The Dollars and Cents of DEI

A penny for your politically permissible thoughts?

In recent years, the landscape of higher education has been increasingly dominated by the rhetoric and initiatives of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Universities have dedicated numerous resources to pushing the narrative that true diversity exists only when it is mandated. DEI takes several forms, such as communication efforts, outreach, programming, research, reporting, and staffing. At institutions across the country, it has permeated not only obvious areas of university activity and administration but also areas of the university where its true cost remains hidden. At last, however, institutions have begun to wake up and see that DEI has proven to be not just ineffective and harmful but counterproductive and extremely expensive.

Recent events across the nation signal this increasing realization of the true cost and questionable value of DEI initiatives in higher education. In January 2024, the Florida State Board of Education took decisive action by banning the use of state and federal dollars for DEI programs on all of Florida’s 28 state college campuses. The rule stems from a law (SB 266) approved in May 2023 by the Florida legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis.

DEI’s precious resources could be allocated towards improving academic programs.As a direct result of this policy change, the University of Florida recently announced via a memo that it has fired 13 full-time DEI staffers, affirming that, as a result, the university “will reallocate the approximately $5 million in funds … into a faculty recruitment fund to be administered by the Office of the Provost.” This dismissal also included 15 administrative faculty appointments.

In a separate action, Utah recently passed legislation effectively banning DEI programs at its state institutions. Utah governor Spencer Cox signed HB 261 into law on January 30, 2024, thus barring diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings and programs on public college campuses—one of the broadest bans in the country. The law, which takes effect July 1, 2024, will replace DEI offices with student “success and support” centers, which will be accessible to everyone.

Utah and Florida are not the only states to experience DEI epiphanies this year. The University of Virginia (UVA) serves as a cautionary tale by revealing the staggering financial burden associated with DEI initiatives. According to an investigation by Open the Books, UVA spends a staggering $20 million annually on 235 DEI employees, with some individuals commanding salaries upwards of $580,000 per year. Included in UVA’s DEI infrastructure are 187 UVA employees and students dedicated to “assist[ing] and monitor[ing] all units of the University in their efforts to recruit and retain faculty, staff, and student[s] from historically underrepresented groups and to provide affirmative and supportive environments for work and life.” While Virginia has not yet fixed its DEI problem legislatively, investigations such as these bring awareness, and, ultimately, pressure from the public may result in change.

In North Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill has proved that it is not immune to needless spending to support its DEI programs. According to searches in the UNC System’s Salary Information Database, the institution has been spending more than $3 million dollars on its own in-house DEI peddlers. (Read the Martin Center’s report on systemwide DEI spending here.) These precious resources could be allocated towards improving academic programs, supporting faculty research, or enhancing student services but are instead diverted towards bloated DEI bureaucracies.

Indeed, if yesterday’s Board of Trustees meeting is any indicator, UNC-CH may be girding itself for serious DEI cuts. A remark that the state may soon force UNC-System schools to eliminate DEI spending and reallocate funding was met with considerable agreement and approval.

Not only is DEI useless, but it is also expensive. The financial implications of DEI initiatives are particularly alarming, especially in the context of rising tuition costs and given the fact that universities should be aiming to maintain, not increase, their tuitions during a time of nationwide financial turmoil. Instead of funneling millions of dollars into DEI initiatives that yield dubious returns, universities should focus on implementing evidence-based strategies that promote genuine inclusion. The time has come to dismantle the costly charade of DEI and find revival in a return to the true mission of higher education.

Magdalene Horzempa is a former Martin Center intern, a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a board member of the UNC Alumni Free Speech Alliance.