What’s next after UNC System committee vote on DEI policy? Here’s what to know.

A committee of the UNC System Board of Governors on Wednesday approved a policy that would impact, and potentially eliminate, some jobs and campus efforts related to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, at all of North Carolina’s public universities.

The proposed policy, which was added to the committee’s meeting materials a day before it was to be voted on, would eliminate or forcibly alter diversity-related administrative positions that are mandated at all campuses under the university system’s current policy. The new policy would remove those positions’ titles and ties to DEI efforts. Campus centers dedicated to diversity are also likely to be affected, though efforts dedicated to student well-being or their overall success can remain.

After the committee’s unanimous vote Wednesday — during which there was no discussion — the policy now goes to the full, 24-member board for its consideration.

If the policy goes into effect, chancellors of each public university in the state would have to describe to UNC System President Peter Hans “reductions in force and spending” that result from the cuts, and how the “savings achieved” can be “redirected to initiatives related to student success and well-being.”

The board’s decision to take up the policy came less than one month after a member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees said he believed such action was likely this year, either within the university system or through legislation at the General Assembly. DEI is a hot-button issue in higher education across the country, with more than 80 anti-DEI bills introduced nationwide since 2023, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

So what happens next, now that the policy has been approved by the committee? How would the policy be implemented on campuses? Could the state legislature still take action against DEI in its session, which begins April 24?

Here’s what we know so far about the answers to those questions and more.

When is the next vote on the UNC System DEI policy?

Now that the University Governance committee has approved the policy, it will be considered by the full Board of Governors at its May 23 meeting.

At the moment, the new policy is to be included on the consent agenda for that meeting. Many public bodies use consent agendas to make meetings more efficient. They are generally a group of items — usually noncontroversial or administrative items — that can all be voted on at one time. In order for the new DEI policy to be discussed, a board member will have to ask that it be removed from the consent agenda.

Will there be opportunities for feedback on the new policy?

Faculty and students criticized the policy and the committee’s vote on the policy, saying they were not informed of the measure ahead of time or consulted on its content.

The policy was added to the committee’s meeting materials, which are posted online for the public, on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 16. The committee voted on the policy the next day, April 17, in a meeting that began at 3:45 p.m. The policy was not included in meeting materials when they were first posted online the week prior to the meeting.

Beth Moracco, faculty chair at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the new proposal took faculty at her campus “as a surprise,” and the quick turnaround from the policy being introduced to being voted on meant that she and other faculty did “not really had a chance to digest and react to it.”

Wade Maki, a UNC Greensboro professor who chairs the UNC System Faculty Assembly and has been involved in helping the system revise other policies, also said he was not made aware of the policy until the night it was added to the committee’s materials. But he said faculty “look forward to having an opportunity to engage” with the board on the policy before the final vote in May.

In a statement issued after the committee’s vote, Board of Governors chair Randy Ramsey said he expects to see a lot of debate and feedback about this proposal over the next month, and questions about how it might affect each of our campuses.”

“I welcome the discussion and the opportunity to emphasize this Board’s commitment to equal opportunity and student success,” Ramsey said.

The Board of Governors generally does not allow public comments during its meetings, but it accepts written comments online ahead of full-board meetings. The form to submit a comment can be found on the UNC System website: northcarolina.edu/leadership-and-governance/board-of-governors/meetings-materials/public-comment-sessions.

Why did the board take up this action now?

In the weeks leading up to the committee’s vote, conversations and public attention on DEI had ramped up in the state’s political and higher education circles.

At a March 27 meeting of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, board member Jim Blaine — the former chief of staff to Republican Senate leader Phil Berger and a powerful political player in the state — predicted that North Carolina could become one of the next states to eliminate DEI efforts at its public universities.

“It’s my belief that it is likely that the Board of Governors or the state legislature will follow Florida’s path as it relates to DEI this year,” Blaine said.

The board’s decision to act on DEI when it did is likely tied to the start of the General Assembly’s short legislative session, which begins April 24.

Lawmakers, including Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, had said in recent weeks that they have discussed potential legislation on DEI, but that any action on the issue was “still at the conversation stage.” Moore told reporters on April 10 that he was interested in having the Board of Governors “take a look at it first.”

“Frankly, I think we ought to allow the university to see what are we doing in North Carolina on that,” he said.

Had the Board of Governors not acted on the issue prior to the start of the session, it could have left the door open for legislators to do so. UNC System leaders have shown a tendency to avoid legislative interference in university matters, most recently with a proposal to enact curricular requirements on American democracy — a move that was intended to keep lawmakers from taking up similar legislation on the issue.

Legislators could still reserve the right to take up their own anti-DEI policies. But Moore told reporters that such a move would “require more conversation,” indicating that there may not be support of leadership — at least in the House — for a bill on the issue to be developed or pass this session.

Will DEI employees lose their jobs?

The policy would likely require jobs specifically dedicated to diversity be eliminated, or changed in some way to eliminate those ties to DEI.

Current UNC System policy — which remains in-place until the board’s final vote on the new policy — mandates that the system office and all schools within the system employ DEI officers. The new policy removes those mandates and says that no positions of employment can exist regarding a given “view of social policy” or “political controversies of the day.”

Universities across the UNC System generally employ chief diversity officers or other officials tasked with overseeing offices or efforts related to diversity and inclusion on their campuses. At UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, the university currently employs a CDO who also serves as vice provost of equity and inclusion.

If a university wishes to keep positions that are currently tied to diversity or other “political controversies,” it would be required to change the position’s job title, description and duties to remove those ties.

By Sept. 1, the chancellors and student affairs directors of each university would be required to certify to UNC System President Peter Hans that they have made the appropriate changes on their campus to comply with the new policy, including “reductions in force and spending, along with changes to job titles and position descriptions, undertaken as a result of implementing this policy.”

UNC-Chapel Hill Chief Financial Officer Nate Knuffman told the university’s Board of Trustees in March that a recent university report to the UNC System showed that UNC’s spending on employees who spend more than half of their time on DEI efforts was “a small fraction of the university overall spending on personnel.”

Will diversity offices or other campus centers close?

As it does for positions of employment, the proposed policy states that “no employing subdivision” of a university, such as a campus center or office, regarding a given “view of social policy” or “political controversies of the day” can be operated.

Like other campuses, UNC-Chapel Hill also operates an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which has a stated mission “to celebrate all members of the Carolina community, to broaden our collective understanding, and foster a sense of belonging by uplifting diverse identities, cultures, experiences, and perspectives.”

The policy indicates that campus programming and services “designed to have a positive effect on the academic performance, retention, or graduation of students from different backgrounds” can remain, if they do not violate institutional neutrality — the idea enshrined in state law that universities cannot take a stance on political, public policy or social issues.

Campus centers dedicated to diversity, like the one at UNC-Chapel Hill, would likely need to be altered to comply with the policy.

What about Title IX and other compliance offices?

The policy would not impact positions of employment, offices or training intended to ensure “compliance with federal or state laws,” likely including those dedicated to ensuring compliance with the following regulations, as listed in the policy:

  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, or Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin

  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits discrimination against people ages 40 and older in hiring practices

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities

  • The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against members of the military and veterans

What about nondiscrimination practices?

The proposal maintains a directive for universities to abide by state and federal nondiscrimination laws.

“We have well-established laws and policies that prohibit discrimination, protect equal opportunity, and require a safe and supportive learning environment for all students. We will uphold those responsibilities,” UNC System President Peter Hans said in a statement after the committee’s April 17 vote.

Are student groups affected?

Student-led groups, such as extracurricular clubs that receive funding from student-activity fees, do not appear to be affected by the policy.

Are faculty affected?

The policy states that it does not intend to “limit the right of academic freedom in ... faculty’s pursuit of teaching, research, and service.”

Can universities still value diversity?

Some universities, including UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University, include diversity in their mission or vision statements.

At NC State, for example, the university has a stated vision to “be known as a diverse, equitable and inclusive community that has a transformative impact on society and advances the greater good.”

In Hans’ statement after the April 17 committee vote, he said that the UNC System “will continue serving students of all backgrounds and beliefs.”

“There is broad and deep commitment to that goal, and support for the UNC System’s longstanding efforts to reflect the diversity of North Carolina,” he said.