Posted on April 8, 2024

Amid State DEI Ban, the University of Texas Lays Off Dozens of Employees

Lily Kepner and Zachary Schermele, USA Today, April 5, 2024

A university in Texas has begun massive staff layoffs months after a statewide ban on diversity, equity and inclusion programs in public colleges took effect.

State Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Republican, warned Texas university system administrators last week about the state’s expectations for higher education institutions to comply with Senate Bill 17, an anti-DEI law that went into effect in January. Now, the University of Texas at Austin has laid off at least 60 staff members who previously worked in DEI-related positions, according to two people with knowledge of the terminations who confirmed them to the Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network.

The decision is yet another escalation in the mounting attacks on programs that benefit marginalized groups in higher education. In red states like Texas and Florida, anti-DEI laws have shuttered safe spaces for LGBTQ students in the past year and triggered fears that professors and students would flee to more liberal states.

The University of Texas has not confirmed to the Statesman the number of staff positions that have been eliminated or how many employees will be laid off. But on Tuesday afternoon, one of the people with knowledge of the terminations said at least 60 people lost their jobs, 40 of them in the Division of Campus and Community Engagement alone. The layoffs become effective in 90 days or more, people familiar with the terminations told the Statesman. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the terminations publicly. UT did not respond to a Statesman request for comment.

UT Austin is also closing the Division of Campus and Community Engagement, previously known as the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. President Jay Hartzell said in an email to the UT community on Tuesday afternoon, which was obtained by the Statesman, that although the school made changes before Jan. 1 to comply with SB 17, “we knew that more work would be required to utilize our talent and resources most effectively in support of our teaching and research missions, and ultimately, our students.”

“The new law has changed the scope of some programs on campus, making them broader and creating duplication with long-standing existing programs supporting students, faculty, and staff,” Hartzell said. “Following those reviews, we have concluded that additional measures are necessary to reduce overlaps, streamline student-facing portfolios, and optimize and redirect resources into our fundamental activities of teaching and research.”

Hartzell said the remaining programs will be redistributed among other divisions. He said funding that previously supported DEI initiatives will now be redirected to “support teaching and research.” Student support, however, will be available for the rest of the semester.


In Texas, SB 17 bans DEI offices, initiatives and employees from fulfilling those functions at Texas public universities and colleges. In Creighton’s March 26 letter to university system chancellors and boards of regents, he expressed disappointment that some colleges might just be changing office names and titles as part of their compliance, and he cautioned that “this letter should serve as notice that this practice is unacceptable.” He warned administrators that lawmakers could take legal action and even freeze state funding for their institutions if they do not fully comply with SB 17.

“Recognized as the most robust DEI prohibition in the nation, this bill mandates a fundamental shift in the operation of our higher education institutions,” Creighton said in his letter.

A UT department chair who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the terminations publicly told the Statesman that they were contacted by their dean Tuesday morning to notify them that an employee in the department would be terminated. That employee, according to the chair, had previously worked in a DEI-related role but was reassigned to a new position and duties as part of the school’s compliance with SB 17.