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University voices ignored in...

University voices ignored in Auditor’s DEI report

By: Bill Crawford - June 18, 2023
diversity, equity, inclusion

While he may certainly question amounts spent, White has produced no audit or objective basis to claim the IHL programs are divisive.

Mississippi State University’s access, diversity, and inclusion expenditures “represent a necessary and appropriate investment in Mississippi’s future,” President Mark Keenum told the Magnolia Tribune. 

State Auditor Shad White views such programs as divisive.

Dr. Keenum said MSU’s program was “designed to increase higher education access and degree completion for underrepresented students, which is a necessity at Mississippi’s leading research university.” He added that it “not only seeks to assist those students, but also empowers military veterans, first-generation students, former foster home students, students with a myriad of disabilities, Native American students, and others with a program goal of growing student success and degree attainment to help them lead more productive lives.”

Auditor White appears to see himself as a Mississippi version of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump. He cited their voices as ones he listens to rather than esteemed voices of experience and reason like Dr. Keenum’s.

That prompted White to say he has “real concerns” about IHL’s various diversity, equity, and inclusion programs when he released his 322 page report last week on their DEI expenditures.

Yet, his report documented no such concerns.

“Our diversity and inclusion programs create a welcoming environment for all students and promote an essential sense of belonging across a wide spectrum of underrepresented groups,” Ole Miss Chancellor Glenn Boyce told the Magnolia Tribune. “This work enables all of our students to lead and make a difference in the diverse environments that they will encounter in their careers and communities.”

IHL Commissioner Al Rankins, Jr. explained to the Magnolia Tribune that “campus diversity initiatives include sexual assault awareness and prevention programs, music festivals, study abroad programs, student health and wellness programs, Veterans Day Recognition programs, recruitment and retention of non-Black students at our HBCUs as mandated by the Ayers settlement, and federally funded programs like the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program.”

The Auditor’s report showed $23 million spent over four years on the wide range of programs the IHL leaders described; $11 million came from state funds.

While he may certainly question amounts spent, White has produced no audit or objective basis to claim the IHL programs are divisive.

Several leaders who have praised the Auditor’s anti-corruption activities expressed surprise over his decision to tilt at DEI windmills. “It’s just hard to shake the feeling that he’s tackling the topic to score political points,” wrote Enterprise-Journal editor Jack Ryan.

There is likely more to come. Expect White to champion anti-DEI bills in the next legislative session.

Thanks to Anne Summerhays at Magnolia Tribune for printing IHL leaders’ descriptions of their programs. None were included in White’s report or emails to his supporters.

“Show me the path where I should go, O Lord” – Psalm 24:4.

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.