By Norma Adams-Wade
Texas Metro News
The vista of downtown Dallas from District 23 Democratic St. Sen. Royce West’s rooftop meeting facility –Views from the Cliff – was eye-catching and seemingly inspiring. The atmosphere appeared to motivate a group of about 30 education administrators and political and community leaders who gathered August 17 to strategize about a nagging social issues: the future for diversity in Texas.
Sen. West, who pulled the group together from various Texas universities and some Dallas and suburban feeder school districts, set the tone when he summarized the group’s goals. He addressed continuing governmental reversals of policies that liberals describe as progressive and promoting equity, while conservatives describe them as too liberal, too “woke,” and destructive to what conservatives call traditional American values.
The trending reversals are “very disappointing,” the senator said, but must not hinder movements for which Democrats and liberals have long fought. Himself a lawyer, Sen. West gave legal insight before university administrators spoke. Then the gathering divided into discussion groups over lunch.
“It’s very disappointing…but the law is the law,” Sen. West commented, and suggested the discussion groups plan ways to accomplish diversity without relying on state laws. He said administrators and various leaders must ensure that Texas higher-learning students are not adversely affected by the DEI ban.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 17 on June 14 closing DEI offices and eliminating DEI polities. He also signed Senate Bill 18 that changed rules of tenure for higher education professors – making them more vulnerable to firing by reducing tenure rules that previously protected their long-term positions.
DEI policies address race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual origination at Texas public colleges and universities. The policies also affect hiring of personnel based on those criteria. Conservatives usually say DEI promotes a “woke” agenda that they say pushes liberal and progressive initiatives that go against what they describe as traditional American values.
During the discussion break, Sen. West told Texas Metro News that his vision of moving forward is devising “race neutral” recommendations, recruitment efforts and administrative policies. These goals would be presented to boards of regents and policy-makers in order to still improve education and livelihoods for under-served populations.
Democratic St. Rep. Carl Sherman Sr., District 109, was a participant who lauded Sen. West for spearheading the planning session. He said people from all segments of society should and can take part in diversity, equity and inclusion without the sanction of lawmakers.
“SB17 is about splitting us apart,” Rep. Sherman said, adding that churches, civic organizations and the like can coalesce “to talk about bringing us together.” He added: “It’s about our legacy as a state.”
Other university administrators gave overviews and statistics of wide-ranging gains their institutions had made prior to Gov. Abbott signing the DEI ban into law. Speakers included University of Texas System Chancellor James Milliken, University of Texas at Arlington president Jennifer Cowley, University of Texas System executive vice chancellor Archie Holmes, and University of Texas at Dallas President Richard Benson.
UT System Chancellor Milliken said one reason to fight to maintain the principles of diversity is because “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.”