Utah’s Republican Gov. Spencer Cox signed the “Equal Opportunity Initiatives” legislation on Tuesday. HB 261 challenges diversity, equity and inclusion programs in governmental bodies and public education institutions.
According to the bill, higher education institutions must annually train faculty and staff on academic freedom and freedom of speech. They can’t use a person’s “personal identity characteristics,” such as race, color, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, religion or gender identity, as a factor when making decisions regarding their employment or education, nor are they allowed to require employees to attend training that “promotes differential treatment.”
Beginning in July, they can’t have offices that plan or promote campus policies, procedures or initiatives that would be “prohibited discriminatory practices.”
Such practices, according to the law, include:
- Assertions that one personal identity characteristic is inherently superior or inferior to another personal identity characteristic.
- Assertions that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s personal identity characteristics, is inherently privileged, oppressed, racist, sexist, oppressive, or a victim, whether consciously or unconsciously.
- Assertions that an individual should be discriminated against in violation of Title VI, Title VII, and Title IX, receive adverse treatment, be advanced, or receive beneficial treatment because of the individual’s personal identity characteristics.
- Assertions that an individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s personal identity characteristics.
- Assertions that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s personal identity characteristics, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other individuals with the same personal identity characteristics.
- Assertions that an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or other psychological distress solely because of the individual’s personal identity characteristics.
- Assertions that meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.
- Assertions that socio-political structures are inherently a series of power relationships and struggles among racial groups.
- Promoting resentment between, or resentment of, individuals by virtue of their personal identity characteristics.
- Ascribing values, morals, or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to an individual because of the individual’s race, color, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, or gender identity.
- Considers an individual’s personal identity characteristics in determining receipt of state financial aid or other state financial assistance, including a scholarship award or tuition waiver.
- Is referred to or named diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Additionally, the law states that higher education institutions can’t require an individual to submit a statement or preferentially treat an individual who provides a statement that articulates their perspective or experience regarding a policy or program related to anti-racism, bias, racial privilege or prohibited discriminatory practice, unless it’s essential for the job in making decisions regarding employment, admissions, participation in programs or qualification for state financial assistance.
Institutions can still require employees and job applicants to disclose their research or teaching approaches.
If a university or school doesn’t follow the law, people can file complaints to either the Utah Board of Higher Education or the State Board of Education, respectively.
Starting in July 2025, the Utah Board of Higher Education will biennially review colleges’ compliance. If there is a violation, the board and the institution will work to remedy it within six months of when they create a remediation plan. Otherwise, the institution risks losing state funding.
Under the new law, universities will be required to do the following:
- Ensure all students have access to success and support programs.
- Publish the titles and syllabi of all mandatory classes so the publican can review them.
- Annually train employees regarding separation of personal political advocacy from business and employment.
- Develop strategies to promote viewpoint diversity.
- Create policies and procedures for free speech and civic education opportunities.
Colleges and universities must have third parties survey students, faculty and staff regarding their experience regarding freedom of speech and academic freedom on campus, and the state’s Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel will present a summary report every three years to the Education Interim Committee.
The state board, which the law states is banned from establishing an office or hiring someone to create programs related to discriminatory practices, must update education committees by certain annual meetings regarding its compliance with the law.
Governmental employers, which include municipalities, can have offices or contractors that promote practices or policies regarding personal identity characteristics as long as they don’t engage in prohibited discriminatory practices. The state’s executive department agency directors will annually report on programs’ and offices’ compliance.
According to the bill’s fiscal note, the legislation’s costs to the state could include about $300,000 every year in dedicated credits for the Office of the State Auditor to investigate alleged violations that occur within government entities.
Cox said in a statement that the bill offers a balanced solution to concerns regarding some DEI programs and policies.
“I’m grateful to the Legislature for not following the lead of other states that simply eliminated DEI funding with no alternative path for students who may be struggling. Instead, this funding will be repurposed to help all Utah students succeed regardless of their background,” he said. “We firmly believe that Utah is stronger because of our diversity and we remain committed to keeping our state a place where everyone can thrive.”
Every Utah Democratic legislator opposed the bill, which passed 60-14 in the House and 23-6 in the Senate.