Senate bills that could impact the higher education landscape see strides in Austin


Mason Hickok

UTSA will wait until the end of the Legislative session to comment on potential impact of the bills.

Mason Hickok, Editor-in-Chief

After several weeks of public testimony and debate, the Texas Senate has passed Senate Bills (SB) 16, 17 and 18, which would affect diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices and tenure, respectively. SB 16 would prevent professors from “compelling” student beliefs on political issues.

Last week, SB 17 passed in the Senate on a vote of 19-12. Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, proposed the bill. Language in the bill would “prohibit public higher education institutions across the state from maintaining diversity, equity and inclusion offices or requiring DEI statements in admissions or hiring,” according to the Austin American-Statesman. UTSA’s Office of Inclusive Excellence would be affected should SB 17 pass. 

While the language around these bills has been established, the university will not be commenting until the legislation is finalized. 

“We are going to wait until the final legislation is adopted before commenting,” Joe Izbrand, UTSA’s chief communications officer, said. “It wouldn’t be productive to speculate about possible outcomes.”

According to The Texas Tribune, state funds would be lost for a year if a university is found to be violating the law. Additionally, the proposed legislation would allow students and employees to sue a university if participation in DEI training is forced.

“We do not require or provide ‘DEI training,’” Izbrand clarified. “We do offer optional training resources related to inclusive excellence.”

Speaking on behalf of himself, Associate Professor of History and COLFA Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice Dr. Omar Valerio-Jimenez said that faculty have been receiving updates from the administration regarding the bills. 

Diversity and inclusion are models valued at UTSA, per the university’s Inclusivity statement. While Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick touts DEI practices and initiatives as “woke policies,” faculty who work with these offices argue that is far from the truth. 

“The faculty [and] the administration promotes diversity and thinks that is our strength; that [diversity] helps us recruit students and do our research,” Valerio-Jimenez said. “We don’t think our DEI initiatives exclude anybody.”

SB 16, which Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, proposed, passed on a vote of 18-12. The language in the bill would prevent professors from compelling students to adopt or uphold certain beliefs. Critics of the bill argue the language is vague. Valerio-Jimenez, like most professors, simply encourages student engagement with course material. 

“Our job is to encourage discussion [and] critical analysis,” Valerio-Jimenez said. “We do choose what readings we assign, [but] that is part of our academic freedom. We ask students to cite readings; we don’t tell them they have to believe what the reading says.”

SB 18, also proposed by Sen. Creighton, passed in the Senate on a vote of 18-11. The bill deals with tenure. While the bill now heads to the House of Representatives, certain lawmakers there are not keen on dissolving tenure completely — namely House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont. Valerio-Jimenez believes there would be a “devastating impact on universities in Texas” should SB 18 pass. Faculty members who already hold tenure will not be affected. 

“If [SB 18] were to pass, and somehow tenure and academic freedom can be restricted, I think you would have a devastating impact on universities in Texas,” Valerio-Jimenez said. 

The American Association of University Professors states the main purpose of tenure is “to safeguard academic freedom, which is necessary for all who teach and conduct research in higher education.”

“When faculty members can lose their positions because of their speech, publications or research findings, they cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities to advance and transmit knowledge,” the Association further states.

All three bills will now undergo deliberation in the House. The 88th Legislative session ends on May 29.