The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is in the process of dismantling its Office of Inclusive Excellence, complying with a state law set to take effect at the start of the new year. The move follows the mandate of Senate Bill 17, which Gov. Greg Abbott cemented into law last June, prohibiting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives in public universities across Texas, according to a report by Texas Public Radio (TPR).
In response, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy stated, "Together, we can continue paving pathways to success while maintaining a welcoming and supportive environment to all." Eighmy's statement, obtained by Texas Public Radio, underscores the university's intent to adapt its programs to align with the new legislation while striving to preserve its community values. The university created the Program, Activity, and Initiative Review (PAIR) team this year and analyzed over 300 DEI-related campus programs, of which about half, TPR reports, will continue with no changes.
UTSA's alternative to the now-outlawed Office of Inclusive Excellence is the Office of Campus and Community Belonging, which will focus on ADA and accessibility, campus climate, and building community partnership bridges, as per the announcement detailed in a story from KSAT. The new office aims to "enhance our university’s mission and create unique opportunities for faculty, staff and students," a mission in keeping with the intent of the old office but tailored to comply with state requirements.
Staff from the Office of Inclusive Excellence will be integrated into new roles within the new framework, hinting at the university's attempt to retain the experience and expertise of its personnel. "Importantly, the individuals who previously served in the Office of Inclusive Excellence will now have new roles with updated responsibilities to support the Office of Campus and Community Belonging’s purpose, goals and services," Eighmy told KSAT. In addition, UTSA plans to develop resources in 2024 to educate its community on upholding SB 17 compliance, with guidelines slated for release concerning new programs, activities, and initiatives.
The closure marks a significant shift in the higher education landscape in Texas. While UTSA prepares to pivot with its new Office of Campus and Community Belonging, this legislative change reflects broader political and institutional dynamics at play that could influence other universities in their approach to diversity and inclusion matters in Texas.