The Iowa Board of Regents approved recommendations Thursday to eliminate all campuswide diversity, equity and inclusion efforts that are not required for universities to stay compliant with the law or accreditation standards.
Last June, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law directing the board to review DEI efforts at Iowa’s public universities. Conservative lawmakers across the country have increasingly targeted DEI, saying such programs mandate certain ways of thinking and can infringe on free speech.
In response to the new law, the board established a DEI study group in March consisting of three regents — David Barker, Jim Lindenmayer and Greta Rouse. The trio released their report Nov. 7, outlining ten recommendations for the system's institutions to sharply curtail administrator-run DEI programming.
The board largely passed the guidance as presented, though they scaled down a civic education and free speech initiative.
The move will kick off work at the state's three public universities — the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa — which will present their plans to implement the board's edicts in April.
The report has garnered vocal student opposition since its publication last week.
Regent Abby Crow, who recently graduated from the University of Iowa, voted against the recommendation to strip campuswide DEI initiatives down to the barest bones, citing student resistance.
"As the student regent, I just don't believe that I can support something like this," she said Thursday.
What are the recommendations?
The recommendations ban universities from requiring participation in DEI initiatives or the submission of DEI statements — short explainers of individual experiences with and commitment to diverse populations. They exempt jobs that require “DEI-related compliance or accreditation.”
University leaders must now review department-level DEI positions and adjust or eliminate jobs found to be doing more than legally required minimums. Each institution's board will need to establish an admissions policy banning the consideration of race and other protected class characteristics, in line with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June.
Regent Nancy Dunkel voted against the group's recommendations, including dissolving university-wide DEI functions it deemed unnecessary.
"If a student came to school and did just what was necessary, where would they go?" she said. "We can do better than that and we should."
But Dunkel and Crow were overruled Thursday, with at least two-thirds of board members passing each recommendation.
The guidelines are "sufficiently vague" as to give the universities latitude to balance student needs with legislator concerns, Lindenmayer said Thursday. They do not affect curriculum or student groups.
Lindenmayer moved to pare down one recommendation during the board's meeting.
The original language would have required universities to develop a proposal on a free speech and civic education initiative.
Barker pointed to the University of Colorado Boulder's Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization as a potential model. The donor-funded center, which says it’s dedicated to fostering intellectual diversity, has attracted criticism for its founder’s ties to White nationalism.
"It sounds like, in retrospect, we're predetermining that this is a need on our campuses and that we can afford to do it," Lindenmayer said.
The board passed an amendment directing the universities to simply explore such a proposal.
In anticipation of the board's vote, Iowa university leaders announced they would form committees to respond to the recommendations.
The University of Iowa, the largest of the three publics, announced it will create a task force to review its DEI efforts. The group will share its findings with the university’s president and provost by March.
"We know there will be many questions from students, faculty, and staff regarding how this will impact the university's ability to provide a welcoming and inclusive campus," administrators said. "We view this as an opportunity to align the remarkable work done on our campus and to ensure we maintain the compliance and accreditation standards that support the success of our students, faculty, and staff."
At Iowa State, senior leaders announced they will form an advisory committee focused on implementing the regents' edicts.
"As we work to address the Board’s recommendations, our university remains committed to this ideal and to supporting the success of all students, faculty and staff," Iowa State administrators said in a statement prior to Thursday's meeting.
A handful of students at the University of Northern Iowa — where the board of regents held their meeting this week — rallied Wednesday in support of their college's DEI programs, according to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.