Source of Missouri State University’s opposition to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion reforms by the legislature difficult to pinpoint

Missouri State University opposed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion reforms in the recent legislative session – but without much, if any, public notice or debate about it.

The university deployed lobbyists and partnered with “business, health care, government, nonprofit and education leaders from all across the state” to oppose lawmakers’ efforts to restrict the use of DEI in state institutions.

Bills curbing the use of DEI materials in the state’s universities, medical schools and medical licensing boards failed to pass. Likewise, a ban on the use of DEI pledges in hiring – which critics deride as left-wing loyalty oaths – didn’t pass.

Missouri State voluntarily ended its use of such loyalty oaths. But in answer to questions posed by The Heartlander, President Clif Smart said MSU opposed that and other DEI reform legislation because the university believes its Board of Governors – not state lawmakers – should make such decisions.

“So we were not supportive of the proposed statutory restrictions,” Smart wrote.

And yet, it’s unclear exactly how the university’s opposition to DEI reforms materialized.

Smart said the opposition was a policy of the university’s Board of Governors. But when asked in what way the board communicated its opposition to the legislation, Smart wrote, “I would have had one on one conversations (with) various board members on this topic. We also discussed this issue at our new board member orientation.”

If such an informal poll added up to a majority of board members, that’s not reflected in any vote, for there was none. Nor was there apparently much, if any, public debate by the Board of Governors. Smart said the legislation was discussed at the board meeting on May 18 – but that was after the May 12 end of the legislative session.

The question remains as to why such a matter of intense public and legislative concern wasn’t given more of an airing at a Board of Governors meeting.

Smart did share the university’s opposition to the legislature’s DEI reforms in a video – but it was sent only to MSU employees, and not made available to the public.

The public has taken notice, though.

“It’s disappointing that President Smart and Missouri State would stand against common-sense reforms and in support of foisting a woke agenda on Missouri taxpayers, but it’s not unexpected or unnoticed,” Patrick Ishmael, director of Government Accountability at the free-market Show-Me Institute think tank, tells The Heartlander in an email.

Ishmael argues that MSU’s “support of appalling woke political initiatives is increasingly well-known to legislators and the general public. Those embarrassments include Missouri State’s entanglement in the state’s DEI loyalty oath scandal earlier this year and, before that in 2021, his university’s patently false representations about whether critical race theory is being taught or trained anywhere in Missouri’s K-12 public education system.”

For his part, Smart notes the possible loss of accreditation for some academic areas if DEI programs are eliminated. To that end, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida recently introduced the “Fairness in Higher Education Accreditation Act,” which would prohibit accreditation decisions from being tied to DEI programs.

The Heartlander asked Smart if there were any concerns about DEI practices and procedures that had been expressed by legislators or members of the public that MSU would take into consideration.

“We are in the process of evaluating all our programs and practices,” Smart wrote. “We precluded the use of diversity statements in hiring, for example, even though that bill did not pass. Our goal is not to divide people but to create an environment where all employees and students can thrive. This includes conservative students, evangelical students, disabled students, older students, veteran students as well as liberal students.”

As for DEI in medical schools, the national watchdog Do No Harm warned Missourians in March that racial and transgender politics are endangering the practice of medicine in the state.

“In terms of hiring faculty members to be in medical schools, or getting medical students to come into the world of medicine and be accepted into medical school,” Do No Harm founder Dr. Stanley Goldfarb told The Heartlander, “the notion that the basis for those decisions should be skin color, I think it’s a profound mistake. And it takes what really ought to be something based on merit and achievement and turns it into something based on immutable characteristics.”

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