Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah signed a sweeping bill that pared back diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the state’s educational institutions and government offices — the latest state to take action amid the broader national backlash against such efforts.
The law prohibits any program, office or initiative that has “diversity, equity and inclusion” in its name or “asserts that meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.” It also requires student support services to be open to all students, outlawing efforts that focus on students of certain races or genders.
The Background: The law is part of a broader national crackdown on diversity efforts.
Since the start of 2023, at least 59 bills that would roll back diversity efforts at colleges, like hiring statements and mandatory trainings, have been introduced in more than two dozen states and Congress, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Eight have become law, including in North Dakota, Texas and North Carolina.
A law in Texas, which went into effect in January, outlaws D.E.I. offices, diversity hiring statements, and faculty and staff diversity trainings. The University of Texas at Austin closed its Multicultural Engagement Center last month because of the law. And an official said that the university would no longer fund cultural events like graduation ceremonies geared toward Black, Latino and Asian students, according to the University of Texas at Austin’s student newspaper.
The law in North Dakota, which took effect in August, prohibits mandatory diversity training at the state’s public colleges. It also bars requiring applicants for hiring, tenure or promotion to “endorse or oppose a specific ideology or political viewpoint.” A law in Tennessee bars making public college employees take part in mandatory training on implicit bias.
Looking Deeper: The move signals a political shift in Utah.
Despite leading a deeply conservative state, Governor Cox had built his brand as a moderate. His embrace of the D.E.I. bill represented a somewhat surprising shift, said Michael Lyons, a political science professor at Utah State University. (Mr. Cox also signed a separate bill on Tuesday that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their sex at birth.)
In a statement, Mr. Cox framed the law, which takes effect in July, as a “balanced solution.”
“I’m grateful to the Legislature for not following the lead of other states that simply eliminated D.E.I. funding with no alternative path for students who may be struggling,” he said. “Instead, this funding will be repurposed to help all Utah students succeed regardless of their background.”
Mr. Cox had previously said that some campus diversity efforts had “gotten very political” and that they were “doing more to divide us than to bring us together,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
What’s Next: Campuses must now respond to the changes.
Universities are trying to figure out what the bill means for their campuses. Utah State University, for example, has a “Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” The bill, it appears, would require at the very least a name change.
On its website, the university acknowledged there could be “structural changes” to the division, but added, “the work of creating access, opportunity, and belonging has always been shared by all employees at U.S.U. and will continue.”
It did not appear that hiring practices would change at Utah State. The university noted that it had already phased out the use of diversity statements last spring and no longer allows them.