Following a red state trend, GOP lawmakers take aim at Iowa university diversity programs

Public universities in Iowa would be required to disband their diversity, equity and inclusion programs under a bill advancing in the Iowa House.

House File 218 would prohibit the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa from spending any state appropriation or private funds on a diversity, equity or inclusion office or administrator.

How would the bill target diversity, equity and inclusion?

The bill broadly defines "diversity, equity and inclusion," often called DEI, to include any university program implemented with reference to race, and training or activity that references race, gender identity or sexual orientation.

The bill does not explicitly prohibit those programs, but it would stop universities from hiring DEI professionals to create and administer them to all students.

"For too long, the DEI bureaucracies at our institutions of higher education have been used to impose ideological conformity and promote far-left political activism," said Rep. Taylor Collins, R-Mediapolis, an alumnus of Iowa State University and Drake University.

Collins said Iowa State pushed a "woke agenda" when he was a student there.

Rep. Taylor Collins, R-Mediapolis.
Rep. Taylor Collins, R-Mediapolis.

What problems could the DEI bill create for universities?

Representatives from the Iowa Board of Regents urged lawmakers to reject the proposal. They argued eliminating DEI programs would interfere with federal research contracts, accreditation programs and training that mitigate legal risks.

Board of Regents Chief Academic Officer Rachel Boon said the bill may also prohibit the universities from offering demographic-specific scholarships such as those for women in STEM fields or members of tribal nations.

"We would have real concerns about the immediate impact of removing the scholarship support," Boon said.

The university presidents told lawmakers in February that DEI departments provide essential support for students from a range of different backgrounds, including first-generation and low-income students.

"To bring people in, we have the vision and ability to think about diversity, equity and inclusion in a really expansive way — not just about race, not just about gender, but about things like learning disabilities," University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson said. "Just imagine a young student coming to us from a rural community with dyslexia or autism.”

University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson
University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson

The presidents said businesses, including corporations based in Iowa, expect graduates to be comfortable working in diverse workplaces.

How would the DEI bill work, and where did come from?

The bill would redirect funds used for DEI administrators and programs toward scholarships for low-income and middle-income students, or to lowering tuition and fees for in-state students.

Like many high-profile bills in Iowa's Capitol this session, the proposal mirrors similar action from other Republican-led states. Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the Florida Legislature last month to ban DEI programs and "critical race theory" at state colleges.

Iowa's bill appears to be based on model language from the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Its brief advises state lawmakers that they have the power to push back on DEI programs that "stifle intellectual diversity, prevent equal opportunity and exclude anyone who dissents from a rigid orthodoxy."

What's next for the DEI bill?

The House Education Committee advanced the bill Wednesday afternoon, narrowly clearing a mid-session legislative deadline.

The committee adopted an amendment to the legislation that would allow universities to make some exceptions when DEI is required in federal research contracts.

Katie Akin is a politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at or at 410-340-3440. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa bill would join red states banning DEI programs at universities