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House Republican bill seeks to ban DEI in Kentucky higher education

State Representative Jennifer Decker attends a meeting of the House Standing Committee on Education.
LPM
House Bill 9 would seek to dissolve all DEI initiatives, offices and staff in Kentucky higher education by June 30.

A measure introduced by a GOP state lawmaker aims to terminate all diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in Kentucky colleges and universities.

Kentucky’s public colleges and universities would have to dissolve departments and staff positions related to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, under House Bill 9, filed Friday by Waddy Republican state Rep. Jennifer Decker.

“HB 9 would ensure the postsecondary system in Kentucky is held accountable to dismantle the failed and misguided DEI bureaucracies that have made college more divided, more expensive, and less tolerant,” Decker said in a news release.

DEI initiatives have a long history, but have become more prevalent in recent years as colleges and other institutions responded to calls from many people of color and LGBTQ+ people that campuses aren’t doing enough to prevent discrimination and make people of all backgrounds welcome.

The practices gained attention nationally among conservatives when former Republican President Donald Trump signed a 2020 executive order outlawing DEI in federal agencies. Trump and other conservatives say DEI initiatives are discriminatory and divisive. They often lump them under the moniker of “critical race theory.”

Decker’s bill would prevent public colleges and universities from using resources to promote “discriminatory concepts.” The measure defines those as either of the following:

  • “Presenting as truth, rather than as a subject for inquiry,” the existence of systemic racism, sexism or socioeconomic hierarchy.
  • “Justifying or promoting differential treatment” based on race, sex or other protected categories.

HB 9 would order all initiatives, offices or positions in Kentucky’s public colleges and universities responsible for promoting so-called “discriminatory concepts” dissolved by June 30, “regardless of whether the office is designated by the institutions as a diversity equity, and inclusion office.”

It would also require the Council on Postsecondary Education to “remove the ‘equity’ priority” from its strategic plan and disband several initiatives, including diversity plans and cultural competency certification programs.

Under the measure, higher education institutions would have to compile reports of the name, job title and compensation of every individual they’ve employed since 2019 who worked in DEI or whose title, office or job description contained the words, “diversity,” “equity,” “equality,” or “inclusion.”

The measure would give the Kentucky attorney general the authority to enforce compliance and allow students, their parents, employees or potential students or job candidates to sue schools if they believe the institution has violated the anti-DEI restrictions.

Students who take courses “dedicated to the justification or promotion” of DEI or “divisive concepts,” as defined in the bill, would not be able to use those credits towards a degree or certificate.

“Our campuses must uphold our students’ rights to freedom of speech, due process, and freedom of association. We are providing much-needed oversight to our public universities, which were founded on the promise of opportunity for all but have seemingly lost their way,” Decker said in a news release.

HB 9 is similar but more restrictive than Senate Bill 6. SB 6, filed by Republican state Sen. Mike Wilson of Bowling Green, also targets DEI initiatives in higher education. Meanwhile, Republican state Sen. Stephen Meredith of Leitchfield is sponsoring Senate Bill 93 — a measure targeting DEI in K-12 schools.

In the last year, Republican lawmakers across the country have introduced a flurry of legislation seeking to ban DEI in workplaces, schools and colleges. Many measures are based on 2023 laws in Florida and Texas prohibiting DEI initiatives in public colleges and universities.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.