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Governor Abbott declares diversity, equity and inclusion policies in hiring are illegal

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David Martin Davies
TPR News

Governor Greg Abbott is ordering public institutions in Texas to stop using diversity, equity and inclusion practices in hiring, according to a memo from the governor’s office.

Written by Abbott’s chief of staff, Gardner Pate, the memo warns that using DEI policies in hiring violates both federal and state employment laws by illegally discriminating against “certain demographic groups,” though it does not specify which ones.

“The innocuous sounding notion of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others,” Pate wrote in the memo, which was sent to state institutions—including colleges and universities.

Abbott has long been a vocal critic of DEI initiatives in the state. In September 2021, he issued an executive order banning DEI training in Texas state agencies and requiring state contractors to pledge not to promote certain ideas related to race and sex in their own DEI trainings.

It’s still not clear how most higher ed institutions in Texas are interpreting and altering their hiring practices after this latest anti-DEI order from the governor’s office.

But it is clear that Abbott’s office and other Republicans who are attacking DEI are completely mischaracterizing the practice in employment decisions.

“Anti-discrimination laws protect all Americans by ensuring that employers do not make hiring decisions based on race, religion, or gender – while diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives work in tandem with those laws to encourage companies to solicit applications from a wide range of applicants, which is legal and beneficial. Contrary to what the governor is implying, DEI initiatives have nothing to do with quotas, screenings, or exclusions,” according to a statement from Andrew Eckhouse, a lawyer at Kaplan Law Firm.

Supporters of DEI efforts like Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, say such initiatives are necessary to counteract bias against underrepresented students and employees.

Russell told Inside Higher Ed in a statement that Abbott’s administration is “grossly misconstruing federal anti-discrimination law, twisting it to fit their own political agenda and silence any effort to advance equity in a country that has long struggled with its founding promise of justice and liberty for all.”

She emphasized that “inclusive and equitable institutions” benefit everyone.

However, conservatives are claiming DEI policies do more harm than good. “DEI is not ‘well-intentioned,’ and it is not about diversity hiring or fair treatment,” said The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Sherry Sylvester. “DEI is about dictating how people think. The job candidate evaluations at Texas Tech revealed that applicants were downgraded for using the wrong pronoun or saying they respected and treated all students the same—which is not allowed.”

State representative Carl Tepper, R-Lubbock, filed a bill to prohibit higher education institutions from funding or supporting diversity, equity and inclusion offices. HB 1006 also prohibits any efforts to formulate diversity “beyond what is necessary to uphold the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

“We call it division, inequity and indoctrination. The DEI office name is a misnomer,” Tepper said.

Tepper declined participating in The Source to discuss DEI.


Paulette Granberry Russell, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, Chairman of the Black Legislative Caucus

Andrew Eckhous, Employment and Civil Rights Attorney at Kaplan Law Firm

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org or tweet@TPRSource.

*This interview was recorded on Wednesday, February 15.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi