University of Texas confirms nearly 60 workers were laid off, most in former DEI positions

AUSTIN, Texas — At least 57 University of Texas employees have been laid off recently, most due to the school's shuttering of the Division of Campus and Community Engagement, according to a tally by university officials.

The layoffs have come as UT eliminates some programs and reorganizes its services after a state law banning diversity, equity, and inclusion offices at public universities went into effect. In addressing the employee layoffs for the first time since announcing earlier this month that the Campus and Community Engagement Division was closing, UT President Jay Hartzell took prewritten questions at a faculty council meeting on Monday and said 49 employees who had previously worked in DEI-related positions had been terminated and that eight associate or assistant deans whose work previously included related duties were returning to their faculty positions full time.

On Tuesday afternoon, UT spokesperson Mike Rosen told the American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network, that in addition to the 49 layoffs Hartzell mentioned and the eight associate or assistant deans who fully returned to their faculty positions, there were eight terminations in the Student Affairs Division unrelated to the April 2 announcement. He also said that one employee whose position was being eliminated decided instead to retire.

Student workers in any of the cut programs will retain their jobs through the end of the semester, when their positions are scheduled to end, Rosen said, but he did not say how many, if any, of those student-employee positions would be renewed. He said student employees were not included in Hartzell's number of layoffs.

Earlier this month, The Statesman reported that UT laid off at least 60 staff members who previously worked in DEI-related positions, according to two people familiar with the terminations. The Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) reported Monday that it confirmed at least 62 UT employees have been laid off ― a number the group said is self-reported by staff members who have informed the organization of their terminations and their job titles.

The AAUP said "13 also report holding non-tenure-track faculty titles, with 8 holding the title of Lecturer and 5 holding the title of Assistant Professor of Practice."

On April 2, Hartzell emailed the UT community to announce that the Division of Campus and Community Engagement, formerly the Division of Diversity and Campus Engagement, was closing due to the university reorganizing its services after having adjusted its offerings to comply with Senate Bill 17, a state law that bans DEI offices and initiatives at Texas public universities and colleges.

Along with the division's closure, Hartzell said in his email that some positions would no longer be funded. But he did not include an accounting of how many jobs would be lost.

Hartzell said Monday that staff members who were laid off will receive pay through July 5 — a time frame that he said is a "longer period" than typical — and that UT will offer the terminated employees "special consideration" for other open university jobs for which the workers are qualified. He said the university can connect staff members to career coaching and résumé help services.

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'We are subject to more scrutiny than others'

Hartzell's April 2 announcement came a week after Texas state Sen. Brandon Creighton sent a letter to university chancellors urging them to fully comply with SB 17 ahead of scheduled May hearings on the matter or potentially face losing state funding ― a message that "made it clear from his chair that he's watching closely," Hartzell said Monday.

Hartzell said the final decision for the employee terminations was his, citing announced legislative priorities and a growing distrust in higher education, particularly among conservatives, as additional pressures on UT.

"As the flagship university in this state, we are subject to more scrutiny than others," Hartzell said. "Scrutiny not only about how we implemented Senate Bill 17, but just overall how we run the university, how we serve our students, what we do in terms of our teaching and our research. And I think it's safe to say that the legislative climate toward higher education has been moving."

Last week, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, listed monitoring SB 17 as an interim legislative charge, another nod to how serious the Legislature is looking at DEI, Hartzell said.

Despite the employee layoffs announced this month, Hartzell asserted his belief that UT complied with SB 17 requirements as of Jan. 1, when the law went into effect, and he said that "it's been clear from the writings and reports since then, some disagree."

Hartzell emphasized at the Faculty Council meeting the university's importance as a research institution in Texas and said the decisions he's made are for UT's long-term success.

"It's not just are we compliant with SB 17 in the short run, but also what are the choices we make and how do we demonstrate to our state and others that we are good stewards of the resources for which we've been entrusted," he said.

Professor: School hasn't communicated how it will support the 'most vulnerable'

Hartzell spoke for about 45 minutes at the meeting. He answered pre-written questions after his introductory remarks and answered one question asked over Zoom before having to leave due to scheduling constraints.

Ashanté Reese, an associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies who attended the meeting, said she was disappointed with the compressed time frame and short open question-and-answer period. She also said she was disappointed that Hartzell did not answer students' request for him to attend a town hall meeting.

"If it took several days and several nights, I would say, 'I'm going to be here until I answer all of your questions,’ ” Reese said. "And that has yet to be seen."

Maria Cotera, an associate professor in Mexican American and Latina/o Studies who attended the meeting, said it was "difficult to sit through," particularly when discussing how the university is responding to conservatives' discontent with higher education.

"Opinion polls have absolutely no place in administration's decisions," Cotera said. "It's not our job to replicate people's belief system; it's our job to educate people."

Cotera also said the university has not communicated a plan about how it will now support "its most vulnerable."

"That's a decision," Cotera said. "Our students are feeling attacked."

The pressure is on departments like hers to take care of students and faculty and staff members in the aftermath, she said. Students have come to her office and cried.

Reese said she has empathy for the difficult position Hartzell finds himself in but expressed concern with the university's leadership seemingly caving to political pressure. She fears the decision to reorganize after SB 17 is "an opening of more to come."

"It feels like playing a game of Whac-A-Mole," Reese said. "I guess what I'm not clear on is where will we draw the line in the sand."

DEI on campus: Attacks continue nationwide

In recent years, conservatives have centered their disdain for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in their approach to higher education policy.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, more than 80 DEI-related bills have been introduced since 2023 in state legislatures nationwide, largely aimed at dismantling such programs. About two dozen of those bills have either become law or were given a final legislative stamp of approval.

Nowhere have DEI programs been more jeopardized than in Florida and Texas. Republican governors in both states signed strict laws preventing taxpayer dollars from going toward certain positions or training tailored to help marginalized groups succeed on campus.

Contributing: Zachary Schermele, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: University of Texas President Jay Hartzell confirms DEI layoffs