Kansas’ higher ed board is considering an anti-DEI policy as legislators press for a law

TOPEKA, Kan. — State universities in Kansas would be banned from requiring prospective students, potential employees and staffers seeking promotion to publicly disclose their views on diversity initiatives under a policy change being considered by the state’s board of governors.

The Kansas Board of Regents was scheduled to discuss the policy change Wednesday during a meeting at Fort Hays University. The proposal would revise policy language that currently emphasizes “multiculturalism and diversity” on campus and replace it with language prohibiting universities from requiring statements “pledging allegiance to, support for, or opposition to” diversity, equity initiatives and inclusion in applications for admission, hiring or promotion – with no penalties imposed for violations.

The proposed change comes as the state’s Democratic governor is under pressure to enshrine anti-DEI policies into law after Republicans passed a bill in the Legislature that would put the same policy into state law. That bill allows a fine of up to $10,000 for a violation and includes provisions in the next state budget to withhold nearly $36 million from the state’s universities unless they publicly confirm they have no such requirements. Gov. Laura Kelly has until Friday to take action on the bill and until April 25 to take action on the budget provisions.

“I don’t think we would have ever had a state law if this had been their policy from the beginning,” Republican Sen. JR Claeys, the author of the budget provisions, said ahead of Wednesday’s board discussion.

Republicans in at least two dozen states have tried to limit DEI initiatives, arguing that they are discriminatory and enforce a liberal political orthodoxy. Alabama and Utah passed new anti-DEI laws this year, and a ban passed in Texas last year led to more than a hundred job losses on the University of Texas campuses.

Claeys, who is also an adviser to Republican Party Attorney General Kris Kobach, another DEI critic, said a new regents policy is a positive step because it ensures all universities follow the same guidelines.

But he added: “I wouldn’t expect them to impose any enforcement on themselves.”

Others say such policies reflect a “gross misrepresentation” of the purpose behind applicants’ DEI statements.

“The intended goal is to provide potential employees with the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and how those experiences complement an institution’s mission and values ​​in support of a diverse campus community,” said Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers. in higher education, in an email statement.

It’s unclear how widespread the required DEI-related statements on applications are, but GOP lawmakers have said they are responding to complaints and applications they see online. Granberry Russell said she was not aware of any university expecting students, applicants or employees to actually “pledge allegiance to diversity.”

A legislative study released in February found that only 1.6% of spending at Kansas’ six state universities — $45 million — went to DEI initiatives, but noted that each university defined DEI differently. In addition to initiatives traditionally seen as DEI, such as training and recruitment, the resources include food pantries for poor students and services for military veterans and disabled students.

Kelly told reporters after an event on Tuesday that she has not had time to review the anti-DEI bill. While the bill specifically mentions diversity, equity and inclusion, it also says that universities cannot require a declaration of “any political ideology or movement.”

Last year, Kelly used her power under the state Constitution to veto individual budget provisions to overturn anti-DEI provisions in the current budget, and Republican lawmakers did not have the two-thirds majority needed in both chambers to override her actions.

But Kelly also signed legislation last year that bans Kansas officials from using environmental, social and governance factors when investing public funds or deciding who receives government contracts.

“Sometimes those bills don’t actually do much, and the universities can continue to function the way they’re supposed to function,” Kelly said Tuesday. “So I have to figure out or look at the impact that that will have.”