With just two dissenting votes, the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors voted Thursday to amend Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policy on campuses statewide. The two “no” votes on the board were from Sonja Phillips Nichols and Joel Ford.

The new policy centers on maintaining “institutional neutrality,” a point made in comments from UNC System president Peter Hans to the Board of Governors on Thursday.

“One of the main reasons higher education has forfeited so much public confidence over recent decades is the perception that universities are overtly partisan; demanding campus leaders to take sides on divisive issues, to calls for ceasefires in foreign lands, or to denounce fellow citizens here at home,” said Hans.

“It undermines public trust and the spirit of open inquiry that our universities depend on,” he added. “Higher education does not exist to settle the most difficult debates in our democracy. Our role is to host those debates to inform them to make them richer and more constructive. That’s a vital responsibility, and we can’t fulfill it if our institutions are seen as partisan actors in one direction or another.”

The vote comes amid scrutiny of DEI expenses and policy at taxpayer-funded universities, but also after the recent US Supreme Court decision, Students for Fair Admission v. UNC-Chapel Hill. In that decision the high court found policies denying admission to the university based on race to be unconstitutional. The decision and reaction to it has generated changes, including a UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustee committee voting to allow the chancellor to reallocate $23 million in DEI funding to public safety instead.

$90 million on DEI

The Watchdog group OpentheBooks released an investigation last week that revealed that the UNC-System schools spends approximately $90 million dollars on DEI initiatives, including programs, more than 600 contributors, and 288 DEI-related staff members on the UNC system payroll.

Source: OpentheBooks

What does the policy actually say? See page 7

The amended policy that will apply to all UNC campuses reads in part:

No employing subdivision or employment position within the University shall be organized, be operated, speak on behalf of the University, or contract with third parties to provide training or consulting services regarding: matters of contemporary political debate or social action as those terms are used in Section 300.5.1 of the UNC Policy Manual; any prescribed ‘view of social policy’ or “political controversies of the day.”

Member of the Board of Governors Gene Davis spoke to the group on the text of the new policy.

“I have read this measure time and time again, and I truly encourage all to read it because this measure outlines some of our core values as a university,” Davis said. “It expressly does the following: ‘affirms that each individual is deserving of dignity and inclusion; ensures that diverse persons of any background from North Carolina and beyond are invited, included, and treated equally,’ — I’m quoting from the text — ‘ensures equality of all persons and all viewpoints; requires compliance with all federal and state law that protect people from discrimination; reinforces the university’s commitment to freedom of speech and expression for all.”

Board of Governors member Pearl Burris-Floyd told the group that some of the goals of DEI are still important, even if people executing the strategy sometimes made mistakes.

“It’s not always going to be a time when everything is going to feel great,” she said. “Sometimes feeling uncomfortable helps us grow. I speak as a retired leader in the field of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. My work over 20 years helped people not be controlled, but find understanding.”

“Even if it’s not called DEI, we have a way to help people and make that path clearer for all people,” she added.

Ahead of the Board of Governors vote, some student groups appeared on campus to protest the vote. Raleigh’s Spectrum News reporter Evan Sery captured some of the demonstration, organized in part by campus Young Democratic Socialists of America.