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University of Texas at Austin eliminating nearly 60 staff who once worked in DEI roles, civil rights and faculty groups say

The University of Texas at Austin has sent layoff notices to an estimated 60 staff members who previously worked in diversity, equity and inclusion roles, according to the Texas NAACP and the Texas Conference of American Association of University Professors.

The staffing cuts come as the university works to comply with the state’s anti-DEI law, or SB17, that bans public colleges and universities from maintaining DEI offices, holding mandatory DEI training, and having departments focused on “promoting differential treatment” based on race, sex or ethnicity.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Texas NAACP and AAUP said impacted staff members were given a 90-day layoff notice. Forty of those employees were from the Division of Campus and Community Engagement, which will be closing, the statement said. The office was formerly called the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement before SB17 went into effect in January.

Brian Davis, a university spokesman, said he was unable to confirm the number of jobs that are being eliminated. Davis told CNN in an email that the university would not comment beyond a letter President Jay Hartzell’s released to the campus community earlier this week.

Hartzell said in the letter that the university is redirecting funds from DEI initiatives to “teaching and research.”

“As part of this reallocation, associate or assistant deans who were formerly focused on DEI will return to their full-time faculty positions,” Hartzell said. “The positions that provided support for those associate and assistant deans and a small number of staff roles across campus that were formerly focused on DEI will no longer be funded.”

Hartzell said staff members who lose their jobs will have an opportunity to apply for other open positions at UT Austin.

But Texas NAACP and AAUP said in the statement they believe the “terminations clearly are intended to retaliate against employees because of their previous association with DEI.”

“We call on University of Texas at Austin officials to be forthcoming about these terminations, their impact on University services to students and the community, and the provisions made to displaced staff, who until today had been assured that their positions were not in jeopardy,” the statement said.

The office closure and job cuts come after several cultural programs, identity groups and events on campus lost all university funding earlier this year. Student leaders tell CNN they have been scrambling to raise money so their programs can stay afloat.

One student said Tuesday she was saddened by the news of staff jobs being cut. Aaliyah Barlow, president of the university’s Black Student Alliance, said she feels discouraged by the disinvestment in DEI-related jobs and programs.

“Me personally, I cried,” Barlow said. “The fact that I am going to come back here next year and all the staff members I know and all the programs I value are just going to be gone, it’s very disheartening. I feel like my college experience is ruined.”

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