In a significant development in the realm of higher education, the University of Iowa (UI) has announced the formation of a task force dedicated to reviewing its campus Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts. This decision comes in the wake of a comprehensive study and subsequent recommendations by a state Board of Regents study group, which has been examining DEI programs across regent universities for nearly seven months.
The Board of Regents study group is set to present its final report at the upcoming regents meeting on November 15-16 at the University of Northern Iowa. The report is expected to propose a restructuring of central DEI structures within the regent universities. This restructuring aims to focus on staff essential to compliance and accreditation, as mandated by federal law. The recommendations include a review of department-level DEI positions and roles within central DEI offices that are not directly related to compliance, such as student support services.
This move by the University of Iowa comes against the backdrop of a broader national debate on DEI initiatives in higher education. In the 2023 session, two anti-DEI bills were introduced in the Iowa Legislature. Although these bills did not pass, similar legislation has been introduced in 22 other states, seeking to ban or limit DEI initiatives.
Liz Tovar, the Executive Officer and Associate Vice President of the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at UI, along with Peter Matthes, Vice President for External Relations and Senior Advisor to the UI President, emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion in their joint statement. They view the recommendations as an opportunity to align the university's efforts with compliance and accreditation standards, thereby supporting the success of students, faculty, and staff.
The study group's report includes several key recommendations for the regents to consider. These include ensuring that no students are required to enter a DEI statement or disclose their pronouns, developing a regents policy banning the consideration of race in admissions, initiating a review of DEI-related general education courses, and developing policies for annual guidance on separating political advocacy from professional and university business. Additionally, the report suggests exploring recruitment strategies for hiring diverse candidates and developing a proposal for free speech and civic education training.
The university's performance in these areas was evaluated based on various state and federal laws, including Iowa Code 19B, Iowa Code 216, and Iowa Code 261H. The recommendations aim to align the university's DEI efforts with these legal requirements while maintaining a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
As the University of Iowa prepares to implement these recommendations through its newly formed task force, the institution stands at a critical juncture. The decisions made and the policies implemented in the coming months will not only impact the university community but also contribute to the ongoing national conversation about the role of DEI in higher education.