Abbott appears to issue warning to state agencies that consider diversity in their hiring practices

Memo from governor’s office: “DEI has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others.”

By Sean SaldanaFebruary 9, 2023 12:56 pm, , ,

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff, Gardner Pate, wrote a memo to state agencies and universities telling them that considering things like gender, race and ethnicity in hiring and employment decisions is against the law, and that consideration of anything other than merit will not be tolerated by the governor. 

In particular, the memo took aim at diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, claiming that they favor certain groups of people over others, though the memo doesn’t name any groups in particular. 

Texas Tribune’s Kate McGee got a hold of this memo and she joined the Texas Standard to talk about it, the reaction, and what it means for state agencies. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Just for folks who don’t understand, colleges have a lot of offices of diversity, equity and inclusion – DEI, as it’s known around campus these days. Is that right?

Kate McGee: Yes. This has been a trend in higher ed for a while now, but has really ramped up in recent years. You know, schools have opened these offices, hired DEI officers as a goal to help students from different backgrounds, especially backgrounds that have been underrepresented in higher ed, to get through school and graduate and to make sure that the universities are being responsive and inclusive. But they have become increasingly a target of conservatives and Republicans who are concerned that these offices are being used to indoctrinate students about different ideas. And it’s become kind of a political tool that we’re seeing now with state leaders wanting to defund these kinds of organizations on campus. 

I want to read just a bit from the letter that’s being sent out from the governor’s office to colleges and universities, just a couple of portions from it. “As Texans, we celebrate the diversity of our state and the presence of a workforce that represents our rich culture in recent years.” The note goes on “the innocuous sounding notion of diversity, equity and inclusion has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others.” So what exactly is the governor – is he ordering colleges and universities to eliminate their DEI programs and offices? What exactly is happening here?

So the governor’s office actually sent us a statement this morning saying that this was a reminder that equity quotas in hiring is illegal – hiring people based on factors like race or ethnicity. Universities, the ones who have said anything, say they just interpret this as a reminder, as a way to ensure that they are following the law. But there is a lot of vagueness in this directive. You know, yesterday in the Senate Finance Committee hearing, Sen. Royce West said he was calling on the governor to kind of clarify what exactly he’s talking about that he considers to be a problem when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, because it does encompass a wide range of different policies or goals. And it’s a little unclear from the original letter what exactly could be considered forbidden or illegal. 

But you write that at least one major university is already now, as a result of this, reviewing its hiring practices. 

Yes and it’s a little unclear as to the timeline – if this letter caused them to do this or if they were already dealing with this earlier. You know, there was a conservative group that had put in an open records request and discovered that the biology department at Texas Tech University was considering DEI policies in their hiring. And they were asking candidates questions about their track record, working to advance diversity and inclusion in their research, in their classroom, how they understood how to help students from different backgrounds succeed in the classroom. And this was considered or criticized as being a litmus test of candidate’s political ideology. And Texas Tech has since pulled this line of questioning from hiring candidates and is reviewing other departments and colleges in the schools to see if this is happening elsewhere.

People who talk about diversity say that this is not about a political litmus test, but really about how they contribute to diversity in their field of research or in teaching. And so these kinds of questions have become extremely common within hiring. So it remains to be seen how universities might change their ways or maybe remove some of these questions from hiring, now that the governor has raised a concern or warned them about how they should be talking about diversity in their hiring processes.

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