The University of Arkansas (UA) at Fayetteville announced in mid-June it would be dissolving its DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) Division later in the year, but then also revealed the division’s staff and resources would be integrated into other departments of the university in order to meet goals associated with student or employee “recruitment” and “success.”
The timing of the announcement came two weeks in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, in which the Court largely struck down affirmative action in higher education. It also arrived amid growing concern about DEI initiatives in the administration of Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the state legislature. This reported dissolution has led to questions about whether the university’s incorporation of DEI staff and resources into other offices is just a strategic workaround to enable woke practices to be maintained in a different form.
Inside Higher Ed asked, is UA’s move “a capitulation to right-wing demands or a savvy defense tactic?”
And National Association of Scholars (NAS) Research Fellow Neetu Arnold tweeted:
It’s already happening.
The University of Arkansas is getting rid of its DEI division, but it is not getting rid of DEI personnel and their toxic ideology. Instead, it will become a part of higher ed operations permanently.
The article announcing the move contained email responses from UA Director of Media Relations John Thomas regarding the goals of reallocating the DEI office’s resources. According to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents obtained by Do No Harm, not all of Thomas’s comments in response to the reporter’s questions made their way into the article. When asked if the move is “in response to the affirmative action bill filed in the Arkansas Legislature or the impending Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action,” Thomas said:
“While as a state institution, we are always respectful of the laws, regulations, and various viewpoints on how we carry out our mission, from an educational standpoint and as an employer, we believe that this is the best way to fulfill our land-grant mission of access and opportunity for all.”
A second document from the UA media relations office contains an additional response from the media relations office that contained the same statements to two different reporters.
The Arkansas Advocate also reported that, in his announcement about the reallocation of DEI personnel and resources, UA Chancellor Charles Robinson said the university’s strategic planning process “has affirmed that supporting equal opportunity, access and belonging are critical to our land-grant-mission and university values.”
“It is my belief based on my experience as having served as Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Provost — and now as Chancellor — that we can accomplish better outcomes by reallocating resources into these essential areas. We must strengthen our ability to achieve measurable results that enhance opportunity for all Arkansans.”
According to the Advocate, UA Faculty Senate Chair Stephen Caldwell said he, the provost, and Robinson have discussed their concerns that Arkansas could grow to be more like Florida in terms of blocking public colleges from funding DEI measures.
Caldwell said the goal is for both minority and non-minority students to be successful, “so let’s concentrate on student success and student excellence and try to achieve that in all mediums for all students of all backgrounds, races, creeds and colors.”
Asserting the DEI debate has created political polarization throughout the country, Caldwell observed Robinson’s strategy is to rebrand the debate as student success.
“And I think when you reframe it like that, it speaks to what it is that he’s trying to do, and the faculty are behind student success 100%,” he said.
A third document Do No Harm obtained shows how that “success” will be supported by distributing the former DEI assets throughout the campus. Dated July 11, 2023, this document contains a table that shows 46 items to address and take action on following their announcement and the Supreme Court ruling. Items to be reallocated included:
- Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion website, which has been taken down (archived page here)
- DEI Fellows program to conclude on June 30
- Two DEI positions will be transferred to Student Affairs and Student Success
- Digital inventory will be transferred “as appropriate along with the person…where the need is greatest”
- DEI banner to be carried at the June 23 PRIDE Parade
- Discussion on the IDEALS (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, Leadership Development, Strategic Supports) Institute DEI training, which has been removed from the UA website (archived page here)
- Future faculty recruitment strategy “to cultivate large pools of qualified candidates” and two policies
- Steps to “reimagine the purpose, scope, and participants” of the DEI Advisory Board
Do No Harm will be monitoring the actions of the University of Arkansas for alignment and compliance with the Court’s race-neutral mandate, as well as its self-imposed decision to disperse its DEI division through the school.
Are you seeing ongoing efforts to consider race in university admissions to medical education programs, or DEI initiatives in states that have laws prohibiting them? Do No Harm wants to hear from you, and you may remain anonymous if you wish.
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