UNC board eliminates diversity policy, continues cuts in higher education

The University of North Carolina leaders voted on Thursday to dismantle diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, potentially affecting access to resources for nearly 250,000 students in its system. This move is part of a series of DEI crackdowns at public colleges, following similar bans in Texas, Florida, and other parts of the U.S.

In a nearly unanimous decision, the UNC Board of Governors approved a policy that promotes “institutional neutrality” and removes funding for DEI initiatives. Two of the 24 board members who opposed the cuts are Black.

The vote revokes two DEI policies implemented in 2019 that mandated each of the state’s 17 campuses, including UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina A&T, and North Carolina State, to hire a chief diversity officer and establish goals for advancing diversity and inclusion, among other provisions.

“DEI programs and their predecessors have done a lot of good for a lot of people,” said Gene Davis, a voting member of the board, during Thursday’s meeting. Davis expressed concerns about certain actions carried out under the umbrella of DEI that may have made university communities less welcoming to all individuals.

Pearl Burris-Floyd, another board member supporting the repeal of DEI programs, retired from the DEI field in December and expressed disappointment with how the program’s policies were implemented. She acknowledged that not all individuals involved in teaching DEI got it right and emphasized the need to continue moving forward despite challenges.

“Even if it’s not called diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have a path forward,” Burris-Floyd stated.

Texas DEI ban:The University of Texas lays off dozens of employees

National crackdown on DEI at public universities

This decision aligns with a national trend in public higher education and other state agencies. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, by mid-May 85 anti-DEI bills have been introduced in 28 states and the U.S. Congress, with 14 becoming law since 2023.

Major institutions like the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Florida have shut down their DEI offices and related programs. Safe spaces for students of color and LGBTQ+ individuals have been closed.

These actions have led to significant job cuts. At UT Austin, numerous DEI positions were eliminated last month to comply with a DEI ban that took effect in January, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Recently, the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees unanimously decided to remove the school’s DEI department, with staff and programs anticipated to transition to other departments.

Students within the UNC system, including UNC Asheville, gathered at a rally ahead of the board meeting to voice opposition to the change. UNC Asheville Student Government President Liv Barefoot highlighted enrollment challenges and expressed concerns about the impact of anti-DEI policies on college education.

“I believe with the ever-increasing anti-DEI policies, this struggle and deficit will worsen in severity,” Barefoot stated, suggesting that recent policies have compelled universities to remain neutral on issues that students care deeply about.

According to Barefoot, students from other states have chosen North Carolina schools over those that have cut DEI programs, believing the UNC system to be more inclusive. Some indicated they would not have enrolled in a UNC institution if they were aware of the potential policy changes.

More diversity cuts:University of Wyoming DEI department gets the chop

Next steps at UNC

Chancellors and student affairs directors at each UNC institution must now certify compliance with the new policy and outline actions taken to uphold “the University’s commitment to institutional neutrality and nondiscrimination.”

They are also required to report on workforce and spending reductions, as well as changes in job titles and descriptions resulting from implementing the policy and how any savings can be redirected toward initiatives promoting student success and wellbeing.

In an April update to UNC Asheville’s staff and faculty, Chancellor Kimberly van Noort mentioned ongoing reviews of the proposed policy. “If the new policy moves forward, we expect that the System Office will provide us with implementation guidelines,” van Noort stated in an email obtained by the Asheville Citizen Times.

Heather Norris, Interim Chancellor of Appalachian State University, reiterated the institution’s commitment to student support amidst the policy changes. “Our university’s commitment to supporting all of our students is unwavering, and we remain dedicated to providing a compassionate, high-quality college experience focused on student success,” Norris communicated in an email obtained by the Citizen Times.

Davis, a board member endorsing the new policy, mentioned at the meeting that campus leaders will review their initiatives to ensure they are welcoming. He emphasized retaining programs that have achieved stated goals through the policy.

Other UNC institutions have already shifted funds away from DEI programs. UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees redirected $2.3 million previously allocated to DEI programs towards police and public safety measures as part of their budget approval process earlier this month, as reported by the News & Observer reported.

This story will be updated.

Ryley Ober is the Public Safety Reporter for Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at rober@gannett.com and follow her on Twitter @ryleyober

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