Iowa Board of Regents votes to cut back on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives

People walk on the Pentacrest on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb....
People walk on the Pentacrest on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (Mary Green/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 4:22 PM CST
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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG) - On Thursday, the Iowa Board of Regents voted to approve recommendations from a study group that would water down currently existing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) functions.

The Board of Regents formed a study group earlier this year after Governor Reynolds signed a bill directing a “comprehensive study and review of the diversity, equity and inclusion programs and efforts of each institution of higher learning under [its] control.”

The study group, which met over the summer to study DEI programs at Iowa’s three public universities, gave the board 10 recommendations in order to restructure DEI initiatives:

  1. Restructure the central, university-wide DEI offices to eliminate any DEI functions that are not necessary for compliance or accreditation. Support services in these offices must be broadly available to all students and/or employees, subject to applicable state or federal eligibility requirements.
  2. Review all college, department, or unit-level DEI positions to determine whether DEI specific job responsibilities are necessary for compliance, accreditation, or student and employee support services. Any position responsibilities that are not necessary for these purposes shall be adjusted or eliminated. Position and/or working titles shall be reviewed to ensure they appropriately reflect position responsibilities.
  3. Review the services provided by offices currently supporting diversity or multicultural affairs in other divisions of the university to ensure they are available to all students, subject to applicable state or federal eligibility requirements. Program promotional and informational materials and websites shall be updated to clarify that the mission of these offices is to support success broadly.
  4. Take reasonable steps to assure the following:
    1. No employee, student, applicant, or campus visitor is required to submit a DEI statement or be evaluated based on participation in DEI initiatives unless the position is required for DEI-related compliance or accreditation.
    2. No employee, student, applicant, or campus visitor is compelled to disclose their pronouns.
  5. Develop a Board policy prohibiting the consideration of race and other protected class characteristics in admissions that is consistent with the law.
  6. Initiate a review of DEI-related general education categories and update category names to accurately reflect the array of options students may select from to satisfy these requirements and ensure a breadth of offerings.
  7. Standardize issuance of annual employee guidance regarding the separation of personal political advocacy from university business and employment activities.
  8. Explore potential recruitment strategies for advancing diversity of intellectual and philosophical perspectives in faculty and staff applicant pools.
  9. Develop a proposal, including cost, to establish a widespread initiative that includes opportunities for education and research on free speech and civic education.
  10. Annually, the Board office shall issue a reminder to the universities on the requirements of 4.2.I, which governs university websites and other university communications.

As part of the study group’s report, they found that the Unversity of Iowa specifically was “well below the average of its national peer set with respect to the overall number of employees focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.”

The board also reviewed a forum comprised mostly of current student and faculty members at the Universities, which overwhelmingly showed that the programs were “critically important” with 19.8% polled saying the Universities needed to go further and add more programs like these.

However, despite the student/faculty recommendation, on November 16th, 2023 the board voted in line with the study group - approving all 10 recommendations - effectively eliminating programs not needed to meet federal and state compliance rules. (They also voted to change the wording on recommendation 9 from “develop” to “explore”.)

One Iowa, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ Iowans, released the following statement following the Board vote:

“The Regents chose to align with an extremist group of House Republicans, showing blatant disregard for the compelling evidence from data, research, and the desires of the campus community.

Eliminating these crucial diversity, equity, and inclusion programs will devastate our universities’ capacity to attract, retain, and prepare students for their future careers.”

In Attachment D in the report, students, faculty, and staff all overwhelmingly support these initiatives and consider DEI training ‘critically important.’

We wish the Regents would’ve listened to the experts rather than politicians. Instead, they bowed to the pressure of those in power rather than supporting their students with the greatest need. We call on our fellow Iowans to stand with these students and go above and beyond the bare minimum. These students are the future of our state. We should treat them with the respect they deserve.”

You can read the study group’s full report below: