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Utah bill would ban colleges from asking for diversity statements



Dive Brief:

  • Utah colleges would be barred from asking prospective hires or students about their views on diversity, equity and inclusion under newly proposed legislation. Banned topics would include implicit bias, critical race theory, intersectionality and racial privilege.
  • The bill would also prohibit mandatory trainings for staff or students that promote “differential treatment” or that teach certain concepts, such as that individuals are inherently privileged or oppressed based on their personal identities.
  • Colleges would also be required to conduct campus climate surveys and offer employees annual training on freedom of speech. Institutions that violated the provisions could lose state funding.

Dive Insight:

DEI statements — submissions that explain someone’s experiences with and commitment to diverse student groups — are relatively common in higher education. But conservative policymakers have increasingly targeted them as part of a broader campaign against campus diversity efforts.

At the national level, a Texas member of Congress introduced legislation late last year that would ban federally funded colleges from requiring DEI statements. However, that measure faces tough odds of becoming law in a politically divided Congress.

The political landscape is different in Utah. Republicans have long held the majority in the state, controlling both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion since 1985.

State Rep. Katy Hall and Sen. Keith Grover introduced their new proposal last week, shortly before the start of Utah’s legislative session. They described diversity statements as ideological litmus tests. 

“We believe campuses should embrace viewpoint diversity, academic freedom, freedom of expression and institutional political neutrality,” Grover said in a statement Thursday. “This bill will ensure institutions remain neutral on political issues, while students and faculty are able to express their opinions freely.” 

The bill would create exceptions for federal or state laws that require DEI statements, or if such a statement is related to “a bona fide occupational qualification for the position,” though the bill did not explain this provision further.

The proposal would also create success centers available to every student, as an alternative to DEI programs.

Grover told KSTU that this provision doesn’t eliminate DEI offices but captures “more students into what was originally in those offices to make sure everyone succeeds.”

Utah Democrats decried the bill Thursday, contending that it could hurt the state’s economy and quality of life.

“It is crucial to recognize that this bill transcends race and ethnicity; it is about limiting opportunities for all Utahns,” state Sen. Luz Escamilla and Rep. Angela Romero, party leaders from each chamber, said in a joint statement. “The impacts of this bill stretch far beyond higher education, directly affecting our public schools and all government entities.”

The pair called for Republican leadership to allow the public to provide input on the bill.

Some colleges and higher ed systems in Republican-controlled states have taken to banning DEI statements before their legislatures become formally involved.

The University of Utah announced earlier this month it would strike diversity questions and statements from its hiring process following pressure from state leaders, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

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