UT Austin closes former DEI division, lays off employees

April 4, 2024
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The University of Texas at Austin is shutting down the Division of Campus and Community Engagement (DCCE)—previously known as the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement—and laying off more than 40 individuals who work there, the Austin American-Statesman reported. Another 20 employees in other divisions are also being laid off, sources told the American-Statesman.

The closure comes a week after Texas higher education leaders were warned by lawmakers that failure to comply with SB 17, the state’s anti-diversity, equity and inclusion bill, could result in legal action or a loss of funding.

“While I am encouraged with the progress I have seen from many institutions of higher education in implementing SB 17, I am deeply concerned with the possibility that many institutions may choose to merely rename their offices or employee titles,” wrote Republican state Senator Brandon Creighton, who sponsored the bill. “This letter should serve as notice that this practice is unacceptable.”

UT Austin president Jay Hartzell released a statement saying that since the law went into effect Jan. 1, the university has been reviewing its “post-SB 17 portfolio of divisions, programs and positions.”

“Following those reviews, we have concluded that additional measures are necessary to reduce overlap, streamline student-facing portfolios, and optimize and redirect resources into our fundamental activities of teaching and research,” prompting the division’s closure, he wrote.

Certain programs and offices that previously existed under the department, such as disability services, will continue under other divisions; funding previously used for DEI will now go toward “teaching and research,” and associate and assistant deans who worked in DEI roles will return to full-time faculty roles.

The Texas Conference of American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Texas NAACP released a joint statement condemning the layoffs and the closure of the DCCE, arguing that the university was already SB 17-compliant without taking those additional steps.

“At the time when they were issued pink slips, all terminated employees were no longer in DEI-related positions. Therefore, these terminations clearly are intended to retaliate against employees because of their previous association with DEI and speech that they exercised prior to their current assignments,” the statement read. “In addition, the way cuts were made in DCCE make it clear that racial and ethnic discrimination was the clear purpose of this action.”



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