University of Utah President Taylor Randall has empaneled a task force charged to explore what happens when students, faculty and staff are uncomfortable expressing their points of view.

The task force has been asked to review this question and develop recommendations that “strengthen our campus climate so that all voices and perspectives are welcomed and respected,” according to Randall’s letter to task force members, which was released on Monday.

The 14-member Viewpoint Representation and Expression Task Force, with faculty, student, staff and trustee representation, will be led by Jason Perry, the U.’s vice president for government relations and director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

In assembling the panel, Randall lifted up the works of the late University of Utah President David P. Gardner, who wrote: “The University is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas. Thus, it permits the freest expression of views before students, trusting to their good sense in passing judgment on these views. Only in this way can it best serve American democracy.”

Randall, in his letter to the task force members, wrote, “In 2024, we must expand on President Gardner’s vision and ensure that our campus welcomes and respects the broad range of voices and perspectives of our students, as well as our faculty, staff and the communities we serve.” 

He continued, “It is in this spirit that I ask you to take on the important task of evaluating and assessing our campus climate related to respect and acceptance of varying ideological viewpoints.”

Randall asked the task force, in the next nine months, to provide him with the results and conclusions about the U.’s current campus climate based on survey research and focus groups with students, faculty and staff.

The task force has also been asked to issue a report in 18 months that includes:

• Results, findings and conclusions about the current campus climate based on survey research and focus groups with students, faculty and staff.

• A review and evaluation of policies and practices related to viewpoint diversity. This includes examining whether current policies are being followed and making recommendations for revised policies and practices.

• Recommendations on future research the university should undertake on this issue.

• Recommendations on speakers, dialogues, forums and debates that model best behavior and assistance on implementing the proposals.

 Other task force members include:

• Michele Ballantyne, the U.’s associate general counsel.

• Paul Cassell, professor of law.

• Maria Garciaz, university trustee.

• Harriet Hopf, professor of anesthesiology and incoming Academic Senate president.

• Jason Ramirez, Dean of Students.

• Hollis Robbins, Dean of the College of Humanities.

• Jared Rutter, professor of biochemistry.

• Bassam Salem, university trustee.

• Mary Ann Villarreal, Vice President for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

• Jeff Herring, chief human resources officer.

• Marie Wintress, Staff Council chairperson.

• Undergraduate student representative.

• Graduate student representative.

The announcement follows a communication from the U.’s senior leadership to all hiring units on Friday to discontinue use of diversity statements in hiring practices.

“In light of recent statements made by elected leaders and directives from the Utah Board of Higher Education to eliminate diversity questions or statements used in hiring at Utah’s higher education institutions, all hiring units at the university should discontinue the use of any type of diversity statements or similar practices as part of their unit-level applicant or employee hiring processes,” the statement said in part.

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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, during the PBS Utah Governor’s Monthly News Conference in December, said he thought it was “bordering on evil that we’re forcing people into a political framework before they can even apply for a job in the state.” 

Utah public colleges are phasing out DEI statements used in hiring, says higher ed board
University of Utah president says diversity statements will no longer be used in hiring

When the 2024 general session of the Utah Legislature convenes next week, it is anticipated some Republican lawmakers will introduce legislation on the use of diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, on state-supported college campuses, though none of the bills have yet been made public.

Last year, Sen. John Johnson, R-North Ogden, introduced legislation that would have defunded all DEI offices at Utah’s public colleges and universities but that proposal stalled.

Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, plans to run a bill that would target diversity statements after similar legislation was defeated in a Senate committee during the 2023 session.

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