University of Kentucky president says he opposes anti-diversity legislation moving in General Assembly

Kentucky Lantern

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto is publicly opposing proposed restrictions on higher education that are pending in the General Assembly, including a Senate-approved bill aimed at curbing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

“As the University of Kentucky’s president, let me be clear: I am opposed to the legislation regarding both DEI and tenure,” Capilouto said in a message to campus last week. “I have voiced my stance in a manner that I hope is respectful and thoughtful. I will continue to do so.”

No university presidents testified before the committee that heard Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, on Feb. 9. The bill would allow the attorney general to bring a civil action against a university or college that penalized a student or employee for rejecting any of 16 “discriminatory concepts” enumerated in the bill. Universities and colleges also would be required to publish course descriptions, syllabi and assigned or recommended textbooks online, among other new requirements.

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The Republican-controlled Senate on Feb. 13 approved the measure on a party line vote. The next day Capilouto sent out his message entitled “Important Legislative Update.”

Capilouto pointed out that the legislature has enacted a performance-based funding formula for higher education that penalizes institutions for failing to enroll and graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds and groups.

“Across this campus, staff and faculty work to support students of color and from underrepresented backgrounds. We should value and support that work, not diminish it. Clearly, our policymakers believe in these efforts. The funding formula they have adopted measures progress on, among other things, our success in enrolling and graduating students from underrepresented backgrounds.

“The truth is that our world and our state are changing. We are growing more diverse. Indeed, we must, if our state is to grow economically. We should embrace that change and harness the opportunities it presents, not shrink from it.”

Another measure, House Bill 9, would bar universities and colleges from expending “any resources” to support DEI programs or DEI officers. Its sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, issued a statement saying the bill would “ensure the postsecondary system in Kentucky is held accountable to dismantle the failed and misguided DEI bureaucracies that have made college more divided, more expensive, and less tolerant.” The bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Education Committee.

House Bill 228, sponsored by House Education Chair James Tipton, would allow the removal of  faculty members who fall short of new “performance and productivity” requirements “regardless of their status.” The boards of public universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System would be required to establish a process to review faculty on the new standards every four years.

Tipton presented the bill in committee on Jan. 22 but no vote was taken.

Capilouto said, “The faculty employment bill does not suggest altering or abolishing tenure. In fact, many of the policies contemplated are already in place at UK and are adhered to more strictly than what is proposed.

“Yet, among so many, the proposal raises questions about our commitment to tenure as a critical tool and symbol. It’s the idea that a university is a place that safeguards the unfettered pursuit by all our faculty — tenured or not — of discovery and learning, no matter how uncomfortable the questions are or where they take us. “

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