Texas Tango: Abbott, Creighton, and the Dance Against Diversity

UT Lays Off Dozens of Employees to Preempt Anti-DEl Extremists

Toplines & Key Facts:

  • UT lays off 60 employees after anti-DEI comments from Creighton
  • UT dismantles the Division of Campus and Community Engagement
  • The University is removing all traces of diversity, equity, and inclusion 

UT Scales Back on DEI Efforts 

On April 2, the University of Texas at Austin announced that they will be shutting down the Division of Campus and Community Engagement to comply with Senate Bill 17, and told up to 60 faculty members in the division that they will be laid off from the University in 90 days. UT Austin President Jay Hartzell stated in an email that “the remaining programs that the division exclusively offered would be transferred to other departments where they would complement existing services,” and he assured that the Division of Student Affairs would work to make student-facing services available through the semester. Nonetheless, students were shocked to find that practically overnight they lost mentors, safe spaces on campus, and critical, designated funding allocated for multicultural students. 

Hartzell argued that "the new law has changed the scope of some programs on campus, making them broader and creating duplication with long-standing existing programs supporting students, faculty, and staff," Following those reviews, we have concluded that additional measures are necessary to reduce overlap, streamline student-facing portfolios, and optimize and redirect resources into our fundamental activities of teaching and research."

The Division of Campus and Community Engagement will be closed by May 31, 2024 according to a joint letter from the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors and the Texas chapter of the NAACP. 

The Fight Against DEI Is Far From Over 

Last week, state Sen. Creighton, R-Conroe, said in a letter to university leaders that colleges could lose millions in state funding if they fail to comply with the law. Last month, Gov. Abbott said more laws will be passed next legislative session to make sure schools are enforcing the DEI ban. In the letter that was sent, Creighton gestured about “a fundamental shift in the operations of our higher education institutions” to ensure “a merit-based environment where every student, faculty and staff member can strive for and achieve personal excellence.” It’s interesting how Republican lawmakers are wanting to base things on merit when top political leaders in their own party lack integrity. This law is not about ensuring merit, it is about a movement that is deeply intertwined with racism, operating as a reactionary force against progress towards equity and inclusion.

We interviewed a few UT Austin students to get their comments about how the overcompliance of SB 17 has affected their college experience: 

Jordan Jessie, 1st year LBJ Student, African American Female

“I’ve Worked as a Graduate Assistant at the Disability Cultural Center in the Division of Campus and Community Engagement since September of 2023. It has been incredibly disheartening to watch the fallout of the University’s recent decision to close the division. Hundreds of students have lost access to vital community spaces like the Fearless Leadership Institute (FLI), which aimed to empower Black and Brown women. Several staff members who’ve worked at the Division since its inception, dedicating their entire careers to it have been terminated. Many graduate student staff members are now facing extreme uncertainty about the future of our positions and therefore are feeling very financially insecure. I personally don't know if I’ll have a job next year. All in all, the university’s purge against DEI has been extremely painful to students and staff members and only functioned to create more financial insecurity and inequality.”

Leland Murphy, 1st year LBJ Student, White Male 

“The effects of SB 17 are devastating. Taking away vital resources from students, especially historically underrepresented and marginalized ones, is the exact opposite of what we need to be doing. The blossoming multiracial democracy of the U.S. and Texas is something we should be proud of, but conservative state legislatures want to hurt that instead of doing anything that would actually improve the material lives of Texans such as accepting the Medicaid expansion or raising wages for Texans workers.“

What’s Next:

As attacks on inclusive and equitable public higher education continue, we must use our voices to fight back against authoritarianism and censorship of diverse voices across the state. Texas Students for DEI has drafted a letter to President Hartzell and Sen. Creighton to meet with UT Austin students and staff to address the grievances, and add transparency about the intent of SB 17. Progress Texas has also signed the letter in solidarity with students during this time of regression. The University nor Creighton have responded to the letter yet. 

Every individual has a responsibility to speak out against the policies and rhetoric that the anti-DEI movement promotes. We can build a more intersectional and equitable society for incoming generations by supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in our communities, businesses, and educational institutions. Let's work to create a more intersectional and equitable world by rejecting racism in all of its manifestations.