HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or DEI, is a political hot button. It's a pressing issue at public universities across the state now that Gov. Greg Abbott has directed schools not to use DEI in their hiring practices.
In the wake of the governor's ask, the University of Houston issued a memo on Friday, March 3, regarding DEI. It is the latest school to respond to the governor's directive issued last month.
The memo came from UH President Renu Khator. And while it may seem as if the university is ending DEI in its hiring practices, the school told ABC13 that it's merely reminding its community of its existing policies detailed in a document revised in 2021 and written in 1990, which complies with federal equal employment law.
But the memo came after the University of Texas system, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech all announced they would not use DEI statements in their hiring practices - something the Chair of the State Senate Committee on Education Brandon Creighton says is the right thing to do.
"Many of the legislators as voices of the public coming into the Capitol this session are very worried about these DEI departments promoting political indoctrination and division," Creighton told ABC13. "I think without a doubt we should be looking elsewhere in what we want to see in our hiring practices at publicly funded universities."
But that's not how the former chair of the House education committee sees it. State Rep. Harold Dutton thinks it's political gamesmanship.
"I don't know that DEI programs have caused a problem anywhere," Dutton said. "And if they have caused a problem, then we could simply fix whatever the problem is. But to do away with all DEI programs sounds quite shortsighted to me."
As for UH, it will not ignore DEI completely. On a campus where by some metrics, it is the 8th most diverse campus in the nation, their DEI mission statement reads in part:
"The University of Houston embraces diversity and recognizes our responsibility to foster an open, welcoming environment where students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds can collaboratively learn, work and serve. We value the academic, social and broader community benefits that arise from a diverse campus and are committed to equity, inclusion and accountability. Diversity enriches our University community and is a driving force instrumental to our institutional success and fulfillment of the University's mission."
But as for DEI's future on campuses statewide, Congressman Al Green says it's a troubling trend when combined with other educational initiatives, including vouchers and the possible state takeover of HISD.
"When you couple that with the indication that there should no longer be diversity in the universities, when considering hiring, that you should not consider diversity. When you put these things together, you start to see a picture of what appears to be a movement back to a time that I quite frankly would never want to see us have to live again," Green said from his Capitol Hill office in Washington D.C.
Sally Amoruso agrees the political discourse regarding DEI has only deepened the divide and created fear or concern where there should be none. She is the chief partner officer at EAB, an education consulting firm.
"It's not about racial quotas," Amoruso said. "It's not necessarily about affirmative action. It's simply about allowing people of all kinds to thrive and to ensure that we are supporting and including people of all different backgrounds. I don't think most people would argue with that, and yet co-opting that, and making that a zero-sum game where it is anti-white. Where you strike fear in the hearts of those who may worry that they are not in those underrepresented groups is simply contributing to one of the worst societal ills that we have to struggle with."
But Creighton thinks there is a problem and that DEI pushes its own political agenda.
"I think we'll advance legislation from our office removing, identifying, and or defunding or removing these DEI departments," Creighton said. "And I think the universities across Texas are also advancing statements on their own."
The current legislative session ends in May. By then, DEI on college campuses may face obstacles greater than gubernatorial declarations. It may be against the law.