Kansas lawmakers dangle $36 million for public universities to secure anti-DEI commitments

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Legislation seeks pledge to abandon diversity, equity and inclusion programs

TOPEKA — Rep. Kirk Haskins denounced conservative political attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion programs on college campuses in Kansas, but despaired at willingness of House and Senate colleagues to leverage a $36 million appropriation to state universities in an attempt to coerce the governor into signing an anti-DEI bill.

Haskins, a Topeka Democrat and a professor at Baker University in Baldwin City, said he was offended a majority in the Kansas Legislature was so threatened by campus diversity initiatives that they voted to approve budget provisions slashing university funding unless Gov. Laura Kelly signed House Bill 2105 banning DEI in Kansas public higher education. The bill would authorize Attorney General Kris Kobach to file lawsuits for adherence to DEI and seek $10,000 fines for every instance diversity, equity and inclusion programs were linked to faculty hiring or student enrollment.

House and Senate budget negotiators agreed to anchor the $36 million to a requirement university administrators stand before the State Finance Council, a committee of top legislative leaders and the governor, to affirm they had abandoned DEI.

“How do we even tolerate the extortion of funds from our post-secondary institutions?” said Haskins, who argued proponents were intent on undermining decades of work to create college and university safe havens for minority students and faculty and to open campuses to diverse perspectives. “If you continue to restrict higher education, you will see one ideology, one race back into schools.”

The stakes were high if Kelly were to veto the anti-DEI bill or university chief executives balked at personally certifying the demise of DEI. The University of Kansas would lose $8.35 million and the KU Medical Center would forego $5.8 million in the fiscal year starting July 1.

Kansas State University would surrender $6.4 million, while Wichita State University would have to do without $4.9 million. The budget hit for the three other state universities: Fort Hays State, $3.5 million; Emporia State, $1.9 million; and Pittsburg State, $1.8 million.

Rep. Bob Lewis, a Garden City Republican and an attorney, said DEI programs on college campuses should be viewed as vehicles for advancing liberal ideologies of “division, exclusion and intimidation” rather than promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion. Conservative legislators in Kansas and more than a dozen states have argued DEI should be rooted out because it discriminated against certain students and employees.

Lewis compared establishment of university DEI programs to pressure campaigns in the 1950s that compelled Americans to sign anti-communist loyalty oaths.

“That was offensive and found to be unconstitutional,” Lewis said. “Decades later … we have institutions requiring people to essentially swear to a political ideology before they can be hired.”

The governor has a Friday deadline for deciding what to do with HB 2105 requiring termination of DEI programs at state universities and public community colleges and technical colleges. In 2023, Kelly line-item vetoed DEI provisions inserted into the state budget bill.

She must decide by April 25 what to do with pieces of the new state budget associated with the $36 million appropriation to universities. That date would coincide with return of the Legislature to Topeka for what could be the final days of the 2024 session.

 Rep. Bob Lewis, a Garden City Republican, lauded approval by the Legislature of  a bill designed to forbid diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Kansas public higher education. He said DEI programs should be defined as vehicles of “division, exclusion and intimidation” on campuses.  (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Board of Regents policy change

On Wednesday, the Kansas Board of Regents approved a change to the higher education system’s diversity and multiculturalism policy to forbid the six universities from compelling anyone seeking to enroll or to be hired to make a statement pledging allegiance to diversity, equity or inclusion.

While declaring responsibility for the educational experience, including multicultural programs, resided with each university, the Board of Regents adopted policy saying “no state university shall on its applications for admission or hiring, reappointing or promoting a faculty member require statements pledging allegiance to, support for or opposition to diversity, equity or inclusion.”

The new policy wouldn’t inhibit the ability of a university to comply with federal or state laws, regulations or grant requirements. The revision adopted by the Board of Regents didn’t include an internal enforcement mechanism.


Board of Regents chairman Jon Rolph said board members took part in conversations with legislators opposed to DEI. He said the state universities had taken steps during the past year to alter DEI initiatives that inspired criticism from lawmakers.

“This is, again, our good-faith effort in trying to listen to the Legislature,” Rolph said of movement against formal DEI policy. “It’s not something central to our practice of wanting student success and trying to fulfill our promises to people when we invite them onto our campuses.”

Other than brief remarks by Rolph, no other member of the Board of Regents and no campus administrator addressed implications of the policy change during the board’s meeting at Fort Hays State University.

Defining terms

An audit performed for the Republican-controlled Legislature determined the state universities in Kansas devoted approximately $45 million annually to DEI. Auditors struggled to compile information for the report because each campus relied on a different definition of DEI.

“I find it strange we’re using a term and we haven’t even identified what that term means,” said Rep. Ford Carr, D-Wichita. “That part, to me, is just almost inexcusable.”

Under HB 2105, public higher education institutions in Kansas must post to a public website all training materials used for students and faculty on issues of nondiscrimination, DEI, race, ethnicity, sex and bias. The posts would include university or college policies guiding campus communities on those topics.

Rep. Steven Howe, a Salina Republican who chaired a House committee that took the lead on DEI legislation, said the objective was to free the hiring and enrollment processes in Kansas higher education from requirements that people had to make statements of support or opposition to any political ideology or movement, including DEI.

He said the reform shouldn’t be construed as a campaign to restrict academic freedom in teaching, research or in writing for academic publications.

“Our position was much more lenient in the sense that it was very narrow, very balanced and protected academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus,” Howe said.

Howe said enrollment among Black and Native American students in the Kansas Board of Regents’ system declined more than 20% during the past five years despite DEI programs aimed at attracting a more diverse student body.

“We’ve created this bureaucracy of DEI on campuses,” he said, “but if you look at the numbers they’re not doing any better than we were five years ago.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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