Texas Senate Subcommittee to Consider DEI, Free Speech, & Antisemitism Next Week

Sign up for Texas AFT’s testimony training ahead of next week’s hearing!

Next Tuesday, in the wake of significant unrest on college campuses across the state and across the country, the Texas Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education will convene to address the issues of free speech, antisemitism, and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion).

The hearing will include an opportunity for public testimony. Texas AFT, in cooperation with our higher education affiliate Texas AAUP and other members of our coalition, is offering a testimony training this Monday at 6 p.m. CT, in preparation for the hearing the following day.

Each of these items was an interim charge set by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for the subcommittee to study in preparation for the next legislative session. Because this is an interim hearing outside of a legislative session, no specific bills will be considered. Instead, the committee will be considering the issues broadly and will not take any action.

Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) had previously signaled that the higher education committee would convene in May to consider DEI when he sent open letters to the Boards of Regents at Texas public universities directing them to send a representative to a hearing to audit the implementation of Senate Bill 17, the anti-DEI bill from last session.

This letter seemed to precipitate the termination of dozens of employees that had been reassigned to non-DEI positions after formerly working in DEI-related roles at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at Dallas. These terminations were made by the university even though they were in full compliance with the law as it was written and even though lawmakers had made assurances that employees would not be terminated because of SB 17. In response to the terminations, Texas AAUP released a joint statement with the Texas NAACP calling for these terminations to be reversed, and last week Texas AFT shared the stories of some of these terminated employees.

Though these interim charges were set in early April, before the state aggressively cracked down on pro-Palestine protests on campuses across the state, the protests and the resulting police crackdown will undoubtedly be a significant topic of discussion for the committee. The charge related to free speech specifically cites Senate Bill 18 (86-R) from 2019, which was intended to protect free speech on college campuses. The law deems all common areas as places of expressive activity for any person, regardless of their connection to the university. The police action at universities across the state in response to pro-Palestinian protests seems to directly contradict that law. Texas AFT and Texas AAUP released a statement in response to the protest crackdown.

The charge related to antisemitism seemed to relate to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott that directed universities to “establish appropriate punishments, including expulsion from the institution” for acts deemed to be antisemitic. The order specifically directed universities to ensure that the “Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine” are disciplined. These organizations were created to advocate for the rights of Palestinians and their membership includes Jewish students. In response to this order, Texas AAUP issued a statement.