Begging the DEI Question

On January 19, House Republicans voted to pass HB 261, Rep Katy Hall’s diversity, equity, and inclusion bill. Their votes suggest that they did not pay attention to Andy Larsen’s thoughtful analysis of the issue (Salt Lake Tribune, January 13): “One of the most popular anti-DEI studies is full of problems.” Or perhaps they were simply more interested in the politics of the issue than in careful analysis in the service of Utah’s students. 

Larsen writes that the question the bill purports to answer is what to do with the “DEI bloat in academia,” as reported by the conservative Heritage Foundation in 2021 (and in a flurry of subsequent pieces there). After pointing out serious methodological problems in the report (“it’s an insane way to draw conclusions”), Larsen concludes his analysis: “In the end, the anti-DEI folks have a problem: Their argument just isn’t that well-considered. They’re using shoddy methodology [and] they don’t address the research that led to DEI programs in the first place.” 

 We “beg a question” when we assume that we already know the answer and fail to question our assumption. Governor Cox and House Republicans are begging the DEI question in response to an assertion that DEI programs are “a signal of adherence to ideological, political, and activist goals” and thus “state legislators and donors” ought to find ways to curtail them (Heritage Foundation, Summary). 

Asked for data to support their anti-DEI bill, HB 261sponsors reply with versions of: “I can’t say I have data” to support the measure. For them, this is a political issue unencumbered by evidence. 

We are fortunate that journalists like Larsen draw public attention to this issue. But where are the voices from Utah State Higher Education administrators who have established and supported DEI programs on their campuses? Why haven’t they weighed in on this bill that will undo their efforts? 

My own institution’s 2030 Vision Statement reports that “UVU is committed to equity, inclusion, and diversity (EID) and creating a sense of belonging for all in the UVU community.” "UVU will expand access to EID-based training for faculty. . . . UVU will expand, disseminate, and assess the intercultural learning of staff and faculty through lectures, trainings, and workshops (including the Foundations of Inclusion workshops). The Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity will measure the progress of intercultural competency to celebrate success and improve EID-targeted initiatives."

Every USHE institution has ambitions to lift and encourage and enable through a range of DEI initiatives. HB 261 puts a wrench in all that. Why, I ask again, have USHE administrators and Faculty Senates not spoken out about the value of these programs? It’s a matter of funding. Richard Badenhausen, Dean of the Honors College at Westminster University, recently published a fine piece in the Tribune in praise of diversity, equity, inclusion and access. Westminster administrators, of course, are not reliant on state legislators for funding.

Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this excellent analysis!

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  2. Angela Banchero-KelleherJanuary 23, 2024 at 1:26 PM

    Scott, terrific response. I have to tell you faculty in my department are fully in support of the DEI work being done at UVU. Not only do we see our students put at risk with these short sighted bills, but we feel ourselves at risk also. DEI works for everyone. Thank you for making sure that people on the hill know that many faculty at UVU are concerned.

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