UNC System Board of Governors committee votes to move DEI policy repeal to next step

Thursday, April 18, 2024
UNC System leaders take step to repeal DEI policy
The 5-person committee took less than 4 minutes to vote against a policy that's been in place since 2019. Next, the whole Board of Governors will take up the vote.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The UNC System Board of Governors took a shot at a year's old policy designed to help facilitate diversity, equity and inclusion on university campuses.

The Committee on University Governance within the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, which oversees 17 schools, voted in less than four minutes to reverse and replace a policy related to DEI. The full board of 24 members is to vote on the matter again next month, and if approved, the repeal would take effect immediately.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued the following statement moments after the vote:

"Our diversity should be used to highlight our state's strengths, not our political divisions. Republican legislative and university leaders who attack diversity at our public universities are failing in their duty to protect students while threatening our ability to recruit top scientists, researchers and innovators who power our economy."

Immediately after its speedy vote to repeal the diversity policy with no questions or discussion, the governance committee went into closed session to approve February meeting minutes and go over a legal affairs report. Closed sessions are not subject to public record, according to state statutes.

A committee within the UNC System Board of Governors voted to continue to process toward revoking existing DEI regulations.

The next meeting of the full UNC Board of Governors is scheduled for May 22-23 in Raleigh, according to the board's schedule.

If the DEI policy is ultimately fully repealed, the UNC system could join another major public university - the University of Florida in Gainesville - in dismantling its diversity office. Florida's flagship university announced in a memo last month that it was scrapping its office and shifting its funding for faculty recruitment instead.

Texas universities also saw major cuts in their diversity and inclusion staff in 2024 in compliance with a state ban signed into law last year. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, more than 80 anti-DEI bills have been introduced by lawmakers across the country since 2023.

"The acronym diversity, equity and inclusion -- and now B for belonging -- is an acronym that has been politicized. And it is unfortunate that the (political) right is looking to take down what is needed in order for us to move forward," DEI expert Ingrid Hadley said. "This is just an extension of the Civil Rights movement and it's unfortunate because we see that so many of these programs that we saw after the murder of George Floyd be extremely performative."

Diversity, equity and inclusion is defined by the American Psychological Association as a framework to guide "fair treatment and full participation of all people," especially those belonging to minority groups. It has become a recurring point of contention for conservatives who argue DEI programs are discriminatory.

The current policy at UNC, enacted in 2019, defines the roles of various DEI positions - such as a system office diversity and inclusion liaison and diversity officers across the university system - and establishes a diversity and inclusion council made up of members representing each university.

Ending the current policy could result in the elimination of DEI officers and liaisons at UNC. Other inclusion efforts such as tracking the university's diversity metrics and giving reports to university boards are expected to continue.

Members of the UNC Board of Governors are elected to serve four-year terms by the state Senate and House of Representatives, which Republicans have controlled since 2011.

The state's Republican House Speaker, Tim Moore, said there's interest among fellow Republicans in taking up anti-DEI legislation in the upcoming session set to open next Wednesday. He told reporters recently that the state legislature may allow the university boards to review their diversity policies first before introducing any bills.

"It's still at the conversation stage," Moore said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.