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After Oklahoma banned some state-funded DEI initiatives, schools renamed offices and shuffled jobs

University of Oklahoma students walk to and from class on the Van Vleet Oval in Norman.
Robby Korth
StateImpact Oklahoma
University of Oklahoma students walk to and from class on the Van Vleet Oval in Norman.

The University of Oklahoma is closing all diversity, equity and inclusion offices and the University of Central Oklahoma dissolved a committee after Gov. Kevin Stitt banned state funds from supporting certain programs.

But most of the 128 agencies that have submitted reports so far said they made no changes as a result of the new rule. The Frontier obtained the reports through an open records request to Stitt’s office. Some agencies didn’t submit the reports before the May 31 deadline.

Stitt signed an executive order in December prohibiting state resources from supporting diversity, equity and inclusion jobs or initiatives that grant preferential treatment based on race or ethnicity.

The executive order requires state agencies to restructure or cut any banned diversity, equity and inclusion programs not required for accreditation or to comply with anti-discrimination laws by the end of May.

“Colleges and universities, they need to spend fewer tax dollars and student tuition dollars on anything except getting the kids ready for the workforce,” Stitt said during a Dec. 13 press conference where he signed the order. “We need to stop sending six-figure salaries to DEI staff, and (focus) more on preparing students to get that job and to have a successful career.”

The order doesn’t apply to academic research or instruction, student organization activities, or programs for veterans, first-generation students or other underserved groups.

The state Secretary of Education is required to send a list of non-compliant agencies to the legislative committees in charge of state funding in September. Any budget cuts will be up to the Legislature, a spokeswoman for Stitt said. The governor’s office will research if it believes any reports are inaccurate but will assume most information is truthful, she said.

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OU said in its report it’s reviewing position descriptions, training, enrollment and scholarship opportunities to ensure compliance. Administrators are phasing out diversity councils, events and programs that appear to give preference based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender, identity or sexual orientation.

A university webpage also said that offices that support LGBTQ students will likely be affected by the executive order. OU announced earlier this year that theNational Education for Women’s Leadership program and Gender + Equality Center would close as a result of the executive order.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma said in a June statement that those programs fall outside the scope of the executive order. A spokesperson for OU declined to comment on why the university is phasing out initiatives based on gender, identity and sexual orientation.

Oklahoma State University reported it had no diversity, equity and inclusion programs that fell under the executive order. University president Kayse Shrum said no significant changes were needed at OSU after the order was signed.

In January, the university renamed its Office of Institutional Diversity to the Division of Access and Community Impact. An OSU spokesman said university leadership was already considering restructuring and renaming the department, but the change coincided with the executive order.

The University of Central Oklahoma eliminated its Office of Inclusive Community, which housed campus diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and it moved some employees to the school’s Enrollment and Student Success division.

Those workers will still manage student recruitment and retention initiatives including the Black Girl Magic program and the Black Male Summit, a spokeswoman for UCO said. They’ll also focus on student support resources more broadly.

UCO also cut time blocks that two employees used outside the classroom to field academic concerns related to the Office of Inclusive Community.

The Center for Community and Learning at Tulsa Community College will no longer offer support to students based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin or sex.

TCC also removed mentions of diversity, equity and inclusion from three job titles of employees who worked in the center. College leadership identified adjustments that would allow it to comply with the executive order and still support student success broadly, a spokeswoman said.

Cameron University conducted administrative and legal reviews to ensure its programs complied with the order. Campus leadership at Cameron also cut a diversity equity and inclusion committee, a spokesman for the university said.

Some state agencies also reported changes. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation restructured a human resource job to remove the duties of developing, coordinating and implementing the agency Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program. That program has been dissolved, an agency spokesman said. The department will also no longer participate in a trade association committee focused on recruiting minority employees for resource conservation jobs.

Oklahoma Health Care Authority leadership sought legal advice and decided to change the name of its Council on Diversity to the Power of Peers council, an agency spokeswoman said. The agency shifted the council’s responsibilities to remove any efforts that grant preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity or national origin. It also eliminated the “Diversity Champion” and “DEI Advocate” awards it previously gave out.

This article first appeared on The Frontier and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Ari Fife is a The Frontier staff writer focusing on race and equity issues in Oklahoma.

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