On Jan. 1, Senate Bill 17 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, which prohibits diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs and mandatory training on Texas college campuses, went into effect. The bill, which was opposed by student and professor groups, was passed during the regular legislative session last spring, but its implementation was deferred to allow time for universities to adjust to these new policies.
Throughout the legislative session, a trio of bills — SB 16, SB 17, and SB 18 — were filed to target higher education. SB 18, which was originally intended to ban universities from granting academic tenure, was significantly weakened as it made its way through the legislative process, but SB 17 passed with much of its original framework intact. (SB 16, which targeted academic course instruction and was referred to as a “ban on Critical Race Theory (CRT) in Higher Education,” did not pass.)
SB 17 Implementation
Over the past few months, universities have been amending their internal policies to comply with the law. That compliance has included either refocusing or totally dismantling offices that previously promoted diversity on campus. As previously reported in the Hotline, the University of North Texas was one of the first schools to react to the bill, eliminating its DEI office in August. Texas A&M followed suit in September and announced that the student “Pride Center” would become the “Student Life Center” in November. The UT system publicly released a policy guidance in September before the UT Board of Regents voted to adjust its DEI policies in November.
Each office’s closure has sparked protest and criticism from the student body. Many of the offices that have been closed or refocused had been serving students for decades. Notably, UT-Austin’s multicultural engagement center was founded in 1988. The fate of the multicultural engagement center is unclear, but the center’s website has been taken down.
Critical Exceptions to SB 17
While the prohibitions within SB 17 are broad, there are several critical exceptions within the bill. These exceptions were elucidated at a training hosted by the Texas chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), AFT’s higher education affiliate. Texas AAUP has been a leader in the fight to defend tenure, DEI, and academic freedom.
Most notably, the bill does not prohibit any diversity-focused research, coursework, or discussions. SB 16, which was intended to limit what topics could be discussed at Texas institutes of higher education, did not pass. Texas AAUP has suggested that professors add the following language to their syllabi to highlight this exception:
Texas Senate Bill 17, the recent law that outlaws diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public colleges and universities in Texas, does not in any way affect content, instruction, or discussion in a course at public colleges and universities in Texas. Expectations and academic freedom for teaching and class discussion have not been altered post-SB 17, and students should not feel the need to censor their speech pertaining to topics including race and racism, structural inequality, LGBTQ+ issues, or diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Additionally, the law does not limit guest speakers, nor does it limit the activity of on-campus student groups acting independently. Student groups are allowed to conduct voluntary diversity trainings in lieu of the mandatory training previously offered by the universities.
SB 17’s prohibition on mandatory training also does not apply to federally required trainings, including Title IX trainings.
While these exceptions are important, SB 17 has already had a profound effect on the day-to-day operations of Texas colleges and universities. And now that the law is in effect, we are sure to see more fallout.