Board of Governors Repeals Diversity Policy

The UNC Board of Governors voted May 23 to replace the current diversity policy, which required system schools to hire diversity officers and meet certain goals, with one that would likely eliminate positions, diverting the funds to programs that support student well-being.

The new policy, called Equality Within the University of North Carolina, has been lauded by some and criticized by others.

Board member Gene Davis ’90 (’97 JD) said before Thursday’s vote that diversity programs have increased student retention and graduation rates, made the state’s public institutions feel more welcoming, made them “stronger and better” and changed the lives of North Carolinians and their families. “That being said, I have been made aware of things that have been done in the name of DEI that make me uncomfortable and that I believe actually result in our university communities being less welcoming to all,” Davis said.

Board member Pearl Burris-Floyd ’78, a retired leader in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion, said sometimes feeling uncomfortable helps people grow. “So, I ask that on today when we make this decision, that the leaders on our campuses will not feel as though we’ve turned our backs on them but we are allowing our educators to educate, to lead with confidence, to be able to say that even if it’s not called diversity, equity and inclusion, we have a way to help people and make that path forward clearer for all people.”

Board members Joel Ford and Sonja Phillips Nichols cast the lone dissenting votes against the policy change.

Any savings that results from the policy change would be “redirected to initiatives related to student success and well-being,” according to language in the new policy. At UNC, $2.3 million is spent on DEI positions and programs annually. Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts has said he cannot say where the money will be reallocated until he’s had a chance to thoroughly review the Board of Governors’ instructions.

UNC’s Board of Trustees voted May 13 to eliminate DEI positions and reallocate the $2.3 million from those jobs to public safety.

But UNC System President Peter Hans ’91 told a group of reporters after the May 23 board meeting that the UNC Board of Trustees did not have the authority to divert the funds to public safety, saying it “was not in compliance with the Board of Governors’ policy” on university budgets, according to The News and Observer.

UNC Board of Trustees Chair John Preyer ’90 did not respond to an email requesting comment about whether trustees will reassess where to reallocate the DEI funds.

The future of Carolina’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion is unclear, but Roberts has said Carolina must be an institution where everyone feels welcomed. Roberts also said Hans  has indicated Carolina’s student centers, which are places students find community with others who are similar in race or gender identification, won’t be closed as a result of the policy change. UNC has centers for Black, Latino, Asian American, American Indian and LGBTQ students, as well as a women’s center and a veterans’ resource center.

Before the Board of Governors voted on the diversity policy change, Hans said he’s had conversations over the past month and received feedback from skeptics of the change. Hans said he’s heard “detailed questions and concerns” from the faculty assembly, student body presidents, staff representatives and alumni.

“And I’ve heard directly from people who worry about the message we might send with any change to our policies,” Hans said. He mentioned he heard a Black alumna, who serves as a lieutenant colonel in the military, speak at UNC’s ROTC graduation a few weeks ago. She voiced concern that Black students and staff might feel diminished by the policy change, Hans said, adding she referenced the university’s long, troubled history with genuine inclusion.

Hans said he thanked her for her remarks and pledged “to keep working towards a University that reflects and welcomes the full breadth and actual diversity and life experiences in this state. I don’t think anyone believes we’re at the end of that struggle; I certainly don’t. This policy will preserve the University’s role as a trusted venue for that vital debate, and for all others. I believe it’s what our democratic responsibility demands of us, and I am fully committed to help us realize its aspirations.”

 — Laurie D. Willis ’86

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