Rename Game Continues as DEI Programs, Funding Remain Under Fire

The landscape for diversity programming and initiatives in higher education was muddled again last week when the board of trustees for University of North Carolina’s 17 public universities voted to repeal all DEI mandates that were currently in place for the system. The move mirrors actions taken earlier this year in Texas and Florida.

In Texas, diversity programs were banned on 14 campuses, leading to what NBC News reported was the loss of 311 full- and part-time jobs and the canceling of 681 contracts. The State University System of Florida’s 12 campuses are banned from using state and federal funds for DEI spending, and as a result, the University of Florida said it had reallocated $5 million in funds for other uses.

As state lawmakers in Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho also passed bans on formal DEI statements, training programs, and spending, public universities in some of those states—and beyond—continue making adaptations by renaming departments (Universities of Oklahoma and Tennessee) and shuffling staffs (University of Arkansas). The turmoil comes as new studies found that while student diversity increased in the United States, the gaps between completion rates of ethnic groups also widened, according to the American Council on Education. Another report, released earlier this month by the Higher Education Policy Institute in the United Kingdom, found that half of transgender and non-binary students have considered dropping out of university.

Clemson University changed its DEI office to the Division of Community Engagement and the University of South Carolina chose to drop the “DEI” title and create a new Division of Access, Civil Rights, and Community Engagement. Name changes invoking engagement, opportunity, effectiveness, access, and service are becoming common. At Miami University in Ohio the choice was for the Office of Transformational and Inclusive Excellence.

The National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education has said that no matter the nomenclature used to describe the work being done on college campuses, “the underlying purpose and goal endures: Diversity, equity, and inclusion work addresses student needs to support student success,” adding that, “the goal of the opposition is to dismantle this work in its entirety, by conjuring up fears and disdain at particular efforts that acknowledge differences based on race, gender, and sexuality, and by targeting support of trans and non-binary students. Absent a commitment to these efforts that take place every day on campuses, our students will suffer.”

The move to rebrand diversity programming is also affecting corporate entities in the United States, with the Washington Post reporting earlier this month that companies like Eli Lilly, Starbucks, and Molson Coors have reassessed the visibility of their diversity programming. At the same time, DEI job postings fell 63% at Zip Recruiter in 2023, according to The New York Times.


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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