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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


88th legislative session: A look at the impact, changes coming to UH

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/ The Cougar

While students were away this summer, the 88th session of the Texas Legislature passed a series of bills that could significantly impact higher education in the state.

Bills signed into law include one that prohibits student-athletes from participating in sports that don’t align with their gender assigned at birth. Another banned diversity, equity and inclusion offices, training and statements, and a third bill hopes to overhaul tenure.

“The impetus for this legislation is a new focus by Republican politicians on higher education due to the perceived “wokeness” of professors and students, and anti-conservative, anti-white bias,” said assistant political science professor Michael Kistner.

According to Kistner, Texas legislators were determined to increase educational polarization to combat the apparent wokeness that is widely seen in campus culture.

Senate Bill 17, which banned diversity, equity and inclusion offices at all Texas universities, has also created some controversy. The University has yet to provide details on the future of departments like the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and other offices such as the LGBTQ Resource Center.

To comply with SB 17, there will be changes to UH System policies and it will necessarily impact CDI and the LGBTQ Resource Center and require a reconfiguration of departments, employees and their scope of work,” UH spokesperson Shawn Lindsey said. “ We will continue to work with impacted units to ensure compliance while maintaining our focus on student success.” 

As of now, CDI is still functioning and hosting events, however, they will likely be forced to cease all operations entirely or must change their focus drastically, according to Kistner.

Kistner also said there’s been growing concern among faculty and administration about securing grant money for research because many grants are tied to DEI requirements. Another unknown is how students will respond.

The University plans to make additional announcements of an implementation plan for CDI and the LGBTQ Resource center which will be presented to the UH System Board of Regents Wednesday, Aug. 2, according to Lindsey.

The state House watered down the passed version of SB 18, which now allows university governing boards to revoke or grant tenure at any time. The original bill sought to completely ban faculty-tenured positions at public universities in the state. 

“It remains to be seen whether these modifications — or the threat of full revocation of tenure in the future — will have a negative effect on faculty recruitment,” Kistner said. “Personally, I have had conversations with fellow academics who have major reservations about ever applying for a Texas job for these reasons.”

Senate Bill 15, or what Abbott deems as the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” bans transgender athletes from competing in sports that match their gender identity, and was ceremoniously signed into act Aug. 7, and can be expected to be in effect immediately.

According to UH spokesperson Chris Stipes, as a Texas state agency, the University is obligated to comply with Texas law, including SB 15., and he doesn’t believe this will directly affect any current student-athletes.

The ban of TikTok on all Texas-issued government devices was not passed this legislative session, instead, it was an executive order that was passed unilaterally by Gov. Abbott last January, but should still pique the interest of students who plan on using the social media app while on campus.

“Students can still access TikTok on campus on their personal devices,” Stipes said. “However, it is banned on all state-issued devices, per the governor’s orders.”

Finally, before the beginning of the legislative session, Texas public universities asked for additional money on top of the in-state funding and in return would freeze tuition for undergraduates until 2025. The extra funds would be granted only on the condition of passing both Senate Bills 17 and 18.

They were later given $700 million in extra funds to be used to expand research activities but included the additional caveat of SB 17 and 18. 

House Joint Resolution three was created from an existing research fund and later reconfigured into the Texas University Fund. Lawmakers provided an additional $3 billion to help relaunch the funds.

The Texas University Fund will grant around $3.3 billion to four different universities across the state, the University of Houston, Texas Tech, Texas State, and the University of North Texas.

HJR3 will be on the election ballot this Nov. to give voters the ability to decide on the bill’s future. If it is passed, UH is set to receive $48 million, the most money in the first year.  

University of Houston Chancellor Renu Khator said UH plans to use the money to expand research facilities and purchase state-of-the-art lab equipment. The University plans to hire 150 faculty pursuing grants in energy and health innovation, according to the Texas Tribune.

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