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University of Wyoming dealing with state’s cuts to diversity office

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Kathleen Shannon

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(Wyoming News Service) The University of Wyoming is scrambling to address a major funding cut state legislators passed in a footnote to the state budget.

During this year's session, Wyoming lawmakers banned appropriation dollars from funding the University of Wyoming office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The office has fostered inclusivity in race, sex, national origins and gender identity since its founding in 2017, providing resources for language assistance, Americans with disabilities, religious accommodations and more.

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The University of Wyoming is not alone in facing such cuts. Since 2021, more than 150 bills have been brought to state legislatures aimed at academic freedom and university governance, according to a new paperfrom the American Association of University Professors.

Isaac Kamola, associate professor of political science at Trinity College and director of the association's Center for the Defense of Academic Freedom, said academic freedom is vital for higher education to serve the public interest.

"The teaching and research that takes place within those institutions has to be free from external pressures," Kamola argued. "To ensure that what takes place in the classroom and in research, pursues truth wherever it leads, not where those with political and economic power wishes that it leads."

Opponents of DEI initiatives said they lead to fear and resentment but Kamola noted the office closures are among several trending threats to higher education, including banning critical race theory, weakening tenure or accreditation and mandating content.

A working group provided suggestions to the University of Wyoming on how to proceed including continuing DEI funding through private support, under a changed name or reorganizing under a different university office. Kamola observed when Texas universities took a similar approach, they were told they were in violation and a round of layoffs followed.

"We can imagine that something similar might happen, where the political operatives that are behind these attacks on DEI will want to see blood in the water," Kamola stressed.

The working group's report asserted the DEI office grounded its work in the Wyoming Constitution.