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: January 30, 2024

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Utah System of Higher Education

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 30, 2024, Utah’s governor signed into law legislation limiting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives within public education and governmental systems, including the state’s public and technical colleges and universities.

The law, H.B. 261 Equal Opportunity Initiatives, which takes effect on July 1, 2024, prohibits higher education institutions from: considering race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin in employment or admission processes; utilizing diversity statements in employment or admission processes; asking staff to sign diversity statements; requiring mandatory diversity training; and establishing DEI offices. Institutions must also reallocate funds previously used for DEI efforts to “student success and support” initiatives, and instead use those funds to “equip all students including all students at higher risk of not completing a certificate or degree, with experiences and opportunities for success in each student’s academic and career goals, and without excluding individuals on the basis of an individual’s personal identity characteristics.” Geoffrey Landward, Utah’s interim commissioner of higher education has raised concerns that the bill will be “difficult to implement.”

The new law fits into a pattern of states targeting DEI programs. At least 70 anti-DEI bills have been introduced across 26 states since 2023, with at least eight passing.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about ideologically driven, government encroachments on universities’ authority to set policies concerning personnel, admissions, curricula, and the establishment of particular programs. Such actions undermine university autonomy and inhibit institutions’ ability to function freely, undermining academic freedom and democratic society generally. Moreover, actions targeting diversity and social justice efforts may also erode core university values including social responsibility and equitable access.