Texas Republicans Want to Reform Higher Ed. What Are Their Plans?

Among an avalanche of bills filed in the Texas Legislature on Friday were at least half a dozen proposals that would affect public colleges — a sign of Republican politicians’ keen interest in reforming higher ed this year.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate by virtue of his position, is helping lead the charge. Patrick named banning critical race theory, ending colleges’ diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, and eliminating tenure among his top 30 priorities for the 2023 legislative session.

Prior to Friday, state legislators had already filed bills that proposed prohibiting colleges from requiring diversity statements as a condition of employment or admission; preventing employers, including city and county governments and higher-ed institutions, from using “inherent classifications” — race, gender, etc. — in employment or admissions decisions; and banning colleges from staffing diversity, equity, and inclusion offices.

The push in Texas comes amid heightened legislative interest nationwide in reforming higher ed this year. At least 21 bills in 13 states have been introduced so far that would curb colleges’ attempts to boost diversity, equity, and inclusion if passed, a Chronicle analysis found. Texas lawmakers appear interested both in restricting colleges’ diversity efforts and in reshaping other aspects of higher ed.

Here are some of the higher-ed bills that emerged in Texas on Friday.

HB 1607 would prohibit instruction on certain concepts relating to race and gender, such as discrimination and unconscious or conscious bias, by withholding state funding. Versions of the legislation have passed in a number of other states over the last two years.

SB 2313/HB 5001 would prohibit public colleges from requiring diversity training as a condition for enrollment or registration. A handful of other states are considering similar measures this year.

SB 18 would eliminate tenure or any type of permanent-employment status at public institutions of higher ed. The proposal comes amid efforts in other states — including North Dakota and Florida — to significantly modify tenure.

HB 4736 would prohibit the admission of Chinese, Iranian, North Korean, Russian, and undocumented students at public colleges. Current state law permits undocumented students who meet certain eligibility requirements to receive financial aid and pay in-state tuition.

SB 2335 would permit institutions of higher education which are “adversely impacted by retaliatory action” taken by accrediting agencies, which control colleges’ access to federal financial aid, to sue for damages. The measure comes as accreditors and Republican-led college-governing boards clash in Idaho and North Carolina. For example, a board member at North Idaho College, which was issued a “show cause” sanction last month amid leadership dysfunction, recently accused the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities of leading a “political” process to strip the college’s accreditation.

SB 19 would create the Texas University Fund — an endowment to support four of the state’s public research institutions: Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, Texas State University, and the University of North Texas.

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