Gov. Spencer Cox attacked diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at Utah’s colleges and universities, repeating his assertion that such initiatives foster divisiveness instead of inclusivity, during his monthly news conference Wednesday.
He also vowed to end a purported requirement that higher education employees must sign a “diversity statement” as a term of employment.
“These diversity statements you have to sign to get hired, I think that is awful, bordering on evil,” Cox said during the televised news conference. “We’re forcing people into a political framework before they can even apply for a job with the state.”
It is unclear what diversity statements Cox was referencing. A spokesperson for the governor said his office would investigate which public institutions are using those statements. As of Wednesday afternoon, the governor’s office had not identified any colleges or universities or provided any examples of what the governor found objectionable.
The Utah System of Higher Education, or USHE — the state’s public colleges, universities and technical schools — is overseen by interim Commissioner of Higher Education Geoffrey Landward and governed by the 10 members of the Utah Board of Higher Education, appointed by Cox.
The Salt Lake Tribune asked USHE, Landward’s office and the board for comments on Cox’s pledge to halt the use of diversity statements, and for an explanation of what schools are using them. The offices said the spokesperson for USHE and the board is on leave for the remainder of December.
Board chair Amanda Covington did not respond to requests for comment from The Tribune. Board member Jon Cox, who is Gov. Cox’s fourth cousin and a partner in the firm overseeing his reelection campaign, also did not respond to requests for comment.
As of Wednesday afternoon, a University of Utah spokesperson had not been able to identify whether any such statements were currently part of hiring practices at the U.
The governor, who has repeatedly encouraged Americans to dial down overheated political rhetoric through his “disagree better” campaign, promised to sign legislation banning such statements during the upcoming legislative session that begins in January.
“It is happening here in Utah,” Cox said, “but I can assure you after this legislative session, it will not be happening here.”
Earlier this month, Cox announced a new policy requiring Utah’s public colleges and universities to detail policies for protecting and limiting free expression on the state’s campuses. On Wednesday, Cox alleged DEI programs are bloated and ineffective.
“If you go back and look at the number of people in these offices, it’s just astounding to me. I had no idea there were these many people working in these offices,” Cox told members of the media. “The question is, what are the outcomes? Are we actually making a difference, and we’re not seeing any evidence that they’re actually working.”
Cox argued that celebrating diversity and different cultures is a worthy goal, but these programs have lost sight of that objective.
“What’s happened is identity politics and philosophies have infiltrated what I think were very well-meaning ideas and programs,” he said. “What we’re actually seeing is the reverse. That we’re drawing battle lines and that we’re using identitarianism to force people into boxes and victimhood — and I don’t think that’s helpful.”
While Cox was critical of DEI programs, he did highlight one group that college campuses should focus on — men.
“You know who else is struggling right now in college? When it comes to starting college and finishing college, men have dropped off a cliff over the past 20 years. We don’t talk about it much anymore because it used to be the other way,” he said while discussing higher education.
“It used to be there was a huge gap between men and women. Women were not going to college, and women were not graduating from college. Now it’s completely flipped. And so we should be very worried about that. That’s something that we should absolutely be working on as well.”
According to data from the Utah System of Higher Education, men’s enrollment in Utah colleges has not dropped in the past four years — it has grown more slowly than women’s enrollment. At degree-granting institutions this fall, there were 105,890 women enrolled and 92,510 men, according to the system’s data.
White students remain the majority, making up 73% of fall enrollment at the institutions in 2022. Hispanic students are the next largest group, and their enrollment has been flat, at 11% in 2022 and the preceding three years.