How Extensive Is DEI “Training” in the UNC System?

The Martin Center has assembled UNC institutions’ reports to the legislature.

This session, the North Carolina legislature has taken aim at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) trainings on UNC-System campuses. On March 14th, Senate Majority Staff Director Derrick Welch sent a letter to the UNC System requesting a list of all employee trainings on that topic from 2023 and the previous three years.

Since DEI in higher ed is a matter of continuing interest for the Martin Center, we promptly sent public-records requests to the UNC System and its 16 constituent institutions, requesting all responses sent to Welch and the legislature.

There are many DEI trainings being offered at UNC-System institutions, and they are costing a pretty penny.At the time of this article’s publication, 12 of the 17 public-records requests had been fulfilled. (The compiled responses can be viewed here.) We received responses from the UNC System itself, North Carolina A&T, NC State, UNC Asheville, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro, UNC School of the Arts, UNC Wilmington, Western Carolina University, and Winston-Salem State University. Responses from Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, and NC Central University were not received by the time of publication.

The data below show each institution’s figures, as well as those of the UNC System, and include the number of trainings offered, the number of required trainings, and the total cost.

Unfortunately, the specific dates of each training event and their frequency were not clearly provided to the Martin Center or the General Assembly, so it is difficult to say if the “total costs” below are annual expenses or the total from four years of DEI instruction. Some of the trainings and costs specify that they are indeed annual, but others appear to be one-off events or expenses. Regardless, it is impossible not to conclude that there are a large number of DEI trainings being offered at UNC-System institutions and that they are costing a pretty penny.

Based on the data provided by 11 institutions and the UNC System, it appears that nearly $2 million has been spent over the last four years on DEI trainings. This number would surely be higher if the five absentee institutions were taken into account.

Unsurprisingly, UNC-Chapel Hill tops the list, with 207 DEI trainings over four years at a cost of nearly $1 million, annual or total. Chapel Hill has provided just about every DEI training a person could think of, with topics ranging from microaggressions and implicit bias to name pronunciation and white supremacy. Apparently, there is also a desire at Chapel Hill to make library cataloging practices more inclusive, as the institution has offered numerous DEI trainings that are library-specific.

If a staff member spends a week (or longer) creating a DEI training, he or she hasn’t spent that time doing useful work.Many trainings at responding institutions are staff-created, which means they do not cost much (if anything), at least according to traditional measures. Nevertheless, UNC institutions are paying for employees’ time. If a staff member spends a week (or longer) creating a DEI training, he or she hasn’t spent that time doing useful work.

Of the required trainings reported, some were job- or situation-specific. For example, many schools hosted trainings that were required for search committees or for those applying for an institutional grant. In those cases, a training is not technically required of all faculty and staff. However, we have included them, as many employees must undertake them in order to do their jobs properly.

On the list of trainings offered by outside sources, a few vendors were recurring, among them LinkedIn Learning, Skillsoft, and the Racial Equity Institute (REI). Among these, REI stands out because it is clearly a DEI-specific organization. LinkedIn Learning and Skillsoft offer many types of training. REI’s focus is explicitly and entirely “antiracist” and ideologically left-leaning. Among its website’s contentions is the idea that “racism is a fierce, ever-present, challenging force, one which has structured the thinking, behavior, and actions of individuals and institutions since the beginning of U.S. history.”

Of the schools included in the above data, four institutions have used REI trainings in the past: UNC Asheville, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, and UNC Wilmington. UNC-Chapel Hill paid nearly $300k ($292,148) for trainings by REI.

The number of required trainings for some of the schools listed are surprisingly few; for example, NCSU has offered over 80 trainings, but only three have been required. When compared with those of UNC Asheville and UNC Pembroke, which mark nearly all of their trainings as required, NCSU’s numbers appear a little suspicious.

While DEI is often presented as well-intentioned, the results are divisive.This discrepancy also raises a question: Why spend so much money on DEI trainings if you’re not going to require that they be attended? For NCSU, spending over $230k on trainings seems quite excessive when it’s not guaranteed that there will be significant (or even any) attendance.

One might ask: What’s the problem with the plethora of DEI trainings being offered within the UNC System? While DEI is often presented as well-intentioned, the results are divisive. As the Martin Center explains in its 2022 report “Critical Social Justice in the UNC System,”

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is the mechanism whereby CSJ is applied to institutions like universities. DEI is CSJ made more palatable using sweet-sounding civic language, but they represent the same critical analysis and remedy. Both CSJ and DEI emphasize how institutions like universities are irredeemably racist or sexist. Both CSJ and DEI hope for policies that might overturn the victim-oppressor framework, making the former victims the new rulers and the former oppressors the new victims.

Fortunately, the N.C. legislature has taken steps to put a halt to DEI efforts with two new laws pertaining to the UNC System. S364 not only bans compelled speech and DEI statements but DEI trainings, as well. (The details of this law are such that the content of these trainings will likely be deemed unlawful when the act goes into effect later this year.) S195, recently passed in both chambers, would require UNC-System institutions to adhere to institutional neutrality.

It’s encouraging to see such steps taken by the legislature to ensure that the state’s public universities are held accountable. As UNC-System institutions’ recent filings suggest, North Carolina’s public colleges will not get off the DEI train until someone derails it.

Ashlynn Warta is the state reporter for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.