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UNC to cut DEI programs. Here’s how it may impact colleges in Western North Carolina.

UNC BOG Meeting on May 23
Liv Barefoot
UNC BOG Meeting on May 23

The UNC Board of Governors passed a policy change on Thursday expected to eliminate or reduce diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs and personnel on all 16 UNC system campuses.

System President Peter Hans said at the meeting that students should encounter different perspectives, but administrators should not interfere.

“It's good for college students to encounter liberal ideas, to become familiar with the best forms of progressive thought that our society has to offer,” Hans said. “It's also good for students to encounter conservative ideas to appreciate traditional perspectives and hear strong right-of-center arguments. And it's vital the college administrators stay out of it all together.”

The policy alters the UNC Policy Manual, the governing document for the 16 school system. The new language could require campus leaders to reduce or eliminate DEI offices and staff.

The measure also requires individual university chancellors to report “reductions in force and spending, along with changes to job titles and position descriptions, undertaken as a result of implementing this policy” by September.

Board member Gene Davis said the policy change does not lessen the university system's commitment to DEI.

“This measure does amend the university code as it relates to DEI,” Davis explained. “It does not lessen our University's commitment to diversity and inclusion, to equality and equity, to being a place where all feel welcome where all feel that they belong.”

The board voted 22 to 2 to pass the measure which was previously approved by a board subcommittee. In a mid-April vote, the committee said the system's then-current policy did not align with a recent change in a state statute, requiring public universities to have “institutional neutrality” when it comes to political issues.

The "institutional neutrality" provision passed the North Carolina House last June with a vote of 110 to 3.

Democrats from Western North Carolina, including Representative Eric Ager, Representative Lindsey Prather, and Representative Caleb Rudow joined Republicans in supporting the bill to require institutional neutrality.

Chantal Stevens, executive director of ACLU of North Carolina, called for university policymakers to reconsider.

“The decision by the UNC system Board of Governors to eliminate financing for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs and administrative positions is deeply troubling,” Stevens explained. “Our university campuses must be environments where students feel included and are able to fully engage academically, and DEI programs serve an important role in achieving this.”

Students across the state have pushed back against the Board of Governors’ measure.

In late April, UNC-Asheville’s Student Government Association and the UNCA Black Student Association held a rally on the quad on campus in front of Ramsey Library to voice their stance against the proposal.

Individual institutions are required to present to their Board of Trustees (BOT) an annual report on the institution’s diversity and inclusion operations and activities. Campus leaders must offer a similar report to the full system Board of Governors.

UNCA provided its latest Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report to the Board of Trustees from the fiscal year 2021-2022.

“A large portion of the content is now outdated and does not reflect current practice at UNC Asheville,” Chief University Communication and Marketing Officer Michael P. Strysick told BPR in an email this week.

In UNCA’s report, the university identified six positions that were 100% focused on Diversity and Inclusion goals:

  • Director of Center for Diversity Education
  • Title IX & Clery Coordinator
  • Director of Institutional Equity
  • Interim Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs
  • Director of Accessibility Services
  • Accessibility Specialist

The report also highlights programs such as Racial Healing Circles and Sexuality & Gender Education (S.A.G.E) Program.
According to the report, the total expenditures for the program in 2021 were more than $460,000.

In her weekly campus newsletter sent Thursday afternoon, UNCA Chancellor Kimberly van Noort commented on the vote.

“Following the Board’s approval of the policy changes, we’re awaiting guidance on how they will affect UNC Asheville. Senior leaders at the University will share timely, detailed updates on this process throughout the summer as more information becomes available, "wrote van Noort.

Western Carolina University provided BPR with its latest Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report from the fiscal year 2022-2023 that was recently submitted to the Board of Trustees in February 2024.

WCU identified nine positions that are 100% focused on diversity and inclusion goals:

  • Director of Accessibility Resources
  • Assistant Director of Accessibility Resources
  • Student Services Specialist & Testing Coordinator
  • Director of Intercultural Affairs
  • Associate Director of Intercultural Affairs
  • Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs
  • Title IX Coordinator
  • University Investigator
  • Chief Diversity Officer

The report also highlights programs such as Student Development and Enrichment (Project CARE) and the Office of Accessibility Resources (OAR)Project CARE mentors first-year students while the OAR offers ongoing faculty development/training on issues of equity and access for students with disabilities.

Total expenditures for the program were more than $780,000, according to the report.

Julia Duvall, senior relations coordinator at WCU, said it is unclear how a new policy will impact these programs.

In advance of the vote, Duvall told BPR: “Campus leaders will work to ensure the institution is compliant with the policy.”

“WCU remains committed to providing equal educational and employment opportunities for all students, faculty, and staff,” she wrote.

"A campus community that facilitates student success, access, and free inquiry are central to WCU’s mission, and campus programming will continue to reflect those priorities.”

The Board of Governors has 24 voting members, elected by the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Jose Sandoval is the afternoon host and reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio.
Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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