UNC Board of Governors repeals DEI policy

UNC Board of Governors repeals DEI policy

After the UNC Board of Governors approved a new policy on diversity and inclusion within the University of North Carolina, Western Carolina University will have until Sept. 1 to make a plan for compliance with a policy that could spell the end of some diversity- and inclusion-focused positions. 

“Welcoming students from all backgrounds makes our universities better and stronger. We’re a diverse state, and our public universities are here to serve everyone,” the UNC system said in information released about the new policy. “But we’re not here to require everyone to think the same way about race, gender, or any other challenging topic.” 

The UNC Board of Governors — the policy-making body charged with “the general determination, control, supervision, management, and governance” of the University of North Carolina — approved the new policy during its May 23 meeting. The board is made up of 24 voting members, elected by the Senate and House of Representatives of the North Carolina General Assembly. Of those 24 members, two voted against the new policy, part of the consent agenda, at the May meeting.

“Our public universities must take a stance of principled neutrality on matters of political controversy,” said Board of Governors President Peter Hans. “It is not the job of the university to decide all the complex and multi-dimensional questions of how to balance and interpret identity.”

At an April 17 governance committee meeting, the policy was presented by Andrew Tripp, senior vice president and general counsel in the office of legal affairs with the UNC system, and former chief of staff to Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Phi Berger.

The new policy, Equality Within the University of North Carolina, fully replaces the previous policy and regulation on diversity and inclusion within the University of North Carolina. That policy, instituted in 2019, lay the groundwork for university positions responsible for diversity and inclusion as well as metrics and goals for those positions.

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According to information provided by the UNC system, the new policy is being implemented because the university, “through its administrative programs and mandates, cannot prescribe a narrow ideology, a single conception of progress and justice in society. The proposed policy requires that university administrators refrain from taking political or social positions and adhere to laws on nondiscrimination and institutional neutrality.” 

The new policy focuses heavily on institutional neutrality. Section VI of the policy states that “campuses shall continue to implement programming or services designed to have a positive effect on the academic performance, retention, or graduation of students from different backgrounds, provided that programming complies with the institutional neutrality specified in Section VII of this policy and/ or other state and federal requirements.” 

The policy further states in section VII that “every employing subdivision of the University in both its organization and operation shall adhere to and comply with the strictures of institutional neutrality required by G.S. 116-300 (3a).” 

That general statute, related to campus free speech, says that constituent institutions “shall remain neutral, as an institution, on the political controversies of the day.”

The new policy requires that no employment subdivision or employment position within the university be organized, operated, speak on behalf of the university, or contract with third parties to provide training or consulting services regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action, any prescribed “view of social policy” or “political controversies of the day,” or in furtherance of the concepts listed in G.S. 126-14.6(c)(1)-(13).

The policy requires that prior to Sept. 1, and then annually thereafter, the chancellor and the director of student affairs at each university in the North Carolina system certify in writing their university’s compliance with the new rules. They are required to describe the actions taken to achieve compliance and include a report on “reductions in force and spending, along with changes to job titles and position descriptions, undertaken as a result of implementing this policy and how those savings achieved from these actions can be redirected to initiatives related to student success and wellbeing.”

The policy does include language that protects academic freedom and student-led organizations from institutional neutrality.

“The Board of Governors reaffirms that academic freedom is a prerequisite to maintaining and strengthening a world-class university,” the policy reads. “The University of North Carolina shall therefore take no action that would limit the right of academic freedom in its faculty’s pursuit of teaching, research, and service …”

Over the next couple of weeks, the UNC system office will issue guidance to campuses with the intent of implementing any campus-level changes at the beginning of the 2024-25 academic year.

“We will review the guidance and look for opportunities to strengthen our student support services to ensure an environment that is focused on student success and welcoming to all,” said Chancellor Kelli Brown. “My goal for this process is to sustain and build upon our strategic goals to foster a diverse and inclusive student, faculty and staff community to provide an environment in which all can be successful academically and professionally.”

According to information provided from the UNC system, DEI offices and positions will need to make necessary adjustments to comply with the new policy.

“The goal of this policy is not necessarily to cut jobs but to move our universities away from administrative activism on social and political debates,” the UNC system said. “It is going to take some time to determine how many positions could be modified or discontinued to ensure that institutions are aligning with the revised policy.”

According to a February report on Diversity and Inclusion at Western Carolina University, there are nine positions at the university that devote 100% of their work to diversity and inclusion activities. Those positions cost the university $646,325, plus an additional $134,816 in non-personnel expenditures.

“As we go forward, WCU’s ongoing commitment to inclusive excellence will remain our focus,” said Brown. “We will continue our work to ensure that diverse persons of any background are invited, included, treated equally and have a sense of belonging in our Catamount community.”

Three of those nine positions are within the academic affairs office. The Director and Assistant Director of Accessibility Resources, and Student Services Specialist and Testing Coordinator are responsible for providing accommodations for students with disabilities, as well as training for staff and students to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other roles.

Another three of the positions are within the student affairs office. The director, associate director and assistant director of intercultural affairs provide leadership and organization for intercultural affairs programming, student development and retention.

The remaining three positions include a Title IX coordinator and university investigator in the Office of Legal Counsel and Institutional Integrity, and the chief diversity officer in the Chancellor’s Office.

“WCU is reviewing the DEI policy change voted on by the UNC Board of Governors last week,” WCU said in a statement. “Once final guidance is received from the System Office, campus leaders will work to ensure the institution is compliant with the policy.”

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