Lawmakers in Kansas are joining other GOP-led states in tackling DEI

Lawmakers in Kansas are joining other GOP-led states in tackling DEI



March 20, 2024

Kansas lawmakers are joining fellow Republicans in other states in their efforts to limit diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives on college campuses, but they crafted their proposals to avoid having to agree on the definition of DEI.

The Kansas House planned to vote Thursday on a bill aimed at preventing universities, community colleges or technical colleges from basing the admission of a student or the hiring or promotion of an employee on any statement or promise about diversity, equity or inclusivity. While the bill contains these words, it also states that universities cannot require a statement about any political ideology or movement.

The vote came a week after the Senate approved a proposed $25 billion state budget with a provision intended to force universities to eliminate such requirements and mandatory DEI training. The provision would withhold $35.7 million from the state’s six universities until they report to the Democratic Administration. Laura Kelly and the Republican-controlled Legislature say they have done this.

Republicans in at least two dozen states have tried to limit DEI initiatives, arguing that they are discriminatory and enforce a liberal political orthodoxy. Alabama’s governor signed an anti-DEI bill into law on Wednesday, Utah passed one earlier this year, and proposals were introduced in Kentucky and South Carolina this week.

Universities have chosen to embrace ideologies that discriminate against people who don’t adhere to their orthodoxy, Rep. Steve Howe, a centrist Republican from Kansas and chairman of a higher education committee, said during a House debate Wednesday.

Approval by the House of Representatives would send the measure to the Senate on Thursday. As for the anti-DEI budget provision, the two chambers’ negotiators expect to discuss it as they craft the final version of the annual budget.

The House bill establishes a process for addressing DEI complaints, giving universities time to reverse disputed actions. But it also gives the attorney general the ability to file civil lawsuits against the universities and colleges and seek fines of up to $10,000.

A legislative study released last month found that 1.6% of the six state universities’ annual spending, or $45 million, went to DEI initiatives, but noted that each university defines DEI differently. In addition to initiatives traditionally seen as DEI, such as training and recruitment, they also include food banks for poor students and services for military veterans and disabled students.

But neither Kansas measure defines DEI.

It’s hard for me to pass a bill to punish a university for something we don’t define,” said Democratic state Rep. Tom Sawyer of Wichita. For me, the words diversity, equality and inclusivity are positive words in themselves.

Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita, said his chamber’s bill creates a simple test of whether a university requires ideological statements from students, applicants or employees, with not everyone having to agree on the definition of DEI.

Everyone has a different definition, Hawkins said. It’s quite difficult to get everyone to strive for one definition.

Similarly, Senator J.R. Claeys, another Kansas Republican who wrote his chamber’s budget provision, said it simply pushes higher education officials to stop using race-based criteria in their decisions, in line with the decision of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court that ended affirmative action. universities.

Claeys, one of the Senate budget negotiators and adviser to Republican state Atty. Gen. Kris Kobach said threatening funding is the best way to get universities to comply.

In statehouses across the U.S., Republicans and Democrats have promoted opposing definitions of fairness and opportunity in state education and workplaces.

Democratic lawmakers in more than a dozen states are promoting more than 30 measures this year to demand greater attention to diversity, equity and inclusion. Republican lawmakers have responded with more than 60 measures to ban or restrict it, according to an Associated Press analysis using account-tracking software Plural. Five of those Republican bills have received final approval.

The National Education Assn. teachers union and other organizations have done so

denounced the anti-DEI campaigns

in Republican states as an attack on people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and others.

Utah’s new law bans government agencies, universities and K-12 schools from having diversity, equity and inclusion offices.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, last week signed a law banning higher education institutions from considering statements about diversity, equity and inclusion in decisions about student employment, benefits or admissions. That legislation also specifies that any diversity programming must address both cultural and intellectual diversity.

Republican lawmakers in Idaho and Wisconsin last week passed bills that would ban higher education institutions from tying employment and admissions decisions to diversity statements.

In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is expected to veto his state’s legislation. In Kansas, Kelly did not say what she would do if either Republican Party proposal were to pass, but she vetoed an anti-DEI provision included in last year’s budget legislation.

The measure passed by the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday would ban state agencies, universities and K-12 schools from sponsoring DEI programs. It would also prohibit them from forcing students or employees to adhere to a divisive concept,” a term that includes concepts such as white privilege, systemic discrimination and the idea that merit-based systems can be racist or sexist.

The new Alabama law, which takes effect in October, is in effect. 1 would prohibit universities, K-12 schools, and government agencies from sponsoring DEI programs, which the bill defines as classes, training, programs, and events in which participation is based on an individual’s race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual orientation.

Legislation passed by the Kentucky House this week includes similar language in its definition of “discriminatory” concepts that state universities are prohibited from using in training programs or course requirements.

In the Kansas House, the Higher Education Committee struggled to craft a definition. Republican Rep. Clark Sanders, another Central Kansas Republican, initially expressed doubts about its absence but later relented.

I may not be able to give you an explanation or a definition, but I would know it if I saw it, he said.

Hanna and Lieb write for the Associated Press. Hanna reported from Topeka, Lieb from Jefferson City, Mo.


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