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White plays DeSantis, goes after...

White plays DeSantis, goes after university DEI programs

By: Bill Crawford - April 22, 2023
diversity, equity and inclusion

Gov. Tate Reeves and the Legislature having successfully stamped out the non-existent Critical Race Theory (CRT) programs in Mississippi schools, colleges, and universities, State Auditor Shad White has chosen another fake issue to tackle – our universities’ diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs.

Conservative Republicans have begun slamming DEI programs as part of their anti-woke agenda. Gov. Ron DeSantis has moved to defund DEI programs at Florida universities. Gov. Greg Abbott has moved to stamp out DEI policies in hiring at Texas universities.

Bill Crawford
Bill Crawford

“After seeing Florida’s review of DEI spending, we have decided to use the same model to review DEI spending at universities in Mississippi,” Fletcher Freeman, a spokesperson for the auditor’s office, told Mississippi Today.

Unlike CRT programs, DEI programs are alive and well in Mississippi universities. IHL has a board policy promoting diversity that includes a goal “To enhance the overall educational experience through infusion of curricular content and co-curricular programming that enhances multicultural awareness and understanding.

All eight public universities have DEI programs and policies. Most have websites promoting them. For example, the University of Mississippi “Pathways to Equity” sets forth the universities’ commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion:

“We demonstrate the following commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion:

…We commit to openly increasing, embracing and recognizing the full spectrum of diversity at all levels of our institution.

…We commit to be both proactive and responsive in mitigating barriers so that all members of our institution are able to reach their full potential.

…We commit to fostering a campus environment that fully supports, values and engages the intersectional identities of every member of our community.”

Nasty stuff that, right? Some appear to think so.

Emphasis on DEI programs increased in Mississippi during the 1990s as universities faced court scrutiny as part of the Ayers case. Both historically white and historically black universities were under pressure to increase diversity and eliminate vestiges of segregation. That led to uniform admission standards and an Ayers settlement provision that encouraged historically black universities to undertake “activities addressing other-race recruitment and retention.”

Auditor White’s Government Accountability Division required universities to research and submit comprehensive data on DEI programs. Yet, as with CRT, there has been no cause in Mississippi to spur such a request. 

Given his following of Gov. DeSantis’s anti-woke crusade, one can only wonder what Auditor White is up to. It looks to be a political fishing expedition, or in the current vernacular, a witch hunt.

One Republican operative said this was just another overreach by White to build his conservative resume for a planned run for governor in years to come.

Whatever, DEI programs have a place and positive role in Mississippi universities. White might better focus his efforts on accurate accounting and financial fraud in government as his office was established to do.

“And behold, I have smitten mine hand at thine overreaching which thou has done” – Ezekiel 22: 13.

About the Author(s)
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Bill Crawford

Canton native Bill Crawford enjoyed a unique and diverse career before his retirement in 2021 - editor and publisher of three weekly newspapers, EVP and CFO of Great Southern National Bank, VP for Community and Workforce Development at Meridian Community College, and founder and president of The Montgomery Institute. His government service included serving as one of the early Republican State Representatives, on the IHL Board (Fordice), as Deputy Director of MDA (Barbour), on the PERS Study Commission (Barbour), and on the Task Force on Contracting and Procurement for MDOC (Bryant). A graduate of Millsaps College with an MS from Mississippi State University, he has written a syndicated column since 2009. He and his wife Lynn live in Jackson.