Katarina Sostaric, Iowa Public Radio, November 16, 2023
The Iowa Board of Regents voted Thursday to direct the state’s three public universities to cut diversity, equity and inclusion programs that are not necessary for research contracts or accreditation.
It was one of 10 recommendations adopted by the nine-member board that oversees the University of Northern Iowa, the University of Iowa, and Iowa State University after Republican lawmakers directed them to review DEI spending and programs earlier this year.
Regent David Barker was on the three-member study group that developed the recommendations. He said any bureaucracy that has grown rapidly like university DEI programs needs a close look.
“Our universities will continue to be welcoming institutions,” Barker said Thursday at the board meeting in Cedar Falls. “They will not discriminate on the basis of any of these categories whether we retain or eliminate DEI programs we reviewed.”
Regent Nancy Dunkel voted against the recommendations. She said the universities should do more than the bare minimum for DEI because it’s important for the success of the schools, their students, and Iowa’s workforce.
“Our decisions should be what’s best for our schools in cooperation with their leaders,” Dunkel said. “Instead, we are micromanaging their decisions and imposing new political intrusions on freedom.”
Jim Lindenmayer, another regent who helped develop the recommendations, said he does not think the new rules will inhibit “DEI intentions.” He said they are vague enough to allow universities to continue serving their students and to address concerns from Republican legislators.
Still, Lindenmayer said he believes this conversation will have a chilling effect on hiring.
“But I don’t think it’s anything that’s avoidable,” he said. “This was a train coming down the track, and in some ways, we were forced to address it. But I think that’s a good thing.”
Among the 10 recommendations is a request that the three universities explore strategies for advancing diversity of intellectual perspectives among job applicants.
Regent Abby Crow said that would contradict the order to cut other DEI initiatives.
Barker disagreed. He said the universities have done a good job of boosting other forms of diversity, but not intellectual diversity.