UNC System Board Approves Policy Gutting DEI Efforts at NC Public Universities

View of University of North Carolina At Wilmington. (Shutterstock)

(The Charlotte Observer/TNS) — Programs and administrative positions supporting diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at North Carolina’s public universities are one step closer to facing potential elimination — or at least significant changes — following a vote by the board that oversees the schools.

The UNC System Board of Governors approved a policy Thursday that repeals the university system’s previous DEI requirements. Those directives, implemented in 2019, required each of the system’s 17 campuses to employ a chief diversity officer and work to achieve diversity-related goals, among other mandates. 

Some students and other protesters gathered to denounce the decision, saying the system is ignoring the needs of minority groups on its campuses. Two protesters were arrested.

The board approved the new policy, which emphasizes equality and nondiscrimination over the previous policy’s ideals of diversity and inclusion, as part of a dozen unrelated items on the consent agenda. A board committee took the first step to approve the policy at a meeting last month, doing so in less than five minutes and with no discussion.

The policy was included on the consent agenda for the full board’s approval, a normal board procedure for committee-approved policies that typically leads to the measures being passed with no discussion. But on Thursday, two members — Gene Davis, one of the few Democrats on the board, and Pearl Burris-Floyd — spoke about the policy and explained their support of it prior to the vote.

Two members, Joel Ford and Sonja Nichols, voted against the measure. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Nichols said she supported the decision the board made, but she wanted her vote to signal that she recognizes “that all of the individuals that are on these campuses want to just be heard.”

“As a black woman — and I’m not saying a woman of color, I’m just speaking for myself as a black, as a woman — I just always want it to be a situation where all the voices are heard,” Nichols said.

Nichols, who previously ran for a state Senate seat as a Republican, said that while people generally focus on race in conversations about diversity, she believes “DEI is for everybody.”

The Board of Governors’ decision to roll back the university system’s previous DEI requirements comes as part of a growing national trend targeting the efforts. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 85 anti-DEI bills have been introduced nationwide since 2023.

UNC System President Peter Hans said in a written statement last month that the policy would not impact the UNC System’s responsibilities to welcome diverse students to its campuses. The policy and Hans’ statement say the system will continue to abide by state and federal nondiscrimination laws.

“We have well-established laws and policies that prohibit discrimination, protect equal opportunity, and require a safe and supportive learning environment for all students,” Hans said in his written statement. “We will continue to uphold those responsibilities.”

In separate public remarks Thursday, Hans emphasized his belief that universities must remain neutral, while allowing students and faculty to debate political and social issues.

“It’s good for college students to encounter liberal ideas, to become familiar with the best forms of progressive thought our society has to offer. It’s good for college students to encounter conservative ideas, to appreciate traditional perspectives and hear strong right-of-center arguments,” Hans said.

But he added that “it’s vital that college administrators stay out of it altogether.”

The new policy goes into effect immediately and directs university chancellors to ensure their campuses comply with the new directives by Sept. 1.

The UNC System’s legal affairs division is expected to issue guidance for compliance to campuses. Until then, it remains unclear exactly what will happen to the wide variety of diversity-related jobs, programs and other efforts across the university system, but the policy’s language indicates that they will likely be eliminated or changed to remove their direct ties to DEI.

There is already one example of how the policy will be interpreted at the campus level: The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees last week voted to eliminate the university’s $2.3 million in annual DEI spending and divert the funds to campus safety and police instead. 

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!