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The Next Front in the Fight to Dismantle DEI on Campus

March 21, 2024

As a battleground state in our national political contests, Arizona is also ground zero in the fight over the future of higher education in America. Higher-ed-reform advocates have notched several victories in Arizona recently, but the forces in favor of the status quo have stubbornly resisted many of these efforts, leaving much still to be done. Effective and lasting reform will require either a significant course correction by the state’s universities themselves, or else the direct intervention of the Arizona legislature or the Arizona Board of Regents (or both) to exercise more aggressive oversight, especially regarding curriculum and employment.

For instance, the forces of reform are close to achieving an important win in the battle against racial preferences in higher education. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s clear rejection of the use of race in college admissions last year, conservative and free-enterprise groups in Arizona are seeking to ensure that state universities and all other levels of government cannot sidestep the ruling when it comes to employment, contracting, and operations. Like the constitution of several other states, the Arizona Constitution explicitly prohibits the state from discriminating “on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.” But—also as in other states—this provision contains a potential loophole that allows any actions that a government unit can link to remaining eligible for funding from federal programs. In short, racial discrimination is banned unless a public entity simply points to pressure from the federal government to engage in it.

Fortunately, a ballot referendum that would close this loophole is making its way through the Arizona legislature. Having already passed the House and earned committee approval in the Senate, the referendum will—if ultimately approved by both bodies—go before Arizona voters in the November 2024 general election. This ballot measure amends the Arizona Constitution to make clear that the state cannot, under any circumstances, discriminate on the basis of race when judging a pool of applicants in employment or operations. To comply with federal regulations on equal opportunity, the state can engage in “outreach, advertising or communication efforts” to recruit applicants from underrepresented backgrounds, but it cannot use racial preferences when judging the candidates who choose to apply. This referendum would thus undeniably prohibit racial preferences in admissions and hiring at state universities and other government entities. Moreover, the referendum would enshrine a state constitutional protection against forcing candidates to endorse racial discrimination or “diversity, equity, or inclusion” (DEI) through the use of DEI statements or related tactics.

Read the rest of the op-ed at The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

Timothy K. Minella is a Senior Fellow at the Goldwater Institute’s Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy. He advances policies and develops programming that promote constitutional principles in education and public life.



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