House anti-DEI bill would increase government oversight of Kentucky’s public universities

Legislation mandates annual reports on ‘intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity,’ bars any spending on diversity programs

By: - January 19, 2024 1:58 pm

Rep. Jennifer Decker, left, the sponsor of an anti-DEI bill filed Friday, and Rep. Emily Callaway look over legislation before the start of the House session on Jan. 10. (LRC Public Information)

A House Republican is broadening her party’s attack on diversity, equity and inclusion frameworks in Kentucky higher education with legislation that would bar universities and colleges from expending “any resources” to support DEI programs or DEI officers.

The bill mandates annual assessments of “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” at each of the campuses, based on “statistically valid survey techniques.” The schools would be required to provide the annual reports to students, faculty and staff. 

Rep. Jennifer Decker’s House Bill 9 also would prevent class credit from being awarded for courses that promote DEI concepts and allow Kentucky’s attorney general to sue universities and colleges for violating the bill. 

Decker, of Waddy, said in a statement that opportunities to obtain college degrees must be “​​equally available and affordable to all” and that HB 9, introduced Friday, would direct public universities and colleges to give students “excellent academic instruction in an environment that fosters critical thinking through constructive dialogue.” 

“To accomplish these goals, HB 9 would ensure the postsecondary system in Kentucky is held accountable to dismantle the failed and misguided DEI bureaucracies that have made college more divided, more expensive, and less tolerant,” Decker said. 

Anti-DEI bills have been filed in the Senate. Under Senate Bill 6, employees and students could sue public universities and colleges in Kentucky on grounds they were discriminated against for rejecting “divisive concepts” defined in that legislation. In addition to preventing education funding from supporting diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives in K-12 schools, Senate Bill 93 would remove language protecting “trauma-informed” methods in Kentucky schools. Both of the Senate Bills have been assigned to the Senate Education Committee. 

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear pushed back against the anti-DEI efforts in a press conference last week. He called diversity “an asset, not a liability” and said he plans to support companies that  have DEI policies and want a diverse workforce.

“I believe as a commonwealth, we should be saying we want diverse population, diverse thought, that this is a welcoming place for everyone and that we also recognize that while this is the greatest country on the history of planet Earth, we have made mistakes in this country that still reverberate today and that we have a duty to address them.” 

Nationwide, DEI initiatives have become a target of conservative politicians who argue such frameworks favor some demographic groups, usually minority groups, over others. The push against DEI has strengthened since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned affirmative action in college admissions. 

Decker’s bill would prevent public universities and colleges from influencing “the composition of the student body on the basis of religion, race, sex, color, or national origin,” using funding to maintain a DEI office or hire a DEI officer, and requiring or incentivizing employees to attend a DEI training. 

The bill would also prevent students from being required to take courses or training that are  “dedicated to the promotion or justification of discriminatory concepts or diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives” as a graduation or certification requirement. Additionally, course credits earned after July 1, 2024, for classes that promote “discriminatory concepts or diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives” may not count toward credits required for degrees or certificates. 

Other provisions include: 

  • The Attorney General’s Office would be allowed to bring civil action against institutions to ensure compliance with the legislation. 
  • Institutions would be required to submit annual public reports with information about programs and policies, including their costs, that are “designed or implemented to promote or provide differential treatment or benefits to individuals on the basis of religion, race, sex, color, or national origin” and are required under federal or state law, a court order or contract. 
  • Prevents institutions from using resources for bias incident investigations for anonymous reports on campuses that do not have student-on-student harassment.
  • Requiring the Council on Postsecondary Education to create an annual assessment on “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” across higher education institutions. 
  • Requiring institutions to provide the name, job title, duty station, salary or wages, and amount of any contracted severance or other form of  postemployment compensation of each employee of the institution by the 20th of each month.

Decker called for reestablishing “trust between our colleges and their communities, as well as reaffirm(ing) the constitutional right to academic freedom.” 

“Our campuses must uphold our students’ rights to freedom of speech, due process, and freedom of association,” she said. “We are providing much-needed oversight to our public universities, which were founded on the promise of opportunity for all but have seemingly lost their way.”

House Bill 9

HB 9

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.