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Dive Brief:

  • The Texas A&M University System offered guidance to employees this month on navigating the state’s ban on diversity, equity and inclusion programs in public colleges, providing a glimpse into how public colleges plan to implement the statute.
  • In an online FAQ, the system’s Office of General Counsel addressed faculty and staff questions on topics of concern, such as hiring, student programming and scholarly work.
  • Texas A&M websites and social media cannot include DEI information and cannot use the acronym DEI or the phrase “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the guidance states. But online platforms can share information about “identity-driven” faculty and student groups.

Dive Insight:

In June, Texas banned DEI efforts at its public colleges. The law, known as SB 17, requires institutions to comply with it before they can spend state funds, beginning next year. Texas A&M said it plans to include a compliance check in its annual systemwide risk assessment.

However, the legislation’s broad nature has left public college employees questioning what they can and can’t do under the law.

“It is important to remember that nothing in SB 17 alters our existing obligations under federal and state law,” Texas A&M’s guidance states. “We recognize that implementation will be a continuing and evolving process, and it is important to begin that process now to achieve an appropriate state of compliance by January 1, 2024.”

When hiring, Texas A&M can not require or give preferential consideration based on a DEI statement. 

DEI statements — which explain a job candidate’s experiences with and commitment to diverse student populations — are relatively common in higher education. But they have increasingly been targeted by conservative policymakers and free speech advocates, who say the statements infringe on free expression. Georgia’s public colleges recently prohibited mandatory DEI statements in hiring and employee training.

The Texas A&M general counsel’s office instead advised universities to advertise jobs in “non-traditional outlets” to help develop a diverse candidate pool. The office did not provide examples.

Under the law, institutions cannot run a department that conducts DEI programming. Universities also shouldn’t have an office that offers programs for a specific group of students “based on race, religion, color, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation,” Texas A&M said.

Offices that focus on African American, Hispanic or LGBTQ students likely violate the law, it advised. However, while LGBTQ offices need to be restructured, programs supporting gay, transgender and queer students can “be incorporated into a broader student success and multicultural framework,” the system said.

LGBTQ libraries can be folded into departments like multicultural centers. 

Meanwhile, student-run organizations, guest speakers and short-term performers are exempt from the law. Universities thus can’t deny funds or benefits to student groups that run DEI programming. 

Institutions can talk about identity-driven professional organizations so long as they are open to everyone and share “an all-inclusive message appropriately.” But they cannot promote a group’s scholarship opportunity if it “impermissibly favors one race over another.”