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UNC board slashes diversity program funding to divert money to public safety resources

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — As North Carolina’s public university system considers a vote on changing its diversity policy, the system’s flagship university board voted Monday to cut funding for diversity programs in next year’s budget.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees approved a change that would divert $2.3 million of diversity spending from state funds to go toward public safety and policing at a special meeting to address the university’s budget. The board’s vote would only impact UNC-Chapel Hill’s diversity funding, which could result in the loss of its diversity office.

UNC will join the ranks of other notable public universities that have stripped diversity spending, such as the University of Florida in Gainesville, which announced in a March memo it was reallocating funds to faculty recruitment. But unlike UF, which implemented its funding rollback after the state Legislature passed a bill banning diversity program spending at state universities, UNC “set the tone” on funding cuts before the North Carolina Legislature stepped in, budget chair Dave Boliek said.

“We’re going ahead and, you know, sort of taking a leadership role in this. That’s the way I view it,” Boliek said on Monday after the vote.

The change would go into effect at the start of the 2024-2025 fiscal year on July 1, Boliek said. Any jobs that could be impacted would occur after that date, although Boliek said he wasn’t sure how many positions may be affected.

But the decision about whether the spending cut would remove UNC’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion will be up to the university’s flexible management plan, which is operated by interim Chancellor Lee Roberts and his team. The diversity office has 12 staff members, including a chief diversity officer, according to its website.

The budget, which includes the $2.3 million amendment, will now be submitted to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, UNC spokesperson Kevin Best said in an email.

The vote to shift more funding to public safety comes as continued pro-Palestinian protests on UNC’s campus have resulted in several arrests in recent weeks. The budget committee vice-chair Marty Kotis said law enforcement has already been forced to react to protests, but they need more funding to keep the university “safe from a larger threat.”

“It’s important to consider the needs of all 30,000 students, not just the 100 or so that may want to disrupt the university’s operations,” Kotis said. “It takes away resources for others.”

But Boliek, who is also running for state auditor in Tuesday’s runoff elections, said the timing of the reallocation was “happenstance” and that internal conversations on diversity spending cuts have persisted for almost a year.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions last year — in which UNC was sued for its admission policies — the board has continually considered how it should handle university diversity programs, he said. Diverting more money toward public safety was also a concern for the board in the aftermath of a fatal August shooting on the UNC campus that left one faculty member dead.

“It makes sense where we can take money that I believe is not being productively used and put it to something that is more productive, and that is providing public safety,” he said.

Before the start of North Carolina’s short legislative session, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters there was interest in pursuing anti-DEI legislation but wanted to let university boards review their diversity policies first.

At least 20 states have seen Republican bill proposals seeking to limit diversity and inclusion programs in several public institutions such as universities.

Now, all eyes are on the UNC Board of Governors, whose 24 members are expected to vote next week on changing its diversity policy after the board’s university governance committee voted to reverse and replace the rule last month. The change would alter a 2019 diversity, equity and inclusion regulation that defines the roles of various DEI positions at 17 schools across the state — and it would appear to eliminate those jobs if the policy is removed.

If the alteration is approved, it will take effect immediately.

Associated Press