University of Utah discontinues ‘diversity questions or statements’ in hiring after governor’s criticisms

The school has said it doesn’t use diversity statements as originally described by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox. But it will remove anything similar from its hiring process moving forward.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A fresh blanket of snow covers the University of Utah campus and surrounding hills in March 2023. The U.'s Office of the President sent out an email instructing all involved in hiring at the school to now longer ask questions about or solicit statements on diversity on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024.

The University of Utah will now eliminate any “diversity questions or statements” from its hiring process for new faculty and staff — a response that comes after mounting pressure from state lawmakers and the governor, who called the practice “bordering on evil.

The move from the state’s flagship school was announced in an email Friday afternoon from the office of President Taylor Randall. A screenshot of the message was shared with The Salt Lake Tribune and confirmed by a university spokesperson.

The spokesperson said the email was sent to all deans and department chairs and other senior leadership positions at the school that typically lead the search and hiring for new employees.

The message notes that it was sent “in light of recent statements made by elected leaders and directives from the Utah Board of Higher Education to eliminate diversity questions or statements used in hiring at Utah’s higher education institutions.”

All hiring units, it continues, “should discontinue the use of any type of diversity statements or similar practices.”

(Screenshot) An email from the Office of the President at the University of Utah instructed all involved in hiring at the school to now longer ask questions about or solicit statements on diversity. The message is from Friday, Jan. 5, 2024.

The U. — along with the other seven public colleges and universities in the state — has denied that it uses any kind of “diversity statement” in its hiring practices as originally described and criticized by Gov. Spencer Cox.

Cox had said during a news conference last month that he was appalled to learn about “diversity statements you have to sign to get hired” at the state’s public institutions of higher education. He suggested that practice with diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, was “bordering on evil.”

“We get professors or employees who have to sign these DEI statements before they can even qualify for a job,” Cox said. “These statements are very political.”

The U. has said it does not require prospective hires to sign a diversity, equity and inclusion statement or pledge before they are employed. At the University of Utah, a spokesperson previously said, an applicant’s approach to diversity issues may be a consideration in the hiring process, but it is not a formal requirement.

“In caring for our diverse campus community, faculty and staff job postings may ask questions or request materials regarding inclusivity,” the spokesperson said.

A search of the U.’s job postings — including some provided as examples by the governor’s office — showed some mentions of diversity, but no signed pledges.

A post for an assistant or associate director of communications asked candidates to provide “a one page statement response” to a prompt asking them to describe their experience with DEI efforts.

But the U. and other schools in the state said they did not believe those requests were the same as asking a candidate to sign onto a DEI statement outlining tenets that the university wants them to uphold.

Still, in response to the governor’s comments, the Utah Board of Higher Education issued a statement saying universities and colleges in the state have previously used diversity questions in the hiring process in the past — though most had already phased those out. Those that were continuing the practice were instructed by the board to “wind down the use of such statements in hiring processes.”

In the U.’s email Friday, the school said it is acting in accordance with that.

The message said the school’s human resources team is available, moving forward, to help create job postings and come up with interview questions “to accommodate the need to assess an applicant’s knowledge and ability to meet all aspects of a job function.”

The school said, too, that is affirms its “commitment to non-discriminatory hiring practices.”

Several lawmakers have singled out the U.’s postings, sharing them on social media and saying they are concerned by the language. Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, recently told KSL that she believes 15-20% of the U.’s applications require some kind of statement from the applicant about their DEI efforts.

Hall ran a bill during the last legislative session, attempting to ban those questions from higher education job listing and hiring practices. It didn’t ultimately pass. But the lawmaker and other colleagues are planning to revisit the topic this session, which starts Jan. 16.

Cox previously promised: “It is happening here in Utah, but I can assure you after this legislative session, it will not be happening here.”