November 29, 2023

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In Texas, the anti-DEI dominoes are falling in a design proposed by Gov. Greg Abbott. In February communications to state agencies and public universities, Chief of Staff Gardner Pate announced the administration’s intention to ban “the innocuous-sounding notion of diversity, equity and inclusion” — based on limiting identity-based discrimination. Just one month later, the University of Houston announced that it would not use DEI initiatives in its recruiting practices.

“To ensure compliance with state and federal laws, we will not endorse or use DEI statements or factors in recruitment or promotion anywhere in the University of Houston system,” UH Chancellor Renu Khator said in email dated March 3 acquired by HR Dive. She added that the UT system “recognizes the importance and adheres to the practice of providing equal opportunity to all future and current employees and students” in school and at work.

“The system also strives to promote a non-discrimination environment,” she said.

Shawn Lindsey, associate vice chancellor and associate vice president for media relations, also emphasized UH’s commitment to compliance in an email to HR Dive that the report was a “reminder” of UH’s policy and “that the use of DEI statements has become an unpopular practice.”

“Discrimination is contrary to our core values, and our employment policies and practices are consistent with these laws,” Lindsey said. “We have no offices, departments or programs that promote discrimination under the guise of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

If there’s one thing HR professionals can learn from the domino effect of government, it’s that mandates can come down quickly and, of course, compliance is expected. Shortly before UH, Texas A&M University officials announced that the institution would also end its various recruiting practices. “No university or agency in the A&M System admits any student or hires any employee based on any factor other than merit,” Chancellor John Sharp he said in a March 2 statement. The chancellor “immediately directed all A&M System institutions to review their employment and admissions practices” to confirm compliance.

“The use of DEI orders has become an unpopular practice.”

Shawn Lindsey,

Associate Vice Chancellor and Associate Vice President for Media Relations at the University of Houston

Sharp said he’s satisfied that TAMU is complying with Abbott’s Feb. 6 memo — which nudged all state agencies to remove DEI from hiring practices, he said. The chancellor then expressed a further wish to “make our expectations clear and consistent” and issued his own guidance to ensure the institution “speaks with one voice on this issue”.

Additionally, Kevin Eltife, chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, confirmed at the summit board meeting on February 22 that the system would also revoke its DEI obligations in accordance with the state.

“The topic of DEI activities on college campuses has received tremendous attention nationally and here in Texas. To be clear: We welcome, celebrate and strive for diversity on our campus with our student and faculty population,” Eltife, named Abbott, he said. “Also, I think it’s fair to say recently that certain DEI efforts have deviated from the original intent and have now introduced requirements and actions that have rightfully raised concerns among our politicians.”

These public institutions are coming down hard on DEI and visibly so, as is the approach of the governor’s office in eliminating various recruitment initiatives. On February 13, Texas Governor Dan Patrick named “a ban on ‘DEI’ discriminatory policies in higher education” as one of his 30 top priorities for 2023 — along with a ban on exposing children to drag shows and a ban on critical race theory in higher education.

Of note is the dual level of enforcement of DEI’s bans: another priority identified by Patrick was the removal of judges and district attorneys who refuse to comply with Texas law.

In the midst of these reports, sources recently told HR Dive that DEI may be shifting shape toward the “employee experience”—an effort that still centers inclusion and belonging, and, they said, is worth considering. A diversity expert recently admitted to HR Dive that DEI conversations can be “off-putting” to some audiences. Her approach is then to rework the framework for addressing inclusion, belonging and diversity based on the employer.

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