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  • Caitlyn Burge-Surles

UNT "Reassigns" DEI Department After SB17

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The University of North Texas paved the way for other public universities on Tuesday by dissolving its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) department in accordance with Texas’ recently-passed Senate Bill 17.


Although the law doesn’t take effect until January 21, 2024, UNT President Neal Smatresk announced the disbanding of the department in a letter to the university on Tuesday afternoon, and later briefly spoke to WFAA that same day at a stadium ceremony, stating, “we have Senate Bill 17, we’re working on complying with it.”


In President Smatresk’s letter, he affirms that “Senior administrators and I are doing our best to create a plan that ensures we will continue to support all our community members’ needs and take advantage of the talented staff members currently within the division by working to reassign them throughout the university in ways that improve our academic community.”


Smatresk asserts that the university will take care to adhere to Texas law in this reassignment, adding that the Title IX, Affirmative Action, and Equal Employment Opportunity offices will move under the supervision of the financial department.


Joanne Woodard, the Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access hired in 2015, will retire from her position.


In a March 8 interview with UNT’s newspaper, North Texas Daily, Smatresk said that “the focus is to make sure that we’re hiring people based off their merit and their ability to do the jobs that we ask . . .” in light of the university’s decision to halt DEI initiatives.


Texas Scorecard reports that Smatresk’s history at the university has been marked by strong support for his community’s progressive ideologies. In the past, Smatresk has voiced his wish that he could “snap his fingers” to remove UNT’s Young Conservatives of Texas chapter.


Few other universities have taken action to abide by Senate Bill 17, which states that any state funded university may no longer legally maintain a DEI department. The law further specifies that “An institution of higher education may not . . . compel, require, induce, or solicit a student enrolled at the institution, an employee or contractor of the institution, or an applicant for admission to or employment or contracting at the institution to . . . endorse an ideology that promotes the differential treatment of an individual or group of individuals based on race,color,or ethnicity . . .”


SB 17 concludes that a violation of this law will result in financial penalty for the university if the violation is not removed in 180 days.


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