(The Center Square) – Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday signed two bills into law designed to reform public higher education institutions in Texas. One bans them from implementing DEI policies and another revises the tenure structure.
Both bills, authored by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, passed the legislature during the regular legislative session. Senate Bill 17 bans public colleges and universities from implementing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies that prioritize gender, race, ethnicity and ideological beliefs as factors for hiring or admission policies. Earlier this year, Gov. Abbott’s chief of staff sent a letter to public higher education institutions and state agencies saying if they were implementing DEI policies, they were violating federal law. In response, the heads of Texas colleges and universities said they were “pausing” and reviewing their DEI policies. The new law requires them to terminate them.
“DEI offices have grown in size and influence across college campuses requiring political litmus tests, compelled speech and mandatory diversity statements,” Sen. Creighton said in a press release. “Despite hundreds of employees and millions of tax dollars, just here in Texas, DEI offices have failed to make progress advancing or increasing diversity.”
By eliminating DEI, Creighton says public higher education institutions would better prioritize a merit-based approach to hiring and admissions processes based on qualifications, skills, and contributions, not ethnicity, gender or ideological beliefs.
SB 17 requires state-funded colleges and universities in Texas to close their DEI offices, end all activities that discriminate against students based on their race, ethnicity, or gender, and eliminate diversity statements for job applicants and all mandatory DEI training.
Creighton has argued eliminating DEI offices will save taxpayers millions of dollars and “restore a culture of free inquiry, meritocracy, equal opportunity, genuine innovation within Texas higher education.”
The new law also affirms the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Title VII, Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause and doesn’t impact any student-led organizations.
The Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors opposed the bill arguing it “undermines the tenant of academic freedom,” among other reasons.
Gov. Abbott also signed SB 18 into law to reform tenure policies at public colleges and universities in Texas.
“Guaranteed, lifetime employment is now a thing of the past at Texas public colleges and universities,” Creighton said. The new law “will be a model for the rest of the nation,” he said, “ensuring that Texas students have hard-working professors who focus on quality instruction and groundbreaking innovation.” Reforms modernize the tenure system by increasing the frequency and rigor of tenure review, and establish guidelines for colleges and universities to dismiss underperforming professors.
Creighton filed the bill after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick took issue with the actions and attitudes of faculty at the University of Texas in Austin. In the last legislative session, the legislature passed a bill banning so-called Critical Race Theory from being taught in Texas public schools from K-8th grade, which Gov. Abbott signed into law. This legislative session, the Senate passed a bill banning CRT from being taught at public colleges and universities, which went nowhere in the Republican-controlled House.
After the legislature passed the CRT ban in 2021, the Faculty Senate at the University of Texas, “a representative body that cultivates shared governance,” approved a nonbinding resolution stating that faculty, not politicians, should decide what they can and cannot teach even though the bill had nothing to do with higher education institutions.
The Faculty Senate expressed their commitment to “academic freedom” that’s “inclusive of research and teaching of race and gender theory.” The resolution was “co-sponsored and endorsed by the University Faculty Gender Equity Council (UFGEC), the Council for LGBTQ+ Access, Equity, and Inclusion (Q+AEI).”
Learning of the new CRT and DEI bans, last fall the Faculty Senate tweeted that they would still teach CRT and DEI regardless of what bills the legislature passed. Patrick replied by saying the legislature would ban them from doing so. In response, they tweeted they weren’t accountable to the Board of Regents or to the legislature, Patrick said when describing how the bill came about at a recent Texas Public Policy Foundation event.
In response to their tweets, he replied, “I guess we have to look at tenure.” He also said, “no one should be that arrogant particularly getting a taxpayer-paid paycheck.”
After the bill passed, he said, “I hope the Senate Faculty is listening and realizes they have to listen to the legislature.”