General Assembly asking for info on DEI at UNC campuses as GOP targets diversity efforts
This week the N.C. General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations requested documents related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) training programs through the UNC System and all of its 17 campuses.
The request, according to a Tuesday letter from Derrick Welch, director of Senate Majority Staff Government Operations, is part of the commission’s “inquiry into university employee training programs administered through the UNC System or its member universities.”
The letter, produced below, includes an exhaustive 10-point request for documents, descriptions and costs related to any DEIA related training.
“For purpose of this letter, ” Welch wrote, “DEIA” includes, but is not limited to, those subject matters which reference or discuss ‘diversity’, ‘equity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘accessibility’, ‘racism’, ‘anti-racism’, ‘anti-racist’, ‘oppression’, ‘internalized oppression’, ‘systemic racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘gender’, ‘LGBTQ+’, ‘white supremacy’, ‘unconscious bias’, ‘bias’, ‘microaggressions’, ‘critical race theory’, ‘intersectionality’, or ‘social justice.'”
The request from the commission, which is co-chaired by N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, is not the first time Republican state lawmakers have pushed back on diversity trainings and teaching at the university level. Last month the UNC Board of Governors passed a new policy prohibiting “compelled speech.”
The policy, written broadly, doesn’t give specific examples of “compelled speech.” But in practice, the proposed language would prohibit “DEI statements” — either asking students or prospective hires for their view on diversity, equity and inclusion or asking that they commit to the institution’s values on the subject.
“[T]he University shall neither solicit nor require an employee or applicant for academic admission or employment to affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment, or professional advancement,” the policy reads.
“Nor shall any employee or applicant be solicited or required to describe his or her actions in support of, or in opposition to, such beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles,” it reads. “Practices prohibited here include but are not limited to solicitations or requirements for statements of commitment to particular views on matters of contemporary political debate or social action contained on applications or qualifications for admission or employment or included as criteria for analysis of an employee’s career progression.”
As Policy Watch reported earlier this week, the latest appointments to the UNC Board of Governors include Haywood “Woody” White, a former Republican state lawmaker who has been publicly critical of DEI efforts at universities, writing universities committed to diversity do nothing to prevent discrimination against conservative political views.
National anti-DEI wave from GOP
This week’s request from the General Assembly comes as the nation is seeing a national wave of anti-DEI legislation and sentiment from Republicans, comparable (and in some ways directly related) to their campaign to cast Critical Race Theory as racist indoctrination itself.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sees it differently.
“Combined, DEI involves creating a place where everyone is welcome, supported, and has the resources they need to grow and thrive regardless of identity, origin, or difference in circumstances,” reads a piece encouraging DEI strategies published on the chamber’s website last year. “Employers typically achieve DEI goals by creating a DEI strategy to develop best practices and track their progress.”
Republicans across the nation have seized on DEI efforts as liberal indoctrination, encouraged by conservative political activists who have been open in their desire to make diversity efforts “the perfect villain” in political campaigns ranging from local school boards to gubernatorial and even presidential races.
Conservative activist Chris Rufo, who first popularized the idea of gathering conservative talking-points under the umbrella of “critical race theory,” has written and spoken openly about his motives in doing so.
“We have successfully frozen their brand—”critical race theory”—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions,” Rufo wrote on Twitter last year. “We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.”
“The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory,’ ” Rufo wrote. “We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”
In a June interview with The New Yorker, Rufo was more expansive about how and why he chose “critical race theory” – a term for a relatively obscure area of study not even encountered by most post-graduate students – as the perfect catch-all for conservative grievances with respect to history and literature curricula, diversity training and a variety of public policies.
“We’ve needed new language for these issues,” Rufo told The New Yorker. “’Political correctness’ is a dated term and, more importantly, doesn’t apply anymore. It’s not that elites are enforcing a set of manners and cultural limits, they’re seeking to reengineer the foundation of human psychology and social institutions through the new politics of race, It’s much more invasive than mere ‘correctness,’ which is a mechanism of social control, but not the heart of what’s happening. The other frames are wrong, too: ‘cancel culture’ is a vacuous term and doesn’t translate into a political program; ‘woke’ is a good epithet, but it’s too broad, too terminal, too easily brushed aside.”
“‘Critical race theory’ is the perfect villain,” Rufo said.
Last month Rufo, a fellow at conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute, made clear on Twitter he sees similarly villifying DEI efforts as the next step.
“Conservatives must move the fight from ideology to bureaucracy,” Rufo wrote. “We’ve won the debate against CRT; now it’s time to dismantle DEI.”
Model legislation co-authored co-authored by Rufo aims to do just that – and it’s been showing up in legislatures across the country.
“So-called Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) bureaucracies at public universities operate as divisive ideological commissariats, promulgating and enforcing Critical Race Theory and related political orthodoxies as official campus policy,” reads one such piece of model legislation co-authored by Rufo.
Tuesday’s letter, addressed to Eric Naisbitt, the UNC System’s assistant vice president of state government relations, sets a deadline of March 28 for the system to give “a full and complete response to the above questions, including the production of any and all associated documents.”
“While we understand that you may not personally maintain the documents and data requested, we trust that you will fulfill the responsibilities of your position as the Assistant Vice President of State Government Relations for the UNC System in obtaining those documents and data from the appropriate channels,” the letter reads.