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UNC Governors Defund DEI Bureaucracies in NC State Universities, Part I

By Mark A. Murphy PhD, JD

On Thursday May 23 2024, the UNC Board of Governors “defunded” the DEI bureaucracies in all 16 UNC public universities, including Appalachian State University (“App”). They also prohibited many of the actions and politicized activities the DEI bureaucracies have been promoting in the UNC Public Universities. This Part I Column will report on and explain the Board of Governor’s decisions and new policies, and Part II of this column will focus on recent related perspectives and likely effects on App.

What is “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (“DEI”)?  This short description parallels many prior descriptions elsewhere, including an extensive article on Wikipedia.  

For more than 45 years (until last year) the U.S. Courts controversially allowed Universities some limited use of race and sex as “plus factors” in university admissions, under “strict scrutiny” by the courts, to attempt to remedy the past effects of slavery and discrimination. But in the last 10-20 years, “DEI” rapidly evolved into a much broader and politicized “organizational framework,” intended for widespread use in Governmental, Educational and Corporate settings, to “promote the fair treatment and full participation of…groups who have historically underrepresented or subject to discrimination on the basis of identity or disability.” 

“Diversity” in the recent DEI conceptions includes deliberate organizational efforts to selectively promote members of “oppressed” groups based on their “Identity” and/or “identity politics”, including their gender, culture, ethnicity, religion, disability, class, age or political opinions”. “Inclusion” refers to deliberate attempts to create an organizational “culture” where everyone “feels their voices will be heard”. Many people empathize with those general sentiments and goals, but there have been many disputes as to what constitutes ethically proper and/or legal means for attaining those goals.

“Equity” is a more controversial concept and goal. “Equity” is a very different concept than “Equality”. “Equity” focuses on historical racial and social disparities and attempts to allocate government resources and decision-making power to individuals from groups that were historically disadvantaged (and therefore “oppressed”), in an attempt to use political power to impose “Equal Results”.  In contrast, most Americas have typically understood the more traditional concept of “Equality” to mean “Equal Treatment under the Law”, or “Equal Opportunity”. Many conservative people consider “Equity” to be a Socialist and/or “Neo-Marxist” ideology that emphasizes and promotes, rather than minimizes, racial, sexual, and/or “identity” divisions in the population.

The Obama and Biden Administrations, and many universities, have adopted the DEI approaches and created large formal bureaucracies to support and/or impose the DEI ideologies.  Many larger corporations have also implemented such “DEI” programs and approaches in recent years.

In September 2019, the UNC Board of Governors adopted a new section 300.8.5 of the UNC Policy Manual, which created a new Policy on “Diversity and Inclusion Within the University of North Carolina”. The Policy did not mention or endorse the concept of “Equity” but did require that the UNC System create a “common set of D&I metrics” for use by each university (including App State), to track and report the “D&I metrics” results annually. 

But many of the sixteen UNC universities went far beyond new D&I metrics reporting and created large DEI bureaucracies which have often engaged in a wide range of “woke” political activities. For example, many universities forced Faculty, Students, and Staff to submit “DEI” statements before being considered for admission, hiring, or promotions, and sometimes penalized anyone who disagreed or didn’t comply. 

David Boliek, UNC Chairman of the UNC Chapel Hills Board of Trustees, has been quoted as saying that the DEI programs have suffered from “administrative bloat”.  On May 21, 2024, Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and Founder of “Open the Books.com”, a 501(c)(3) non-partisan and non-profit organization that specializes in Freedom of Information investigations intended to probe government spending, reported that UNC’s 16 campuses currently ‘spend no less than $90 million per year in pay and benefits on no fewer than 686 staffers under the “diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) umbrella.’”

As the DEI programs expanded in both universities, government, and corporate America, many Caucasians and Asians felt discriminated against and/or censored.  They also blamed the DEI programs for promoting one-sided “woke” political theories that exacerbated existing racial, sexual, and political divisions, and contributed to the motivations behind the race-based violent riots that have shaken many cities in the country, especially after the widespread crime and property destruction following the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a policeman in Minneapolis.

In 2014, a group of “Students for Fair Admissions” had filed a suit against both Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill, alleging that Harvard and UNC had unconstitutionally used race in their undergraduate admissions processes, to violate the student’s rights under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In June 2023 the Supreme Court ruled in the students’ favor, and severely cut back on the circumstances under which universities can properly use race in college admissions. 

On April 17, 2024, a subcommittee of the UNC Board of Governors recommended a repeal of the prior section 300.8.5 of the UNC Policy Manual relating to the “Diversity and Inclusion” metrics system and recommended a new replacement policy regarding “Equality Within the University of North Carolina”. A copy of that new Policy is available in the subcommittee minutes at https://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=67963&code=bog  

The new proposed policy re-iterated that UNC students and Faculty should be treated as individuals, with continuing Rights of Academic Freedom and Free Speech, but that the Administration and Staff should insure that diverse persons of any background would be “invited, included, and treated equally” despite any differences in their “backgrounds, beliefs, viewpoints, abilities, cultures, and traditions”.  

But the Policy also stated that there would be “prohibitions on compelled speech in hiring, professional advancement, and admission” and/or in “university-led student orientations, training, or activities”.  The Policy also requires that the Universities and their Staffs and Contractors would be required to maintain “Institutional Neutrality” on “matters of contemporary political debate or social action”. 

Lastly, the Policy required that the Chancellor of each UNC Institution “shall certify in writing to the president that the constituent institution fully complies with the University’s commitment to institutional neutrality and nondiscrimination,” and “include a report on reductions in force and spending, along with changes to job titles and position descriptions, undertaken as a result of implementing this policy and …how those savings can be redirected to initiatives related to student success and wellbeing.”  This policy appears to require that the “DEI bureaucracies” at each UNC university be “defunded” and the funds re-applied to actions to improve “student success and wellbeing”.

Soon afterwards, a group of Progressive pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli protestors (including students and non-students, and some Faculty) built and occupied an “encampment” on the Chapel Hill campus for several days, made political demands, defaced buildings, caused cancelation of classes for a day, and replaced the American flag at Polk Place with a Palestinian flag.  The Chapel Hill Administration eventually reacted by calling in Campus Police to break up the encampment and restore the American flag (with aid and help from some fraternity brothers). On May 13, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees “defunded” the DEI programs at Chapel Hill and diverted $2.3 M from their funding toward campus security and policing programs. 

Then the proposed “defund DEI” UNC System Policy was approved by the Board of Governors on May 23 by a 22-2 vote.  The new Policy goes into effect immediately, though the individual UNC campuses have until September to respond. This new UNC System Policy will apply to Appalachian State. 

A Part II column will soon report on likely effects at App, and App student, faculty, and local perspectives and reactions to the changes.