Texas poised to ban ‘ideological oaths’ at state universities

University of Texas Austin campus, inspiring education.

The Texas House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that would strengthen academic freedom and intellectual diversity at Texas universities. Senate Bill 17 would prohibit public universities from requiring “ideological oaths or statements” of students, staff, or job applicants, and it would put an end to university offices dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Both chambers have already approved a budget rider that would prohibit schools from funding such offices with state money. 

The reference to “ideological oaths or statements” addresses a growing phenomenon across academia—the diversity or DEI statement. University employees and job applicants often must submit a DEI statement for a job application or for tenure or promotion. (In a lawsuit filed in California this week, Pacific Legal Foundation is representing an University of California job applicant who objects to the DEI statement requirement.)

Universities use these statements as ideological litmus tests. For example, at Texas Tech University, a faculty search committee penalized a candidate for the candidate’s belief in race neutralityi.e., treating all students equally based on race. Another search committee praised a virology candidate for promising to “prevent microaggressions” in class. After media exposure, Texas Tech since has announced it will no longer require diversity statements. 

This is not an isolated incident. A widely used rubric for judging such statements scores applicants based on whether they accept or reject contested political ideas. For example, a candidate gets a low score if they do not take “personal responsibility” in eliminating barriers to minorities or if they express a belief that all students should be treated the same regardless of background.  

In addition to DEI statement requirements, employees and offices tasked with promoting DEI can also have a huge impact on university hiring, admissions, and overall culture. At Texas A&M University, DEI officials made a public commitment to promoting “critical race theory,” “intersectional feminism,” “decolonizing practices,” and Black Lives Matter. Thanks to this DEI drive, every department must rise to what the DEI officials call “diversity accountability” by inserting DEI ideology into training, curriculum, reports, hiring, and all other aspects of campus life and structure. Thankfully, as with Texas Tech, Texas A&M has also announced it would at least no longer require diversity statements, although this change does not fully address the broader influence of DEI policies and practices. 

DEI offices and DEI statement requirements exist to promote and enforce political orthodoxy. Terms such as “diversity” and “equity,” while neutral in the abstract, have become like Trojan horses—empty euphemisms hollowed out to hold within them a host of divisive and controversial ideas. For example, DEI guidelines adopted by the California College System—the largest college system in the nation—openly advocate for replacing the “Eurocentric,” “individualist perspective” with a “collectivism perspective.” DEI is likewise hostile to bedrock principles like capitalism and color-blind equality. Left unchecked, such DEI regimes stifle debate and viewpoint diversity on campus. 

While voluntary changes made by universities like Texas Tech and Texas A&M are encouraging, they are not enough. Legislation prohibiting DEI practices that smother freedom of thought at state institutions will ensure lasting and uniform change. Florida, for instance, has just adopted legislation prohibiting diversity statements and discriminatory hiring at public universities. Senate Bill 17 may offer Texas an opportunity to help its public universities remain bastions of viewpoint diversity, academic excellence, and individual freedom.