Kansas, DEI Programming, Public Universities

Another One: Kansas Considers Jumping On The Bandwagon Of Banning DEI Programming At Public Universities 

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Kansas GOP lawmakers are considering a ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives on university campuses. 

The difference between Kansas and other states is that lawmakers have drafted proposals to avoid having to agree on defining DEI. With a planned vote on March 21—just a week after the Senate approved a $25 billion budget proposal forcing schools to eliminate mandatory DEI training—the proposed bill would prevent universities, community colleges, or technical colleges from admitting students, hiring, or promoting employees based on DEI.  

The bill uses that specific language but states that institutions cannot require a statement about “any political ideology or movement.”

Passing the House with an 81-39 vote, according to The Hill, the proposed legislation would keep over $35 million from the state’s six universities until they report to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and the Republican-controlled legislature’s leaders that they have eliminated said programming. Finally, it would permit the state attorney general to implement fines of up to $10,000 on schools that do not comply with the rules. 

Similar to other states, the issue has sparked debate between both sides of the political aisle, especially when they disagree on how to define DEI.

“It’s hard for me to pass a bill to punish a university for doing something that we don’t define,” Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita) said. “The words diversity, equity and inclusion to me, in themselves, are positive words.”

However, Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins describes the bill as a simple test — whether a university requires ideological statements from students, job applicants, or employees. He feels it doesn’t need everyone to agree on how to define it. “Everybody’s got a different definition,” Hawkins said. “To get everybody to aspire to one definition is pretty difficult.”

Sen. J.R. Claeys, a fellow writer of the budget provision, said it also pushes higher education officials to stop using race-based criteria in their decisions, which is in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2023 ending affirmative action at universities. Serving as an adviser to Republican state Attorney General Kris Kobach, Claeys claims the best way to get universities to bow down is to threaten funding. 

Since July 2023, close to 22 states have introduced legislation banning or restricting DEI efforts at universities. Following the University of Florida’s recent decision to dissolve its entire DEI department, organizations and notable personalities like the NAACP and NFL legend Emmitt Smith (who played for the University of Florida) have criticized the move and called for Black student-athletes to boycott sports programs.