Iowa GOP lawmakers question UI, ISU, UNI spending on diversity, equity, inclusion

DES MOINES — Key Republican lawmakers are questioning “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” programs at Iowa’s three state universities.

Republican Representative Taylor Collins of Mediapolis, is a member of the House panel that oversees the budgets for the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. Collins suggests the six figure salaries for the  the top diversity and social justice officers at the three schools are excessive.

“I don’t know anybody in my district who makes north of $250,000 a year,” Collins said during a subcommittee hearing today.

Collins said he has a “hard time squaring” a request for more state funding when the state universities are spending about $750-thousand a year to pay the four diversity officers on the campuses in Ames, Iowa City and Cedar Falls.

“I think everything’s on the table to make sure costs are being affordable for students,” Collins said.

Republican Representative Skyler Wheeler of Hull, chairman of the House Education Committee, told the three university president he wants to know why diversity, equity and inclusion programs “have become such a phenomenon” on college campuses.

“These positions haven’t always been there,” Wheeler said.

University of Northern Iowa president Mark Nook said UNI has been involved in working on diversity issues in and around the Cedar Falls campus for 50 years and he said large Iowa employers like John Deere are asking universities to help students from diverse backgrounds complete college.

“It’s about solving the primary economic challenge that this state faces,” Nook said, “simply not having enough people for the jobs that are here.”

University of Iowa president Barbara Wilson told lawmakers employers are asking for graduates who can lead in a diverse world. “How to be able to work in diverse teams, how to be able to think about diversity in terms of clients, products, marketplaces,” Wilson said, “so if we don’t have strategies that really think for where we’re headed in the next 10 years, we’re not going to be able to get our students great jobs either.”

Iowa State University president Wendy Wintersteen told lawmakers diversity and equity are part of ISU’s heritage.

“When Iowa State had its first presidential installation in 1869, the board of trustees said at that time said that everyone would be welcome regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of socioeconomic status,” Wintersteen said. “This was a new idea at that time.”

Earlier this month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he plans to ban Florida’s state universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and GOP lawmakers in other states are discussing similar moves.