116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Education / Higher Ed
Republican bill would ban DEI spending at Iowa universities
‘They push this woke agenda on faculty. They push it on staff. But most importantly, they push on the students’
UPDATE: The House Education Committee on Wednesday afternoon passed the bill aimed at curbing spending, programming, and training on diversity, equity, and inclusion across the Board of Regents’ public universities.
Lawmakers amended the bill to protect the universities’ federal contracts — something board officials said during an earlier discussion could be harmed and lost in some cases if the universities had to comply with conditions of the bill.
DES MOINES — Republican lawmakers Wednesday initiated efforts to dismantle what they called “bureaucracies existing at our regent institutions” focused on diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory by advancing a bill barring Iowa’s public universities from spending money on those offices, employees and programming.
House Study Bill 218 — filed Tuesday night — also would ban the universities from spending any state appropriated money for the upcoming budget year until first filing reports outlining details of their compliance with the bill. And it would compel the campuses to reallocate unspent appropriations for the current budget year away from diversity offices and officers to “merit scholarships for lower-income and middle-income students and to reduce tuition and mandatory fees for resident students.”
One section of the bill allows faculty, staff, students and alumni to sue the universities to prevent violations, and gives the Iowa Attorney General power to compel compliance.
“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 … all while spending literally millions in the process,” said Rep. Taylor Collins, R-Mediapolis, who led a subcommittee discussion on the bill Wednesday. “They push this woke agenda on faculty. They push it on staff. But most importantly, they push on the students.”
Representatives for the Board of Regents spoke against the bill, spelling out potential unintended consequences — like the inability to comply with both the state bill and federal research contracts, putting hundreds of millions of dollars at risk.
It also could harm the universities’ accreditation, regents’ Chief Academic Officer Rachel Boon said.
“An example of this would be the accreditor for the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa,” Boon said. “This accreditor has a requirement that there be in place effective policies and practices to address equity and inclusion sorts of goals.”
The bill comes two weeks after lawmakers pressed Iowa’s university presidents on their campuses’ diversity, equity and inclusion spending. The board’s request for $35 million more in appropriations marks its highest funding increase request in nearly a decade.
“Between your three institutions, all your DEI efforts cost about $9.7 million every single year,” Collins said at that earlier hearing. “Does it require somebody to make $247,000 a year to make a strategic plan for diversity? I don't know anybody in my district who makes north of $250,000 a year.”
Before that hearing before the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee, lawmakers sent regents a list of questions — including how many such staffers the campuses employ. The universities have a combined 128.5 employees “who work full-time in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.”
“These employees are in roles that directly support students with disabilities, military affiliated students, multicultural students, women majoring in STEM disciplines, and other historically underrepresented populations,” according to the board. “They also support international students in obtaining visas, compliance with federal employment regulations, and adjusting to life on campus.”
Collins noted during that hearing that the University of Iowa’s executive officer of diversity, equity and inclusion earns $255,000 a year; an Iowa State University’s vice president earns $247,131; and the University of Northern Iowa’s chief diversity officer and director of diversity, inclusion and social justice make a combined $200,000-plus.
“If my math is correct, that's about $750,000 for four people,” Collins said. “Do you believe that's a good use of taxpayer money?”
The university presidents said yes, spelling out their focus on student success, the increasing diversity across the state and their campuses and the broader population covered under the diversity umbrella — including veterans, disabled students and those from other countries.
UI President Barbara Wilson and ISU President Wendy Wintersteen also noted the need to compete for top faculty and leadership.
“I can appreciate your concern about salaries,” Wilson said. “But we really are in a national marketplace. I can't underscore enough how much we're fighting for talent at Iowa. We're being raided all the time by peer institutions, for faculty, for surgeons, for researchers, and we are always calibrating our salaries according to the national marketplace.”
Support for bill
In debating the bill Wednesday, Kyle Clare — a student senator with the UI Undergraduate Student Government — urged the university to “fire” its diversity, equity and inclusion officer because she is paid six figures “so she can vilify and make white, male, straight and other students feel like oppressors.”
With that money, Clare said, the university could grant at least 27 scholarships and ditch hourslong training “which implicitly teaches white students that they are wrong if they question the teachings of critical race theory, and they must atone for their privileged identity and become an anti-racist.”
“UI offers implicit bias training with its implicit bias task force, which is based on the idea that even if you're not openly racist, and you don't think you're racist, you're still a racist because all white people are socialized to be racist, and you must actively expel your internal racism,” he said. “Iowa taxpayers are footing the bill for that.”
Opposition to bill
But a parent also spoke against the bill, as did representatives from the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund; One Iowa; and the regents.
Because the universities are required to comply with other state and federal laws, board counsel Aimee Claeys said the bill — as written — would force the institutions to replace subject experts who aren’t attorneys with those who are, upping their salaries.
The bill also could affect the universities’ federal contracts linked to hundreds of millions supporting research and faculty. The contracts all include diversity obligations.
“To the extent the institutions are no longer able to dedicate funding and resources to complying with these contractual obligations,” she said, “they will immediately be placed in breach of contract, jeopardizing continued funding and the critical research that funding supports.”
Comments: (319) 339-3158; firstname.lastname@example.org