Salina Sen. J.R. Claeys convinced colleagues on the Senate budget committee Thursday to block public post-secondary institutions in Kansas from asking applicants about diversity, equity and inclusion, asserting those questions were part of a radical attempt at reverse discrimination.
The provision inserted into a budget bill would apply to University of Kansas, Kansas State University and at least the four other Kansas Board of Regents universities because they would be in line to receive state general tax dollars in the 2024 and 2025 fiscal year budgets. Reach of the Claeys amendment wasn’t clear, because community colleges, technical colleges, independent colleges and Washburn University also received state funding.
However, Claeys did declare his amendment wouldn’t apply to the private, religious-affiliated colleges in Kansas.
The controversial amendment would need to go through the House and Senate legislative process and, if passed, face a potential veto by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers and might be able to override a Kelly veto.
Claeys, a Republican who also works for Attorney General Kris Kobach, convinced GOP allies on the all-white Senate Ways and Means Committee to accept his amendment as a stand against ideas frequently associated with “woke” politics and expressed in terms of programs on diversity, equity and inclusion, critical race theory and social-emotional learning.
“DEI, CRT, SEL are all branches of the same rotten tree that stokes division,” Claeys said. “These are ideological loyalty oaths. This provisio, of course, bans those oaths. These are used to exclude applicants who believe things, like people should be treated equally. They’re looking for an equity-type statement, one that involves a form of reverse-racism.”
None of the other Republicans on the Senate committee voting in support of Claeys’ provisio, including Senate President Ty Masterson, shared their view during the committee’s 20-minute conversation. It was largely an exchange between Claeys and two Democrats.
Democratic Sens. Pat Pettey of Kansas City and Jeff Pittman of Leavenworth said the provision sought by Claeys didn’t belong in the Senate’s budget bill. They objected to intrusion into hiring practices of public higher education institutions and suggested Claeys should package his proposal in a bill, engage the public in hearings with testimony from proponents and opponents, and move ahead with votes to determine whether the idea had merit.
“We are far from reverse racism,” Pettey said. “We have a long way to go to think about any kind of reverse racism here. It seems to me this goes very far.”
She balked at the idea that asking a job applicant about views on diversity should be considered a “radical request” at a higher educational institution.
Pittman said advancing significant changes to hiring practices of colleges and universities without a full vetting was improper.
“This is a broad, overreaching policy,” Pittman said. “Maybe the senator has an idea here that could be explored. Maybe those apples aren’t as rotten as he says, maybe they are.”
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, voted “pass” on the Claeys amendment, which was seconded by Sen. Michael Fagg, R-El Dorado. She said implications of a ban on ideological questions in the hiring process needed to be clarified.
“Obviously, we give money to private schools as well and it won’t impact them,” McGinn said. “I’m not an employment attorney and don’t have any background in that area. I just need to understand the whole thing.”
Jon Rolph, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, said the board’s staff was analyzing the provsio introduced by Claeys to understand the potential impact on the state’s public universities, technical colleges and community colleges.
“The regents value diversity,” Rolph said. “As our state becomes increasingly diverse, it is imperative that all Kansans have equal opportunities for access and success at our colleges and universities.”
In response to questions from senators on the committee, Claeys said his amendment was intended to forbid hiring considerations based on “any ideology.”
Specifically, Claeys said his goal was to delete requirements an individual “induce, solicit or encourage the applicant, employee, student or contractor to endorse any ideology, including the ideology of diversity, equity or inclusion, or provide a statement articulating their experience, commitment to or expertise in diversity, equity or inclusion.”
Claeys said the provisio would forbid a public higher education institution from providing “differential consideration” to applicants, students or contractors associated with statements on an ideology, including diversity, equity or inclusion.
He pointed to a listing at KU for an assistant professor of communications who would be expected to “describe your experiences working with people from diverse backgrounds and explain how theses experiences reflect your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
A Kansas State posting for an assistant professor of physics required a statement from applicants on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging as well as information about an applicant’s contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion in teaching and research, Claeys said.
“These DEI oaths are veiled litmus tests to ascertain support for radical race-focused ideologies,” Claeys said. “For instance, if one believes that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of their race, they would not meet that test and would be excluded.”
Pettey said the Claeys amendment suggested the Legislature ought to comb through all the budget bills to make certain public tax dollars weren’t appropriated to private colleges or universities that wouldn’t have to abide by the same employment policy restraints.
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PHOTO: Sen. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, convinced Republicans on the Senate Ways and Means Committee to adopt a ban on state public universities raising issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in any part of the hiring process for the next two fiscal years. Democrats on the committee objected to the amendment’s content and the method used to tuck it into a bill. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Story by Tim Carpenter / Kansas Reflector