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UNC-Chapel Hill BOT votes to divert DEI funding, redirecting it to campus public safety

UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees meet in special meeting to discuss budget. The board voted to redirect $2.3 million of DEI funding to public safety.
Screengrab via Zoom
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WUNC
UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees meet in special meeting to discuss budget. The board voted to redirect $2.3 million of DEI funding to public safety.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees has voted to divert $2.3 million away from diversity, equity and inclusion programs and into “public safety.”

The unanimous vote occurred at a special Board of Trustees meeting Monday morning. It is unclear if the diversion of funds would lead to layoffs.

Marty Kotis is vice chair of the board’s budget and finance committee, which initially introduced and passed the “flex cut amendment.” Without citing specific examples, he called DEI programs “discriminatory and divisive.”

“I think that DEI in a lot of people’s minds is divisiveness, exclusion and indoctrination,” Kotis said. “We need more unity and togetherness, more dialogue, more diversity of thought.”

According to the UNC-Chapel Hill Office of Diversity and Inclusion, their mission is to “create and sustain a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, faculty and alumni.”

Kotis and other board members said it was important to have additional funding for public safety to protect the campus from groups that “disrupt the university’s operations.”

Many members specifically mentioned recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus. Last month, police detained more than 30 people at an encampment where protesters removed the U.S. flag and replaced it with a Palestinian one.

“When you destroy property or you take down the U.S flag and you have to put up gates around it — that costs money,” Kotis said. “It’s imperative that we have the proper resources for law enforcement to protect the campus.”

Several people, including Chapel Hill and Carrboro town council members, have condemned the university’s police response to campus demonstrations.

“UNC administration created an environment that inevitably resulted in an escalation of force, including the use of pepper spray against its own students,” reads a letter signed by a majority of town council members. “This use of aggressive police tactics against students and community members invites aggressive responses, and only serves to escalate an already tense situation.”

Neither Chapel Hill nor Carrboro police were involved in the on-campus protests.

“It is a shame that the town of Chapel Hill refuses to aid our local university police when called upon,” David Boliek, chair of the budget and finance committee said. “The $2.3 million would be an added help to what is probably a budget issue with respect to how much we’re having to spend on law enforcement right now.”

The board’s decision to approve a “flex cut amendment” in a special meeting just before the chancellor submits an overall budget to the Board of Governors is highly unusual. Chancellor Lee Roberts attended Monday's special meeting but did not say anything about the diversion of funds.

“While we may be an advisory board, we do have the power of the purse,” Kotis said. “And if we don’t want to approve programs that aren’t in compliance with our (non-discrimination) resolution, then we don’t have to.”

This decision follows a committee vote from the UNC Board of Governors last month to revoke a policy that mandates DEI offices at all public universities in the state. Next week, the full Board of Governors will vote on that same policy change.

If approved, the policy change will be effective immediately and individual university chancellors will have until September of this year to detail how they plan to make cuts to DEI initiatives.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC’s 2024 Fletcher Fellow and covers higher education in partnership with Open Campus.