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UT Austin says it laid off nearly 60 people on April 2. Most came in response to Texas' anti-DEI law

The Tower at the UT Main Building on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
The Tower at the UT Main Building on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

UT Austin President Jay Hartzell said 49 employees are losing their jobs as a result of changes the university has made to comply with a Texas law that bans diversity, equity and inclusion offices and programs at public higher education institutions.

"As the flagship university in this state, we are subject to more scrutiny than others," he said Monday during a meeting with the UT Faculty Council.

Hartzell said the employees will be paid through July 5.

Many of the affected employees worked for the Division of Campus and Community Engagement that UT Austin is closing. The division was formerly called the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

Hartzell announced the layoffs in an April 2 email but did not say how many positions were affected.

"For the record, because I've seen different numbers floated out, let me be as clear and careful as I can: On that day that we had the announcement there were 49 people whose positions were eliminated," Hartzell said. "Plus, eight associate or assistant deans who are going to return to their full faculty positions."

But Brian Evans, president-elect of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors (Texas AAUP), said that figure does not align with the terminations his group has counted.

He said 62 employees, who previously worked on DEI programs and policies before Senate Bill 17 took effect Jan. 1, told Texas AAUP they found out this month they were losing their jobs.

"So there's a difference in what we have documented in Texas AAUP from the staff themselves who were receiving these termination notices versus the count given at the Faculty Council meeting," he said. "So we'd like to know why these others aren't being counted."

KUT previously reported that the Texas NAACP had verified the names of 66 people who had received termination notices.

UT Austin spokesperson Mike Rosen provided KUT clarification on the numbers Tuesday afternoon. He said 49 positions were terminated, one person who was going to be laid off opted to retire instead, and eight assistant deans were going to be faculty only now. That brings the number of affected positions to 58, he said.

Rosen added that UT Student Affairs laid off eight people on the same day, but that was not part of the reorganization that came in response to SB 17.

Hartzell told the Faculty Council he does believe UT Austin was in compliance with SB 17 when it took effect, but the staff cuts came after further review of remaining programs and positions.

"It's been clear from the writings and reports since then, some would disagree [we were in compliance]. And there are those who are spending their days looking for cases where they think we're not complying, and we've addressed those as they've come about," he said. "And we've had a couple of honest mistakes and a couple of things where people got it wrong, and I'm sure it's not over."

Hartzell noted that universities are operating in a political climate that is increasingly skeptical of higher education. A 2023 Gallup poll, for example, found only 19% of Republicans have a "great deal" of confidence in higher education.

Republican leaders in Texas have also signaled they are paying close attention to the implementation of SB 17, Hartzell said.

He pointed to a March 26 letter from the author of SB 17, Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton, about legislative hearings in May on compliance with the law. Hartzell also said the interim charges Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released last week underscored how serious the Legislature is about making sure universities are dismantling DEI programs.

"We have to make choices to worry about the long-run future of the university, and it's not just are we compliant with SB 17 in the short run but also what are the choices we make?" he said. "How do we demonstrate to our state and to others that we are good stewards of the resources for which we've been entrusted?"

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, an Austin Democrat who has denounced the UT layoffs, raised concerns about this approach in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"We've seen this play before. It does not end well," she wrote. "You cannot placate the far right by offering sacrifices. ... It just gives them a head start on the rest of their agenda."

Hartzell said UT Austin is not the only university to conclude that additional steps were necessary to comply with SB 17. UT Dallas announced last week it was closing its Office of Campus Resources and Support and eliminating 20 positions.

Evans said many questions remain about the layoffs after the Faculty Council meeting, which nearly 300 people attended. He said Texas AAUP would like a follow-up conversation with Hartzell and that UT Austin needs to better communicate the changes it's making and why.

"We at Texas AAUP would like to ask for ... the president to explain how the administration will proceed with future firings," he said. "We also, of course, want the folks that have been fired to have their jobs restored."

Texas AAUP sent a letter to President Hartzell on April 4 calling on UT Austin to reinstate the staff who have lost their jobs.

Copyright 2024 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Becky Fogel is the editor and producer of statewide newscasts for the Texas Newsroom. She previously worked for the shows Texas Standard and Science Friday. She got her start in radio at KWBU-FM in Waco.