As UNC System guts DEI, will legislators make same move for state government workers?

One week after a committee of the UNC System Board of Governors took the first step to repeal diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, efforts at North Carolina’s public universities, the leader of the state Senate indicated lawmakers may be interested in doing the same for state government workplaces.

But there might not be enough time to do so in this legislative session, he said.

The University Governance committee of the Board of Governors voted unanimously last week to approve a policy that is likely to eliminate or alter DEI-related jobs and campus initiatives across the 17-campus UNC System. That move, which will likely be finalized after a full-board vote in May, comes as similar efforts are unfolding nationwide to target diversity-related efforts in higher education.

The state General Assembly’s short session kicked off Wednesday. Speaking to reporters on the Senate floor after the opening session, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said he thinks “some members are interested in taking a look” at pursuing additional measures regarding DEI. He noted that the Board of Governors’ actions pertain only to the UNC System, and said legislators could decide to extend the measures to other parts of state government.

“There are examples of DEI — what I would consider overreach — in other parts of state government or other parts, whether the school systems or otherwise,” Berger said. “I think it’s something for us to look at.”

Berger said it “remains to be seen” whether lawmakers will have enough “runway to actually do something” on the matter this session, which could wrap up as soon as July.

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore previously told reporters that lawmakers had discussed potential legislation on DEI in higher education, but indicated they would let the university system act on the matter first — which the Board of Governors did a week later. Moore also said at the time that anti-DEI legislation would likely “require more conversation” than lawmakers have time for in the short session.

What would lawmakers’ action on DEI include?

The policy under consideration by the Board of Governors repeals the UNC System’s existing policy and regulation on diversity and inclusion, which require each of the state’s 17 public campuses to employ diversity officers and work toward achieving diversity-related goals, among other requirements.

Those mandates are not included in the new proposal. The policy indicates that the jobs will likely be eliminated or altered in some way to comply with the proposed policy, with university chancellors being required to detail to the UNC System president “reductions in force and spending” that result from the cuts, and how the “savings achieved” could be “redirected to initiatives related to student success and well-being.”

Berger said Wednesday he believes lawmakers “ought to take a look at” legislation that involves “eliminating the funding for positions that actually have, as their mission, to discriminate against North Carolinians.”

Diversity and inclusion offices at the state’s universities — and the administrators who oversee them — generally have stated missions to support students from a variety of backgrounds. At UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, the university employs a chief diversity officer who oversees 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 North Carolina Office of State Human Resources website currently states, under a section dedicated to diversity and inclusion in state workplaces, that the state holds a philosophy “that views diversity as central to the achievement of high performance.” Elsewhere in state government, the Department of Health and Human Services employs an assistant secretary for diversity and inclusion and operates an Office of People, Culture and Belonging, which “supports the recruitment, development, and retention of a diverse and inclusive workforce with the required skill sets, competencies, and expertise to provide services and programs to underserved communities and intervene to eliminate disparities.”

Regarding other actions the legislature might take on DEI in state government, Berger said “there are probably some other things that we would need to address as well,” but did not cite specific examples.

Lawmakers last year approved a measure banning “compelled speech” in state government workplaces, which prohibits hiring managers from asking applicants to describe their personal or political beliefs as a condition of employment. That law also lists 13 concepts, mostly related to race and gender, that are banned from being taught or promoted in state workplaces, including public universities.

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