SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: December 13, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Multiple Institutions

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 13, 2023, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies, including 25 public colleges and universities, from using state funds to support diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

The executive order also prohibits public colleges and universities from using state “property or resources” for DEI efforts. The order mandates that these institutions provide detailed expenditure reports of their DEI initiatives – including DEI positions, departments, activities, procedures, and programs – as well as a list of DEI positions, departments, activities, procedures, and programs to eliminate, and further requires the dismissal of “non-critical personnel” working in DEI-related positions. The restrictions do not apply to “scholarly research,” student organization activities, or any policy or class in compliance with other state or federal laws, or that are required to retain a college’s accreditation.

While the order went into effect immediately, colleges and universities have until May 31, 2024 to comply. After May 31, all state agencies will be required to submit reports detailing their DEI initiatives, including which aspects they have restricted or eliminated.

In response to the order, the University of Oklahoma, the largest public university in Oklahoma, issued a statement emphasizing its disappointment in the decision but acknowledged that it is “obligated to comply,” stating, “We are in the process of reviewing the executive order to ensure we meet our legal obligations while continuing to cultivate a welcoming environment for all students, faculty and staff.”

Also on October 31, state Senator Rob Standridge introduced four new bills that would expand upon the governor’s executive order. The proposed legislation would outright ban DEI efforts in state higher education, including by preventing the establishment of DEI offices and hiring employees to “carry out DEI practices.”

The governor’s new executive order fits into a pattern of states targeting DEI programs. At least 40 anti-DEI bills have been introduced across 22 states since mid December 2022, with at least seven passing.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of budgetary measures to prohibit the teaching of disfavored topics. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from encroaching on university autonomy, including the right of university personnel to set academically appropriate curricula, free from political interference. Actions targeting particular academic content undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally; actions targeting diversity and social justice curricula may also erode core university values including social responsibility and equitable access.