, bans DEI offices at publicly-funded college campuses.

University of Houston Chancellor Renu Khator said recruiting faculty has been tougher. The ban has already come up in the hiring of a vice president for research in her university system.

“Sometimes they just simply say, oh no, I just don't want to come,” Khator said. “It takes more dialogue, it takes further dialogue to convince them.”

Texas Republicans have blamed DEI offices and programs for indoctrinating students with left-wing ideology and forcing schools to prioritize hiring based on how much job candidates supported diversity over merit. Critics of the law say it is a step backward for higher education in Texas, saying DEI initiatives boost student enrollment numbers among underrepresented populations and help universities hire employees from more diverse backgrounds.

One of the more public struggles with diversity hiring occurred this summer at Texas A&M University after the College Station school tried to hire journalism professor and former New York Times editor Kathleen O. McElroy.

Following a public signing ceremony announcing her hire, a conservative website blasted A&M’s choice and the school watered down McElroy’s initial offer, which had included tenure. McElroy ultimately rescinded her acceptance, choosing instead to remain at the University of Texas and settled with A&M for $1 million.

John Sharp, A&M’s chancellor, suggested at a Friday panel during The Texas Tribune Festival that former Texas A&M President Kathleen Banks acted independently of the university system’s board of regents when she pulled tenure from McElroy’s offer. Banks eventually resigned.

“The regents OK’d that [offer with tenure], told Banks OK,” Sharp said. “Why she did not do that, I don’t have an explanation. I haven’t talked to her since she left.”

But text messages from board members revealed they had concerns with McElroy’s perceived left-leaning credentials and had expressed disappointment about her hire.

University researchers often work with federal agencies that require DEI statements to qualify for federal grant dollars. That doesn’t go against new state law, which has exemptions for researchers.

“All six systems have been working together to really make sure that we all are consistent,” Khator said. “Researchers who are applying for grants where it is required, they can put that statement there to meet that need.”

Even without DEI offices, Texas Tech University System Chancellor Tedd Mitchell said institutions need to prioritize supporting students.

“Our charge is to develop young men and women. And so that happens whether you have DEI or not,” Mitchell said. “We have to look internally at what it is that we're doing day in and day out to make sure that every child that comes under our care feels like they are in an environment that is welcoming and supportive for them.”

Disclosure: Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, Texas Tech University System, New York Times and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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