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UNC board committee passes policy that threatens DEI at NC public universities

Image courtesy of DiscoA340 / Wikimedia Commons
Image courtesy of DiscoA340 / Wikimedia Commons

A UNC Board of Governors committee has passed a policy that could lead to the elimination of diversity, equity, and inclusion officers on all 17 UNC system campuses.

This story was reported and written by WUNC

In an uncommon move, the University Governance committee did not discuss the new policy at all before unanimously passing it on Wednesday. It still needs to be voted on by the full Board of Governors in May.

The change replaces a  policy passed in 2019 that created the DEI positions and data reporting at all 16 public North Carolina universities, and the NC School of Science and Mathematics. This includes a UNC System Diversity and Inclusion liaison and  cross-university council, as well as individual institutional DEI officers.

The wording of the  new policy makes it clear that, according to the UNC System, the DEI offices and officers do not “adhere to and comply with the strictures of institutional neutrality” as outlined in North Carolina’s Campus Free Speech law that  prevents universities from participating in “political controversies of the day.”

“The changes do three things,” said Andrew Tripp, senior vice president and general counsel for the UNC System, in his short introduction to the Board of the new policy language. “They replace (the existing policy), they reaffirm the university’s commitment to non-discrimination and institutional neutrality, and they direct chancellors across the System.”

The committee then quickly voted on the new policy and immediately went into closed session.

Tripp is the former Chief of Staff to Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

If the new policy passes the full Board of Governors, individual chancellors will be required to send UNC System President Peter Hans a report by September 1 that details how their universities comply with “institutional neutrality.” The policy mandates that chancellors take certain “actions” to meet compliance, including reducing “force and spending” for DEI programs, and changing job titles and position descriptions.

Along with the certification report to Hans, chancellors must suggest ways to redirect funding from disbanded DEI programming to “student success” initiatives.

Most universities in the UNC System have robust DEI offices with chief diversity officers, support staff and student ambassadors. For example, offices at Appalachian State, North Carolina State, UNC Pembroke and other universities also include specific coordinators for accessibility, cultural, LGBTQ, women, and other communities.

Schools also have website hubs for DEI efforts. This includes events,  diversity dashboardsinclusive training programsDEI research, and  anti-racism resources.

These efforts, as well as DEI staff positions, are almost assuredly in jeopardy with the new policy. It’s unclear if staff will be fired or moved to different positions within their universities.

North Carolina is one of many states changing their DEI policies. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education  more than 84 anti-DEI bills have been proposed since 2023. Ten states, including  FloridaAlabama, and  Texas, have signed some form of anti-DEI legislation into law.