Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a sweeping bill that dismantled diversity, equity and inclusion programs in the state’s educational institutions and government offices — the latest state to take action amid a broader national backlash against such efforts.
The law prohibits any program, office or initiative that has “diversity, equity and inclusion” in its name or “asserts that meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.” It also requires that student support services be open to all students, outlawing efforts that target students of certain races or genders.
The Background: The law is part of a broader national crackdown on diversity efforts.
Since early 2023, at least 59 bills that would roll back college diversity efforts, such as recruiting statements and mandatory trainings, have been introduced in more than a dozen states and Congress, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Eight have become law, including in North Dakota, Texas and North Carolina.
A Texas law that went into effect in January outlaws DEI offices, diversity hiring statements, and faculty and staff training. The University of Texas at Austin closed its Multicultural Engagement Center last month because of the law. And an official said the university will no longer sponsor cultural events such as graduation ceremonies aimed at black, Latino and Asian students, according to the University of Texas at Austin student newspaper.
The North Dakota law, which went into effect in August, bans mandatory diversity training at the state’s public colleges. It also prohibits requiring applicants for employment, tenure or promotion to “support or oppose a particular ideology or political viewpoint.” A law in Tennessee bars making public college employees take part in mandatory implicit bias training.
Looking deeper: The move marks a political shift in Utah.
Despite leading a deeply conservative state, Governor Cox had established his brand as a moderate. His embrace of the DEI bill represented a somewhat surprising shift, said Michael Lyons, a political science professor at Utah State University. (Mr. Cox also signed a separate bill on Tuesday that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their birth gender.)
In a statement, Mr Cox framed the law, which takes effect in July, as a “balanced solution”.
“I’m grateful to the Legislature for not following the example of other states that have simply eliminated DEI funding without an alternative path for students who may be struggling,” he said. “Instead, this funding will be repurposed to help all Utah students succeed regardless of their background.”
Mr. Cox had previously said that some campus diversity efforts had “become too political” and were “doing more to divide us than to unite us,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
What’s next: College campuses must now respond to change.
Universities are trying to figure out what the bill means for their campuses. Utah State University, for example, has a “Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” The bill, it seems, would require at least a name change.
On its website, the university acknowledged there could be “structural changes” in the department, but added, “the work of creating access, opportunity and participation has always been shared by all USU employees and will continue.”
It did not appear that recruiting practices would change at Utah State. The university noted that it had already phased out the use of diversity statements last spring and no longer allows them.