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Welcome to the official website for the
Texas Senate
April 20, 2023
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(AUSTIN) — Hiring based on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs would be banned at state universities under a bill approved by the Senate late Wednesday. Bill author and Higher Education Committee chair Senator Brandon Creighton of Conroe said that while these programs claim to increase diversity among university faculty, they actually constrain potential applicants, forcing them to conform to certain political positions in order to be favorably considered for employment. He also cited a number of studies showing that DEI programs led to middling gains in faculty diversity. "DEI programs have been shown to be exclusive, shown to be ineffective, and have been shown to be politically charged and many of these programs have been weaponized to compel speech rather than protecting free speech," said Creighton. His bill, SB 17, follows governor Greg Abbott's February letter to state agencies and universities reminding them that only merit-based hiring is permitted under state law. Most state institutions have since paused DEI programs pending legislative action. The bill would dissolve university-sponsored DEI entities, ban mandatory DEI training, and prohibit hiring criteria that are not race-blind and gender-neutral.

The main point of contention is the difference between "equity" and "equality", which can be broadly understood to stand for "equality of outcome" and "equality of opportunity", respectively. Those who support DEI programs say that inherent unfairness in society means that equality of opportunity is tenuous and that certain steps need to be taken to overcome those inequities. Opponents deny this inherent unfairness, and say that universities putting a thumb on the scale in favor of certain races or ethnicities is a different form of discrimination. Creighton pointed to Texas A&M University, where he says DEI hiring committees excluded applications from Asian Americans for certain positions because they didn't meet certain definitions of underrepresented minorities. At Texas Tech, said Creighton, a biology professor had his application downgraded by a DEI hiring committee for saying that he treats all students equally. "In science, merit has to be the bottom line," he said. " We're training people to compete in the race to end cancer, but at Texas Tech this scientist was downgraded because he would not parrot DEI talking points while other applicants got a better score because those applicants included land acknowledgements to native American tribes." These programs bloat university administrative budgets, said Creighton, while providing little or no benefit to staff diversity.

Other members viewed these programs as critical for expanding racial and ethnic diversity on campus, helping to close the gaps as minority enrollment and faculty ratios continue to lag behind benchmarks at the state's top institutions. "I think it's disingenuous to think that by removing DEI departments, that we're going to solve the issue of diversity and inclusion," said Dallas Senator Royce West. "Texas owes a debt of justice, which it has only begun to pay, and use of a DEI program is the mechanism in order to pay that debt. Yes, it has some imperfections, but you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Creighton emphasized throughout the debate that diversity and inclusion are worthy and necessary goals, but disagreed that equity and not equality should guide that effort. "Texas is one of the most diverse states in the country, and we all agree that diversity contributes to our strength and our resiliency as a state," he said. "We all agree that our institutions of higher education must harness that diversity and everyone in this chamber agrees that we have no higher priority than ensuring that every Texan, regardless of race or ethnicity, is given the tools they need to succeed."

Ultimately, the bill passed on a vote of 19-12. It must now head to the House for further consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, April 24 at 11 a.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.