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Dive Brief:

  • A conservative state legislator in Texas is seeking to ban public colleges from funding campus offices of diversity, equity and inclusion. 
  • State Rep. Carl Tepper recently introduced a bill that would only allow college departments to promote diversity if they were doing so to uphold equal protection laws under the 14th Amendment. 
  • It also contains a provision that allows even individuals unrelated to public institutions to sue over potential violations of the legislation. Colleges would need to pay attorneys fees and court costs of those who prevailed in such lawsuits. 

Dive Insight:

Over the last few years, state lawmakers across the U.S. — almost all Republicans — have increasingly tried to legislate matters traditionally left to college leaders, like curricula decisions and faculty tenure rights. 

Some of these attempts have succeeded, including several pieces of gag-order legislation. A notable example is a Florida law dubbed the Stop WOKE Act, which bans faculty in public colleges from discussing certain topics related to race and gender.

A federal judge in November temporarily blocked the state from enforcing that statute, calling its provisions “dystopian.”

Texas also drew public criticism early this year after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick vowed to strike down tenure at public colleges. He also said he would revoke tenure immediately for professors who teach critical race theory, a decades-old academic framework that in part says racism is systemic. 

Conservatives have frequently argued critical race theory sows division between different demographic groups and inspires shame among White people. But they also often conflate the concept with any diversity-related discussion. 

The bill from Tepper, who this year was first elected to represent part of northwest Texas that includes much of Lubbock, the home of Texas Tech University, does not explicitly restrict critical race theory. Nor does it use the phrase “divisive concepts,” a common term in Republican legislation. 

But it prohibits public colleges from endorsing, discussing or interfering with “any lifestyle, race, sex, religion, or culture.”

It also states that if people successfully sue a public institution for violations of the proposed law, then their legal fees would be paid “from the budget of the office of the chief executive officer of the institution or the institution’s system.”

The bill flies in the face of academic freedom by limiting what students can learn, said Jeffrey Blodgett, president of the American Association of University Professors’ Texas conference.

Blodgett said that sometimes educators will discuss controversial viewpoints, but it doesn’t mean they’re endorsing them.

“It’s supposed to spark student thinking,” he said.

He said he was unaware of the bill until being contacted by Higher Ed Dive. He expects that legislation affecting tenure and targeting critical race theory will also crop up in Texas’ upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.

The University of Texas System said Friday it had no statement to make on the bill, according to a spokesperson, Catherine Frazier. Frazier added that officials typically do not comment so early in the legislative process.

Tepper and the Texas A&M University System did not respond to requests for comment Friday.