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UNC system diversity jobs at risk with upcoming board vote

UNC-Chapel Hill interim Chancellor Lee Roberts leads law enforcement officers to Polk Place on April 30, 2024, to meet people protesting the Israel-Hamas war.
Peyton Sickles
for WUNC
UNC-Chapel Hill interim Chancellor Lee Roberts leads law enforcement officers to Polk Place on April 30, 2024, to meet people protesting the Israel-Hamas war.

North Carolina's public university system could soon join other major universities in drastically cutting existing diversity programs and jobs if its governing board votes to repeal a nearly five-year-old diversity, equity and inclusion policy on Thursday.

The proposed policy change focuses on removing a 2019 regulation that outlines various DEI positions — such as diversity officers across the university system — and also defines officers' roles and duties, such as assisting with diversity programming and managing trainings for staff and students.

The new policy does not include the outlined responsibilities of DEI officers and liaisons, suggesting they may be eliminated. It passed through the board's university governance committee last month in less than four minutes with no discussion.

An affirmative vote by the board would mean the change would take effect immediately, affecting all 17 schools in the system.

Ahead of the final vote, public feedback on the policy has largely been limited to a submission form on the board's website, which closes Thursday. As of Monday, more than 250 people had submitted public comments — with most identifying as alumni, according to University of North Carolina system public records.

Just 13 people expressed support for the potential repeal while the rest voiced opposition to it. Commenters included students who recounted how they benefited from university diversity programs and parents who said they wouldn't send their child to a UNC school if the policy changed.

DEI has become one of the most contentious issues on college campuses in recent years as conservatives have claimed that the practices can lead to discrimination. Advocates, however, say diversity initiatives do the opposite by ensuring minority students' and faculty's inclusion in the university community.

Elsewhere, the University of Florida and the University of Texas at Austin both announced job cuts for diversity staff this year. More broadly, at least 20 states have seen Republican proposals seeking to limit diversity and inclusion programs in several public institutions, including universities.

The state's flagship campus, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, moved to curtail diversity programs last week after the university's board voted to reallocate $2.3 million in DEI spending in next year's budget to public safety initiatives instead. During the regular UNC Board of Trustees meeting later in the week, Trustee Ralph Meekins said he was "totally against" the budget changes.

The board's budget chair, Dave Boliek, said in an interview that the budget cut had been under consideration for almost a year.

"There's no reason why we can't, as university trustees, signal that this is the direction the university needs to take. I feel good about it," said Boliek, who also won the Republican primary for state auditor last week.

More definitive plans to cut DEI funding date back to at least late March, according to UNC public records obtained by The Associated Press. In an agenda sent to another administrator before last month's Board of Governors meeting, university provost Chris Clemens wrote that a plan to remove at least $1 million from the university's DEI budget was needed.

He also mentioned in his March 25 email that the administration needed to "prepare for some rapid change."

In the weeks leading up to the vote, UNC removed its staff page from the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion, which the university's media relations team said was done as a privacy measure. The office's website previously listed a 12-person staff headed by Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Leah Cox.

UNC Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts told reporters at last week's trustees meeting that he was waiting to see what the Board of Governors' finalized diversity policy would look like before determining what may happen to the diversity office and other jobs.

Race & Equity UNCEducation
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