Iowa State University Reacts to DEI Recommendations: Pronoun Disclosure Optional Amidst DebateBy Joy Liwanag
Iowa State University (ISU) has responded to 10 diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) recommendations issued by the Board of Regents in November, taking a notable stance on pronoun disclosure.
The university has prohibited compelling students, employees, applicants, or visitors to disclose their pronouns. The move is part of a broader evaluation of DEI efforts across Iowa's public universities, with the Board of Regents aiming to address concerns and controversies surrounding mandatory DEI initiatives.
Pronoun Disclosure at ISU
The recent directive from ISU explicitly states that individuals on campus are not required to disclose their pronouns. While the full implementation plan is expected by April, the university is already taking initial steps to respect individual choices. Students, faculty, and staff have the option to voluntarily share their pronouns with others, but it is not a mandatory requirement.
The DEI study group formed by Regent President Michael Richards in March 2023 is addressing concerns and controversies related to DEI efforts across Iowa's public universities. The Board of Regents issued a set of 10 recommendations in November, sparking discussions and debates on the role of mandatory DEI programs on campuses.
One of the recommendations focuses on barring compelled pronoun disclosure. The Board cited instances of discomfort reported by students, employees, or visitors who were asked to provide information about their personal use of pronouns in ways that made them uneasy. The move reflects a broader effort to strike a balance between fostering inclusivity and respecting individual privacy and comfort.
Legislative Background and Criticism
The Iowa Legislature passed a law in March 2023, requiring the Board of Regents to conduct a comprehensive study of DEI efforts across its campuses. This law also mandated a temporary halt to all hiring related to DEI initiatives. The move came after sharp criticism from Republican legislators, with concerns about the financial allocation for DEI efforts and accusations of promoting a particular ideological agenda.
Critics, like Representative Taylor Collins, highlighted the significant financial investment in DEI efforts, pointing out that the top DEI staff at regent universities alone accounted for approximately $750,000 in salaries. The scrutiny intensified when it was revealed that the three campuses collectively spent $9.7 million annually on DEI initiatives.
Public Response and Anecdotal Evidence
As part of the study, the Board of Regents invited feedback from the public, resulting in over 8,400 responses. The respondents included students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, employers, members of the public, and government officials. Anecdotal evidence and feedback revealed instances where individuals felt uncomfortable with mandatory pronoun disclosures, emphasizing the need for a nuanced approach to DEI initiatives.
While some respondents supported the Board's recommendation to bar compelled pronoun disclosure, others criticized or supported the broader suggestions. The controversies surrounding mandatory DEI statements in annual professional reviews and faculty candidate applications were also highlighted. Some argued that DEI programs had become excessive, potentially influencing hiring decisions based on personal statements rather than qualifications.
The Pronoun Debate
The discussion on pronoun disclosure has been a focal point, with anecdotal evidence citing instances where employees were asked to wear pronoun stickers at official events, leading to refusals and discomfort. The debate reflects broader cultural and ideological differences, with one respondent noting, "This is Iowa ... not California."
Apart from the pronoun debate, the Board of Regents' recommendations include a comprehensive restructuring of DEI offices at the university level, assessing the necessity of DEI positions at various levels, and exploring recruitment strategies for diverse intellectual and philosophical perspectives. The universities are expected to report back on the implementation of these recommendations in April.
Iowa State University's decision to make pronoun disclosure optional aligns with the ongoing debates surrounding DEI initiatives across the state. The response reflects a nuanced approach that considers individual comfort and privacy while addressing broader concerns about the role of mandatory DEI programs on campuses. As the implementation plan evolves and universities report back to the Board of Regents in April, the outcome will likely shape the future trajectory of DEI efforts in Iowa's public universities.