Ray Carter | November 16, 2023
DEI’s reach now extends to Oklahoma community colleges
Increasingly controversial “diversity, equity, and inclusion” programs are strongly associated with major four-year universities.
But a new study finds DEI programs are also embedded in community colleges across the nation, including in Oklahoma.
“While these schools should be focused on improving their academic offerings and completion rates, radical racial and ‘gender’ activists have captured departments and administrative offices at community colleges across the country,” states a backgrounder published by The Heritage Foundation. “Woke radicals are propagating the same racially focused, ideologically driven diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices and training on community college campuses that have distracted four-year institutions from educating students.”
Jonathan Butcher, a senior research fellow in education policy at The Heritage Foundation, said DEI programs not only waste students’ financial resources, but also raise significant legal questions.
“DEI may in fact be unconstitutional,” Butcher said.
In practice, he noted DEI initiatives typically involve disparate treatment of students based on race or similar factors.
“DEI offices are political outposts on college campuses meant to advance racial preferences in admissions, in school programming, in school activities, even in the creation of classes and other academic pursuits,” Butcher said. “That violates civil-rights law. These are unconstitutional things that violate some very basic principles of civil rights.”
Butcher’s analysis reviewed degree-granting public or private community colleges that enroll at least 1,000 students, a dataset that contains 328 schools, approximately 22 percent of all community colleges in the United States.
Of the 328 schools, 266 (81 percent) had at least one DEI initiative of some kind.
Butcher said that included three Oklahoma community colleges.
Oklahoma City Community College has a chief diversity officer, DEI staff, and a DEI mission statement.
Rose State College has a chief diversity officer and DEI staff.
Tulsa Community College has a DEI department and staff, and the school also offers coaching on DEI.
Butcher noted that community colleges typically serve students who struggled in high school or need to obtain specific credits before they can enroll in a four-year institution.
“Community colleges have a sharper focus than universities do because you’re trying to help someone who just finished high school be more successful as they enter the workforce or prepare themselves to head off to a university,” Butcher said. “And so when you’re diverting resources and time and energy on these DEI programs, then it is very appropriate to ask the question: Well, is it working? Does it help someone to become a better doctor, a better electrician, a better plumber, a better lawyer? Does DEI even achieve its own goals of, say, making people more tolerant or more accepting? And the answer to all of those things is no. There’s no evidence that DEI programs make people better at their task, better at their job or occupation.”
Oklahoma’s public colleges have spent at least $83.4 million on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) programs and personnel over the last decade, according to estimates released by state higher-education entities in February.
Because DEI programs are ineffective at best, counterproductive at worst, and likely illegal, Butcher said state lawmakers should ban spending on DEI programs at state-funded colleges and universities.
“It’s another reason that lawmakers should be saying, ‘We should not be expending taxpayer money on DEI offices,” Butcher said.
[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.