- Arkansas lawmakers on Friday authorized a study of the diversity, equity and inclusion policies at colleges in the state, aiming to complete it by the end of 2024 ahead of planned legislation.
- The study was requested by state Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican who co-chairs the higher education subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council, which collects information to guide the General Assembly’s legislative decisions. Sullivan had announced plans to study college DEI policies ahead of introducing legislation on the matter in 2025, though his motion Friday did not specify whether it would cover both public and private colleges.
- “People outside the Legislature had concerns about DEI in our policies and in procedures,” Sullivan said during a subcommittee meeting Thursday. Sullivan stressed that actions should be based on “merit and need,” but did not provide further detail about his specific concerns.
State lawmakers nationwide, most of them conservatives, have recently been waging battles against college DEI policies and programs. In May, Florida banned all DEI spending at public colleges. Texas enacted a similar law a month later. And state lawmakers recently cut the University of Wisconsin System’s budget by $32 million — the amount they projected it would spend on DEI efforts.
Some colleges have also been taking their own actions. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville announced plans in June to dissolve its DEI office. At the time, university spokesperson Mark Rushing said the move was meant to “align resources directly to the ‘front lines’ of the university’s student and employee support structures.”
Arkansas universities have already completed a survey related to the DEI study, Sullivan said Thursday.
“We met with a lot of our higher ed folks just a few minutes ago,” Sullivan said during Thursday’s subcommittee meeting. “We all agree we’re going to work together to do this, so this is not just an individual project. But we’re going to work together to make sure that the things that we do are based on merit and need.”
State Sen. Linda Chesterfield, a Democrat and a member of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus, backed Sullivan’s motion Friday for the study.
“I know it’s somewhat surprising to folks that I would second that motion, but I’m as interested as Sen. Sullivan is in finding out how we are doing as far as making sure that colleges and universities across the state are inclusive of all people,” Chesterfield said.
Chesterfield added that she doesn’t have the “same amount of zealotry as my colleague does on this issue” but was interested in learning more about the demographics of the state’s colleges.
Sullivan did not immediately respond to questions Monday about the DEI legislation he plans to propose in 2025 or which colleges the study will cover.
However, earlier this year, Sullivan introduced a bill to ban affirmative action in state agency hiring, including programs that encourage public colleges to bring in employees and students who are members of racial minority groups.
The bill was tabled after lawmakers said the measure was premature and would harm state programs, including those that help historically Black colleges.