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The Heavy Cost of DEI in Universities

Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs are taking a hit.

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Articles, Opinion, Politics

Diversity, equity, and inclusion – or DEI – isn’t new to colleges and universities, but in the last few years it has certainly grown in controversy. Some lump it together with critical race theory, but the growing assumption is that it’s a form of indoctrination, teaching students that white privilege exists – and, according to opponents, is adding to the racial divide in our country. While some states, such as Florida, have banned DEI in schools, others cling to the practice and pay a hefty sum each year to keep the programs afloat.

The Cost of DEI in Education

The University of Virginia (UVA) spends about $20 million each year on its diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Open the Books, a federal spending watchdog organization, cited public records that showed the university had at least 235 staffers in DEI roles in 2023. UVA spent a whopping $15 million in wages and compensation to those employees as well as another $5 million in benefits such as health care, Washington Examiner reported. Open the Books CEO Adam Andrzejewski pointed out that the money was being spent on ideologies instead of education:

“With head counts in the hundreds and spending estimated at $20 million per year, the DEI infrastructure at UVA is funded with the equivalent of nearly 1,000 students paying tuition. Those are dollars not spent pursuing excellence within a college major field of study, but instead on radical ideologies and silly notions.”

Edwin Feulner, founder of The Heritage Foundation, told CNN that he is reining in on DEI practices and that it is a priority in his role as chairman of the Virginia Commission on Higher Education board. “[DEI] has been perverted from the original concept. Instead, it’s become almost an accusation of incipient racism,” he remarked.

In Ohio, Senator Jerry Cirino, a Republican, sponsored a bill that, if successful, would ban diversity training and mandates in the Buckeye State. “Critics say the bill promotes censorship – they have it exactly backwards,” Sen. Cirino said in a statement. “This bill will allow students to exercise their right to free speech without threat of reprisal by professors or administrators. It will permit the marketplace of ideas to flourish, which is the ideal environment for any educational institution.”

However, the Inter-University Council of Ohio, which represents all 14 of the state’s universities, said the bill is vague, promotes government overreach, and does not appreciate DEI, which it called “one of the most potentially important parts of the bill.”

Andrew Gary, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told CNN he is concerned about the push to limit diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. “They want to be able to restrict professors’ ability to present information to their classes,” he said. “There’s basically a push against perceived liberal bias.”

How much of DEI is politically motivated? Kenneth Meier, a distinguished scholar at American University opined to CNN that higher education isn’t even a priority in most states and that funding has decreased a lot over the years so it’s not a huge budget item for state lawmakers. He claims it has become a strategy for the Republican Party to rally behind. “It allows you to focus on a group of people that are probably perceived as privileged in some way and isolate on that,” he claimed. “It’s unusual I would guess for higher education to be grouped in with immigrants and others we want to demonize, but I think it’s all part of the process.”

Yoleidy Rosario-Hernandez was chief diversity officer at the New College of Florida when it was announced the program was dissolving. She had a strong opinion on lawmakers moving to end DEI:

“It’s very fearsome to hear some of the rhetoric from our state leadership and the Board of Trustees in support of ending diversity, equity and inclusion. Because behind that, in my opinion, is a White nationalist rhetoric of racism, of homophobia, that’s really looking at establishing White men in the place of power versus really thinking about the community and what people really need.”

What kind of impact will it have on colleges and universities’ enrollment numbers if they choose to limit DEI? Critics claim schools will start losing new students who are afraid of what they consider conservative institutions where rights such as abortion will be withheld.

Meier commented, “If I were advising Ron DeSantis [Florida], I would suggest students are probably going to react the same way Disney reacted.” Although, some would argue it didn’t go too well for the entertainment company.

Those who support limiting or banning DEI training and mandates offer a different thought: that students will feel more comfortable attending an educational institution that doesn’t promote politics over learning.

Read More From Kelli Ballard

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