University of Iowa will halt diversity, equity, and inclusion training after White House Executive Order

In an email sent on Friday, Oct. 2 by Interim Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Liz Tovar, she said the UI will evaluate its institution-based training related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Jenna Galligan

The Old Capitol is seen on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

Julia Shanahan, Politics Editor

The University of Iowa will temporarily halt diversity, equity, and inclusion training provided by federal contractors and federal grantees after evaluating a White House Executive Order that aims to “combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.”

The email was sent Friday, Oct. 2 by Interim Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Liz Tovar to the President’s Cabinet and Council of Deans. 

Tovar wrote in the email that since the Executive Order was issued, the UI began preliminary evaluations of institution-based training related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Throughout President Trump’s tenure in the White House, he has not always been forthcoming about condemning white supremacy. During the Sept. 29 presidential debate, Trump did not directly condemn white supremacy after being asked to do so.

Trump has also called the Black Lives Matter movement “a symbol of hate” and said “it’s bad for Black people. It’s bad for everybody.”

“Let us state unequivocally that diversity, equity, and inclusion remain as core values within our institution. However, after consulting with multiple entities, and given the seriousness of the penalties for non-compliance with the order, which include the loss of federal funding, we are recommending that all units temporarily pause for a two-week period …” Tovar wrote in the email.

The executive order, signed by Trump on Sept. 22, states that a federal contractor shall not use any workplace training that “inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating,” including, but not limited to, the following concepts:

  • one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex
  • an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously
  • an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex
  • an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex
  • any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex
  • meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race

The order also states that the heads of all agencies should review their respective grant programs and require the recipient to certify it will not use the federal grant to promote the concepts listed above. 

In Tovar’s email, she outlined the following training programs that will be paused pending evaluation: 

  • Harassment and discrimination training for university employees provided by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity and/or its external vendor;
  • Select trainings from the Diversity Resources unit, including but not limited to the BUILD Certificate Program, Virtual Discussions, and departmental requests; 
  • Path to Distinction search committee training through the Office of the Provost, and Supervisor Training modules through Human Resources;
  • Trainings, workshops, or programs for UI employees that describe race or sex stereotyping and race or sex scapegoating; and 
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings for UI employees that include concepts defined as divisive by the Executive Order.  

The UI Office of Strategic Communication provided The Daily Iowan with a statement approved by Tovar, saying the UI is deeply disappointed in the language and intention behind the Executive Order.

“The University of Iowa recognizes the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion education and training and remains committed to becoming a more just and inclusive campus community. However, the UI is a government contractor and the recipient of federal grants, so we are taking the necessary time to review the breadth of the order and understand the serious implications of noncompliance,” the statement said.

According to the Office of the Vice President for Research, the UI has 923 active federally-funded projects on campus, and in fiscal year 2020 was awarded $346,721,973 in federal dollars received directly from a federal agency.

The UI established a committee that will be responsible for reviewing all workshops and training programs related to this order. The Training Review Committee includes representatives from the Office of General Counsel, the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Human Resources, Purchasing, and UI Health Care, according to Tovar’s email.

Tovar asked UI faculty and staff who facilitate DEI workplace training to submit the contents of their training and other associated materials to the Training Review Committee prior to holding the training event. 

Trump’s order defines race or sex scapegoating as “assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex.” The order goes on to say that “many people are pushing a different vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual.” 

With a reckoning for racial justice rippling across the country, many are advocating for a more inclusive education that addresses systemic racism and for people in the workplace to face their own implicit biases. 

Loren Glass, chair of the UI English department, said while he questions the constitutionality of Trump’s Executive Order, it still creates a “chilling effect” regardless of enforcement measures.

“The Executive Order completely misrepresents what diversity workshops are intended to do,” Glass said. “The most offensive paradox of this is that an administration that essentially represents white supremacy and benefits from white supremacy, is asking us not to teach or train people about the role of white supremacy in American history in American life, even though everyone is aware that it plays a constitutive role in our national life.”

Glass said the English department plans to continue teaching about systemic racism in the classroom, and that no government entity can advise a university what they can and cannot teach. The order does not mention school curriculums.

The University of Michigan released a statement on Sept. 26 condemning the order, saying the Executive Order “is a direct violation of our right to free speech and has the potential to undermine serious efforts to acknowledge and address long-standing racist practices that fail to account for disparate treatment of our citizens throughout our society. The university will continue to examine the implications of this order and speak out against it.”

The Daily Iowan will update this story with comments from faculty members. 

This is a developing story. Check back as we report.