Kansas universities spent $45 million on DEI, received $116 million from foreign sources last year

(The Sentinel) — A new state audit says the six Kansas state universities spent $45 million on various Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) activities during the 2022-2023 school year and received $116 million from foreign countries, half of which from China and India.

Of the $45 million spent on DEI, $9 million was funded by taxpayers via state aid. The Legislative Division of Post Audit conducted the study, the non-partisan arm of the Kansas Legislature tasked with examining how state money is spent.

DEI money that each university self-reported to the federal government.

The office investigated DEI spending and foreign income by Emporia State, Fort Hays State, Kansas State, Pittsburg State, The University of Kansas, and Wichita State.

Audit Supervisor Heidi Zimmerman testified before the House Committee on Higher Education Budget. She began by admitting that DEI is difficult to define:

“Neither state law, nor the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR), provide a definition of what activities should be considered DEI-related. Additionally, neither requires nor prohibits, any specific type of DEI activity or spending. The six state universities did not have a single shared definition of what DEI activities are.

“However, their various views did have some common themes. Some university officials told us that DEI activities are those that improve access to higher education for all students. Others told us DEI activities create a university culture that values differences and belonging, and a couple told us DEI activities help students live and work in a diverse world”

Among the spending listed in the audit findings:

  • Salary and benefits for 510 full-time equivalent positions at the institutions, including administrators, professors, and student employees, accounting for 97% of the spending
  • Costs related to 202 DEI-related trainings on topics such as sexual harassment, anti-bias, and disability inclusion

Rep. Ken Rahjes of Wichita asked, “English as a Second Language (ESL); would that be considered DEI?”

Zimmerman said it depends on that university’s definition of DEI activities.

$116 million from foreign sources

Federal and state laws allow universities to receive money from foreign sources. Federal law defines a foreign source as:

    • a foreign government,
    • an individual who is not a U.S. citizen or a U.S. national,
    • a legal entity (such as a business or university) created under the laws of a foreign country,
    • an agent acting on behalf of a foreign source.

The foreign scholarship spending given to the universities solicited a question from Rep. Chuck Smith of Crawford County:

“The scholarship spending, say it was from China, was it scholarship money for the Chinese students or was it general scholarships?”

Zimmerman replied, “Most of the scholarships came through gifts. They tended to be for the university use for the students at that university”

Blake Flanders, Ph.D., President and CEO of KBOR, responded to the audit results. On the DEI question, his written response read, in part:

“Currently, the Board has not seen the need to adopt policy about DEI-related activities. Rather, the Board has directed the state universities to improve student retention and graduation rates for every demographic. These efforts include more effective advising strategies, establishing alternative math pathways, adopting common course placement standards and degree maps, as well as making more strategic financial aid awards to students. The success to which the universities can adopt these practices and improve student outcomes will be the basis on which the Board evaluates the institutions in their performance agreements.”

On the foreign income issue, Dr. Flanders took issue with one definition the auditors used:

“We were pleased to see the audit report indicated auditors “did not find any specific problems with the data” the universities submitted to the federal database. As we stated in our response to the management letter, the Board is satisfied that the required information has been provided to USDE by the state universities.

“We do not agree with LPA that individual international students’ tuition and fees are the equivalent to contracts with or gifts from foreign countries. Student tuition and fees are required to be reported to the federal database only when a single foreign source pays $250,000 or more in one calendar year – a situation unlikely to ever occur for a single student making private payments for individual tuition and fees, given our universities’ costs of attendance.”

Flanders did not elaborate on the need to improve student outcomes, but graduation rates published by the Board of Regents may be one measurement.

Only one-third of first-time, full-time freshmen at Wichita State University graduate in four years, and the University of Kansas is the only one with more than half graduating in four years, at about 55%.

A year ago, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a measure banning public colleges from using federal or state funding for DEI programs in the state. At the signing ceremony, DeSantis said, “In reality what this concept of DEI has been is to attempt to impose orthodoxy on the university. This has basically been used as a veneer to impose an ideological agenda, and that is wrong.”

Recently, the University of Florida eliminated its chief diversity office position and staff jobs in response to the new law.

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