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Iowa Universities Set To Close DEI Offices In Summer 2024

Despite the presidents of the universities essentially publicly signing onto the bill, faculty and staff do not support the bill, and at Iowa State, this resulted in a circulated petition.

Iowa universities are set to close their DEI offices in the summer of 2024, following the university’s board of regents’ November 2023 edict to cut spending on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in each of Iowa’s three public universities.

Staffers immediately protested the decision because of the number of potentially lost jobs.

As The Des Moines Register reported, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa have been working to comply with the board’s directive. This includes eliminating DEI offices and positions in favor of emphasizing the availability of campus services to all students, while encouraging diversity of thought and multiple perspectives. 

At Iowa, this took the form of shifting its DEI office into two divisions under the umbrella of its new Division of Access, Opportunity and Diversity, which will handle accreditation requirements and compliance with state and federal law. Iowa President Barbara Wilson told The Register that her focus is on ensuring students can work through ideological differences.

“I think this is an opportunity for us as we think about what we’re supposed to be doing at a university,” Wilson said. “We are supposed to be bringing students from all backgrounds, all walks of life together and help them coexist and work together, not avoid each other when they encounter differences.”

At Iowa State, President Wendy Wintersteen told The Register that due to the edicts of the board, the university would have to eliminate its Vice-President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office in July. Similar to the University of Iowa, Iowa State is also complying with the state’s edict to eliminate the sharing of pronouns as well as digital and promotional materials for the school’s programs, which will convey their availability for all students. Wintersteen has been trying to balance supporting student education with creating a welcoming environment for those students. 

Wintersteen raised eyebrows discussing the school’s history as a land-grant institution, during an April 25 meeting with the school’s board of regents, saying at one point, “So one of the first things we did was establish learning communities so that a young man, young white man, from rural Iowa, could come and be in a learning community and find the place where they could belong.”

CBS 2 Iowa reached out to the President of Iowa State’s office for commentary, and they reacted by releasing a boilerplate statement and encouraging the outlet to watch the entire presentation. “President Wintersteen began her presentation by speaking about Iowa State’s history as a land-grant institution that welcomes all students regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status and how the university throughout its history, has continued to welcome all students and provide a community where they feel they belong.”

The University of Northern Iowa, similar to Iowa State University, will be eliminating its DEI office, the Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice office and eliminating its Chief Diversity Officer position. The University of Northern Iowa’s President, Mark Nook, told The Register that a new civics education center would focus on creating “nationally recognized leaders in research, teaching and public outreach in free speech and civic education.”

Nook continued, “The center is built on UNI’s strong foundation as a leader in the training of teachers established strengths and civic education, rich community partnerships, a proven record of community engagement and unique research capacities in Iowa history and politics.”

As The Register noted, the Iowa State Legislature recently passed a bill that bars universities from starting, maintaining, or funding DEI offices or positions unless required by law.

Despite the presidents of the universities essentially publicly signing onto the bill, faculty and staff do not support it, and at Iowa State, this resulted in a circulated petition. As The Ames Tribune reported, some faculty who signed the petition, like Deni Chamberlain, an associate professor at the university’s Greenlee School of Journalism, attached letters to their signatures.

“It is important that we continue to provide support for those in our community who are marginalized,” Chamberlin wrote. “If we want a welcoming campus, we need to make sure those individuals feel that they belong, are valued and have something to contribute.”

Kody Henke, the assistant director of Iowa State’s Office of Student Assistance and the former co-chair of Iowa State’s LQBTQA+ Faculty and Staff Association, also submitted a letter in support of Nicci Port, the coordinator of Iowa State’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Outreach and Community Engagement, whose position is set to be eliminated by the university’s realignment.

“Through Nicci’s advocacy, over 6,000 faculty and staff members and 30,000 students are positively impacted by this simple but imperative change,” Henke wrote. “This type of visual representation results in a sense of acceptance and community from our most vulnerable and marginalized students who are searching for such clues.”