More DEI cuts come to higher education: UNC board dismantles diversity policy

University of North Carolina leaders on Thursday voted to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion programs, potentially undermining access to resources for nearly 250,000 students in its system. It's the latest development in a string of DEI crackdowns at public colleges, following bans in Texas and Florida and elsewhere in the U.S.

In a nearly unanimous vote, the UNC Board of Governors adopted a policy that calls for "institutional neutrality" and eliminates funding for DEI initiatives. Two of the 24 board members who voted against the cuts are Black.

The vote repeals two DEI policies adopted in 2019 that required each of the state’s 17 campuses – including UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina A&T and North Carolina State – to hire a chief diversity officer and set goals for advancing diversity and inclusion, among other provisions.

“DEI programs and their predecessors have done a lot of good for a lot of people,” said Gene Davis, one of the board's voting members, at the Thursday meeting. “That being said, I have been made aware of things that have been done in the name of DEI that have made me uncomfortable and that I believe actually result in our university communities being less welcoming to all.”

UNC Asheville held their commencement ceremony at Kimmel Arena, May 11, 2024.
UNC Asheville held their commencement ceremony at Kimmel Arena, May 11, 2024.

Pearl Burris-Floyd, another member who voted in favor of repealing DEI programs, retired from the DEI field in December and expressed disappointment in how the program's policies had been rolled out. “Did everyone who taught (DEI) get it right? No, they didn’t," she said at the meeting. "Some people said things that were not true and that has hurt the fabric and the ability to carry things forward. But that does not mean that we stop.”

“Even if it's not called diversity, equity and inclusion, we have a path forward,” Burris-Floyd said.

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National crackdown on DEI at public universities

This move follows a trend in public higher education and other state agencies. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, as of mid-May 85 anti-DEI bills have been introduced in 28 states and the U.S. Congress, 14 of which have become law since 2023.

Large institutions such as the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Florida have had to abandon their DEI offices and related programs. Safe spaces for students of color and LGBTQ+ students have been shuttered.

The moves have also come with mass layoffs. At UT Austin, dozens of DEI positions were cut last month as the school worked to comply with a DEI ban that went into effect in January, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Just last week, the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees voted unanimously to eliminate the school's DEI department. Staff and programs are expected to be moved to other divisions.

In North Carolina, students across the UNC system attended a rally before the board meeting to oppose the change. Among them was UNC Asheville Student Government President Liv Barefoot, who highlighted the school's enrollment challenges and struggles amid skepticism over the value of a college degree.

"I believe with the ever-increasing anti-DEI policies, this struggle and deficit will worsen in severity," Barefoot said, suggesting pressure from the board has already "forced universities to be neutral on matters and issues that today's students care about."

According to Barefoot, UNC Asheville's student government has heard from students who "escaped other states" that have "already gutted DEI policies" and sought out North Carolina schools believing they were diverse, equitable and inclusive. Some said they "never would've attended a UNC system institution if they had known this policy could take effect."

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Next steps at UNC

Each UNC institution's chancellor and student affairs director must now provide written certification of compliance and detail the actions taken to fulfill "the University's commitment to institutional neutrality and nondiscrimination.”

They’ll also have to report reductions in workforce and spending, "along with changes to job titles and position descriptions, undertaken as a result of implementing this policy and how those savings achieved from these actions can be redirected to initiatives related to student success and wellbeing," the policy says.

In a brief update sent to UNC Asheville’s staff and faculty in April, Chancellor Kimberly van Noort said the university would continue to review the proposed policy before this week’s vote. “If the new policy moves forward, we expect that the System Office will provide us with implementation guidelines,” van Noort said in the email obtained by the Asheville Citizen Times.

Interim Appalachian State University Chancellor Heather Norris reaffirmed the school’s commitment to supporting students when the policy change was first proposed. “While there are a lot of unknowns, and we cannot answer questions about specific implementation details at this time, I can assure you our university’s commitment to supporting all of our students is unwavering, and we remain dedicated to providing a compassionate, high-quality college experience that is focused on student success,” Norris said in an email obtained by the Citizen Times.

Davis, one of the board members who voted to affirm the policy, told his colleagues at the Thursday meeting that campus leaders will be asked to review their initiatives "with an eye towards altering any program that has been less than welcoming." Programs that "have been successful in accomplishing goals amplified by this measure,” he said, would be retained and even supplemented.

Other institutions in the UNC system have already voted to reallocate funds away from DEI programs. As part of its annual budget approval process earlier this month, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees unanimously voted to reallocate the $2.3 million spent on DEI programs toward police and other public safety measures, the News & Observer reported.

This story will be updated.

Ryley Ober is the Public Safety Reporter for Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @ryleyober

Contact Alia Wong at (202) 507-2256 or Follow her on X at @aliaemily.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Another DEI crackdown: UNC board votes to dismantle diversity programs