Texas AFT: Texas Senate subcommittee to examine DEI, free speech and anti-Semitism next week ‣ Texas AFT

Next Tuesday, following significant unrest on college campuses across the state and nation, the Texas Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education will meet to address issues of free speech, anti-Semitism and of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion).

The hearing will include an opportunity for public testimony. Texas AFT, in cooperation with our higher education affiliate Texas AAUP and other members of our coalition, is offering testimony training this Monday at 6 p.m. CT, in preparation for the next day’s hearing. Texas AFT Allies Texas Students for DEI, Texas Rising and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund are arranging transportation to Austin from Houston and Dallas for those interested in testifying at the hearing via this form.

Each of these items was a tentative charge set by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for the subcommittee to study in preparation for the next legislative session. Since this is an interim hearing outside of a legislative session, no specific bills will be considered. Instead, the committee will consider the issues as a whole and take no action.

Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) previously signaled that the Higher Education Committee would meet in May to review DEI when he sent open letters to the boards of Texas public universities ordering them to send a representative to a hearing to audit the implementation of Senate Bill 17, the anti-DEI bill from last session.

This letter appears to precipitate the firing of dozens of employees who had been reassigned to non-DEI positions after serving in DEI-related positions at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at Dallas. These layoffs were made by the university even though they were in full compliance with the law as written and even though lawmakers had assured that employees would not be terminated due to SB 17. In response to the layoffs, The Texas AAUP released a joint statement. statement with the Texas NAACP calling for these layoffs to be reversed, and last week, Texas AFT shared the stories of some of these laid-off employees.

Although these tentative charges were set in early April, before the state aggressively suppressed pro-Palestinian protests on state campuses, the protests and resulting police crackdown will undoubtedly be a topic important discussion for the committee. The free speech charge specifically cites Senate Bill 18 (86-R) of 2019, which sought to protect free speech on college campuses. The law considers all common spaces as places of expressive activity for any person, regardless of their connection to the university. Police action at universities across the state in response to pro-Palestinian protests appears to directly contradict this law. Texas AFT and Texas AAUP released a statement in response to the crackdown on protests.

The anti-Semitism charge appeared to be linked to an executive order issued by Governor Greg Abbott that ordered universities to “provide appropriate sanctions, including expulsion from the institution” for acts deemed anti-Semitic. The order specifically asks universities to ensure that the “Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine” are disciplined. These organizations were created to defend Palestinian rights and include Jewish students among their members. In response to this order, Texas AAUP issued a statement.