Posted on May 14, 2024

University of Wyoming to Close DEI Office, Reassign Staff in Response to Legislative Mandate

Madelyn Beck, Gillette News Record, May 13, 2024

The University of Wyoming is closing its Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and its staff will be reassigned and many of its programs will continue.

The school’s Board of Trustees backed President Ed Seidel’s recommendation Friday to close the office, with Trustee Michelle Sullivan saying they were put in “an impossible situation.” Earlier this year, the Wyoming Legislature — UW’s largest funder — cut the university’s block grant and forbade it from spending that appropriation on the DEI office.

In addition to closing the office and reassigning staff, Seidel said the university will create “a vice provost for faculty, staff and student access, opportunity and well being.” That position will help transition programs previously under the DEI office into new university units.

Programs that are either required or key to UW community success will be maintained, Seidel said, including, but not limited to: “Academic freedom, research freedom, compliance with federal laws — including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VI, VII and IX — Native American Affairs, the Shepard Symposium, the Latina Youth Conference, and others.”

In a later press release, he added that the university will seek out private funding for “preferential” programs deemed essential to helping students, like the Wyoming Latina Youth Conference and Women in STEM activities.

The Legislature’s decision and the university’s subsequent conversations about how to respond prompted widespread discussion, both in previous board meetings and in other public comments. Seidel noted this in his statement released after Friday’s vote.

“What I can say is that we are moving forward the best we can to meet the expectations of elected officials and the people of Wyoming and continue serving our students and communities,” he said.

UW leaders considered five options for responding to the Legislature’s decision to defund the DEI office. More severe suggestions included laying off all of the employees within the office. On the other end, school leaders could have kept the office, but funded it through private support.

Employment practices

Beyond the DEI office, the university is also changing employment practices, effective immediately.

“We will not allow units of UW to require job candidates to submit statements regarding diversity, equity and inclusion,” Seidel said. “We will not have a requirement for employees to be evaluated on components of diversity, equity and inclusion in the performance evaluation process. These actions reaffirm UW’s commitment to merit-based employment practices including hiring and promotion.”

This aligns with what MIT did recently, ending diversity statements in hiring.

Seidel also plans to look into many other practices listed in a working group report to ensure UW doesn’t encourage preferential treatment. That includes admissions practices, speakers at the university, recruitment, retention, scholarship awards, assistantships, some research programs, summer institutes and student organization structures.

“I am committed to maintaining and enhancing a campus community that promotes success for all, and I encourage all of us to lean into this next chapter for our university,” he said.