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UW Is Eliminating Office Of Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion

University of Wyoming President Ed Seidel

In a stunning move, the University of Wyoming is announcing that the institution of higher learning will eliminate its Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

But, the university will still be committed to maintaining services to students that, in some cases, have existed for decades, according to a press release.

Additionally, the university will implement changes identified by a working group appointed by President Ed Seidel, including not allowing units of UW to require job candidates to submit statements regarding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and no longer evaluating employees’ commitment to DEI in annual performance evaluations.

Seidel announced these changes, supported by a vote of the UW Board of Trustees, following review of extensive comments from the campus community in response to the working group’s report. The group was appointed by the president in response to legislative action that removed $1.73 million from UW’s upcoming biennium budget. A legislative budget footnote also directed that no state dollars be spent on the DEI office, effective July 1, 2024.

“We received a strong message from the state’s elected officials to change our approach to DEI issues. At the same time, we have heard from our community that many of the services that might have incorrectly been categorized under DEI are important for the success of our students, faculty and staff,” Seidel says. “These initial steps are a good-faith effort on the part of the university to respond to legislative action while maintaining essential services.”

The changes regarding job candidate diversity statements and employee evaluations were among six topics identified by the DEI working group regarding practices that could be eliminated or altered immediately. Seidel intends to examine the remaining four recommendations — as well as about a dozen others regarding practices and programs that might generally be categorized as giving preferential treatment to certain groups of people.

Because the legislative footnote didn’t define DEI, the president’s working group looked extensively at discussion in other states and listened to relevant dialogue during the legislative session to reach an appropriate definition to guide its analysis. The group determined that activities likely to be judged as objectionable were those that work to advantage or disadvantage individuals or groups on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation, or equalize or increase outcomes as compared to other individuals or groups; or promote the position that the action of a group or an individual is inherently, unconsciously or implicitly biased, privileged or inherently superior or inferior on the basis of color, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation.

“While very few of our programs and activities can be construed as advocating or promoting preferential treatment, the working group did find some areas warranting further consideration,” Seidel says. “We will take a deeper look in these areas and consider additional changes.”

Among the UW activities and programs that won’t be changed are those addressing requirements necessary for athletic and academic accreditation compliance; training students and employees on the nondiscrimination requirements of state and federal law; requirements for access programs for military veterans, Pell Grant recipients, first-generation college students, nontraditional students, low-income students or people with disabilities; and student fees to support student-led organizations and their use of faculty sponsors and university facilities.

Additionally, the university will continue to protect academic freedom and freedom of expression, which are among core principles of the university identified by the working group. Other core principles are that the university is committed to being open and welcoming to all; supporting and treating everyone fairly and respectfully; being politically neutral as an institution; basing hiring and grading exclusively on merit; encouraging inquiry instead of advocacy in the classroom; and considering the needs of all students, faculty and staff.

While the DEI office will be eliminated, Seidel says he is confident the university’s existing programs that serve students — which existed before the DEI office was created in 2017 — will continue to meet the needs of all members of the UW community. In cases where “preferential” programs are deemed essential to help students — such as the Wyoming Latina Youth Conference and Women in STEM activities — private funding sources will be pursued to continue them.

Duties that have been under the DEI office — including federal Title VI compliance, support for religious accommodations and Americans with Disabilities Act coordination — will be reassigned to other UW units. To assist in that transition, a vice provost position will be created in the Office of the Provost, with that individual also serving as a special adviser to the president.

“We understand these changes are difficult for some people to accept, just as there are some people who will see the changes as insufficient,” Seidel says, noting that the university has received hundreds of comments representing a wide variety of perspectives regarding the DEI working group report. “What I can say is that we are moving forward the best we can to meet the expectations of elected officials and the people of Wyoming and continue serving our students and communities.”

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