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UNC System releases guidance following DEI policy repeal

UNC Systems President Peter Hans speaking at a podium at a NC Community Colleges event.
Gerry Broome
In this file photo, UNC Systems President Peter Hans delivers remarks during a news conference in Raleigh, N.C on May 1, 2018.

The UNC System has sent guidance to university chancellors as they make decisions on how to comply with a mandate from the UNC Board of Governors that targeted diversity, equity and inclusion offices.

The letter from the legal staff at the UNC System was sent to the chancellors late last week.

In May, the UNC Board of Governors overwhelmingly voted to repeal its policy requiring diversity, equity and inclusion offices and positions at public universities in the state. That same vote replaced it with a new policy highlighting “institutional neutrality.”

The additional guidance — while broad — makes it clear that the Board of Governors and UNC System believe that DEI offices violate that new policy.

“One of the most visible changes to expect on campuses is the elimination of content-specific missions, duties, and titles of employing divisions and employee positions,” the letter reads. “This prohibition reaches positions across the political, policy, and social spectrum, including, without limitation, diversity, equity, and inclusion offices and officers.”

While the guidance doesn’t instruct chancellors specifically to eliminate all DEI offices, it does require significant changes. For example, chancellors can’t just update job titles to comply with the new policy — they must also make changes to job responsibilities.

“The actual work of the University must return to advancing the academic success of students with different backgrounds, not different political causes,” the letter reads. “Job titles and responsibilities should follow suit.”

It also prevents university administrators and campus initiatives from taking a position that weighs in on a political debate or social action. For example, the policy said a student veterans initiative would be allowed, as long as employees involved don’t “endorse” views for or against American foreign policies.

The policy also encourages chancellors to refrain from making public statements and resolutions on contentious topics.

“If a campus chooses to speak in support of its students, the statements should focus on just that — the affected students — without delving into political, policy, or social advocacy,” reads the letter.

According to the guidance, some academic centers will have to be “restructured” to prevent political endorsements. This includes program content, writings, postings and “other messaging.” The policy doesn’t apply to student groups.

In his accompanying note to chancellors, UNC System President Peter Hans said that the UNC system remains committed to “welcoming and serving students of all backgrounds.”

Chancellors have to submit a report to Hans detailing what changes they’ve made to comply with the policy by Sept. 1. Any funding that comes from discontinued programs or eliminated positions will be redirected to “student success” initiatives.

According to the UNC System’s strategic plan, student success initiatives include mental health, technology proficiency and increasing the four-year graduation rate.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC’s 2024 Fletcher Fellow and covers higher education in partnership with Open Campus.