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Bill to ban DEI spending at public universities advances in Iowa House

Matt Yohe
Iowa’s three public universities would be banned from spending money on DEI offices and staff under a bill advancing in the Iowa House.

Iowa’s three public universities would be banned from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion offices and professionals under a bill advancing in the Iowa House. It would require the universities to reallocate money that would’ve been spent on DEI efforts to scholarships for low- and middle-income students.

Kyle Clare, a sophomore at the University of Iowa majoring in political science, spoke in support of the bill at a subcommittee hearing Wednesday. He said he came to Iowa from Chicago because of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ “bold conservative leadership,” but he said DEI “runs rampant” on campus.

“The words diversity equity inclusion may sound awesome, but I think it’s more aptly named homogeny, unfairness and exclusion,” Clare said. “Homogeny: to make all their students feel and think the same things. Unfairness: by treating those who are not considered marginalized as lesser, and exclusion of anyone who has political beliefs the institution finds undesirable, which are the political beliefs of most Iowans.”

Clare urged Iowa lawmakers to remove DEI programs from the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa.

Chris Espersen of Des Moines said she’s white, but her two kids are not. Her son is a student at ISU. Espersen said she opposes the bill because DEI training can help people understand the experiences of people who are different from them.

“My children have to deal with incidents that I simply haven’t had to deal with as a white woman,” she said. “As parents, I am sure that you can appreciate the pain that this causes.”

The bill would authorize the Iowa attorney general to compel a university to comply with the ban on DEI spending. It would also authorize a student, faculty member or alumnus of one of the universities to sue a university for an alleged violation of the bill.

Keenan Crow, a lobbyist for One Iowa, saidUNI’s web page focused on diversity highlights Black History Month programming, offers information for veterans and students with disabilities, and explains how students can report discrimination and harassment.

“So, folks, what are we doing here?” Crow asked. “I mean honestly, it feels at this point like anything that makes folks even mildly uncomfortable, the solution is to just ban it. If we don’t like it, ban it. That’s not leadership, that’s cowardice.”

Crow said lawmakers should value the liberty of everyone, not just the discomfort of a few.

Rep. Taylor Collins, R-Mediapolis, said the bill is needed because the three universities are spending too much on DEI officers and programs. He said the salaries for the top four DEI professionals across the regents universities add up to about $750,000 per year.

“If you account for their staff underneath them, and their departmental budgets, we’re talking about millions—millions of taxpayer dollars that are being used to push an ideological agenda, and not focus on academic excellence,” Collins said.

Collins said “this woke agenda” was pushed on him a few years ago when he was a student at Iowa State University. He said a business class professor made the whole class do a privilege test.

“And it made students feel terrible in the class,” he said. “It made them feel guilty for the family background they may have came from, for their political stance maybe, their socioeconomic status. And it’s not a productive use of taxpayer dollars.”

The universities oppose the bill. Officials with the Iowa Board of Regents said the bill could open them up to more lawsuits, as DEI training is an important way to protect against lawsuits. They also said the bill could impact the federal contracts the universities hold in areas like agriculture and defense that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Board of Regents officials said the bill could affect the universities’ standing with national accrediting bodies and the NCAA. They also said the universities have scholarships, many of which are donor-funded, that are for specific populations like members of tribal nations or women in STEM. The university officials said the bill could prevent those types of scholarships from continuing.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter