What is the SB17 Law in Texas and How It Can Affect Education?

Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 17 (SB17) into law in 2023. Effective January 1, 2024, SB17 amends the Texas Education Code 51.3525, prohibiting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) activities in public higher education institutions.

Let us see how this law impacts the education in the state of Texas.

An Overview

SB17 represents a significant shift in the policy landscape for public higher education institutions in Texas.

The legislation seeks to eliminate DEI activities, which supporters argue have introduced divisive practices within educational environments.

DEI initiatives often include programs and training designed to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within universities.

However, SB17’s proponents claim these efforts have led to preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, and ethnicity, rather than merit.

The law mandates that public higher education institutions in Texas cease all DEI-related activities to continue receiving state funding.

Key Provisions of SB17

SB17 introduces several critical provisions that reshape the operational framework of public higher education institutions in Texas:

Prohibitions on DEI Activities

  • Public institutions cannot engage in DEI activities.
  • DEI offices and any units performing DEI functions are banned.

Hiring Practices

  • Prohibits consideration of race, sex, color, or ethnicity in hiring.
  • Bans mandatory diversity training related to:
    • Race
    • Color
    • Ethnicity
    • Gender identity
    • Sexual orientation

Compliance Requirements

These provisions reflect a move towards a merit-based approach in public higher education, emphasizing equal treatment without consideration of demographic factors.

Impact on Institutions and Programs

The implementation of SB17 has had substantial impacts on public higher education institutions across Texas, particularly within the University of Texas System.

University of Texas System

The University of Texas System provided initial guidance through FAQs and the UTS 197 document. Compliance with SB17 is essential for receiving state funding, prompting significant operational changes.

University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin)

At UT Austin, several major adjustments were made:

Administrative Changes

  • The Multicultural Engagement Center was closed.
  • Offices such as the Gender and Sexuality Center were renamed and repurposed.

Program Adjustments

  • Various programs and scholarships were cut or restructured to comply with the new law.

Compliance Measures

  • UT Austin must provide proof of compliance to secure state funding.

These changes have altered the landscape of support services and resources available to students, staff, and faculty at UT Austin.

Specific Changes at UT Austin

Divisions and Centers

The passage of SB17 has led to substantial organizational changes within UT Austin’s administrative and support structures:

  • Renaming and Refocusing of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement:
    • This division, which played a pivotal role in promoting diversity and community engagement initiatives, has been renamed.
    • The renaming signals a shift in its mission and operational focus, aligning with the new legal framework that prohibits DEI activities.
  • Office for Institutional Equity:
    • The office, which previously focused on ensuring equity across various institutional practices, has undergone a significant transformation.
    • It has been renamed, and its scope has been refocused to comply with SB17.
    • This refocusing may limit its ability to address issues related to race, gender, and other diversity aspects directly.
  • Closure of the Multicultural Engagement Center
    • The Multicultural Engagement Center, known for providing support and resources to students from diverse backgrounds, has been closed.
    • This closure impacts various student support programs, peer mentoring, and community-building activities that were previously available through the center.

Student Organizations

The new regulations imposed by SB17 have also affected student organizations at UT Austin:

  • Compliance or Independent Registration
    • Sponsored student organizations are now required to comply with SB17’s stipulations or opt to become independently registered entities.
    • This change necessitates that organizations either align with the new non-DEI framework or function without the university’s direct sponsorship, impacting their access to resources and institutional support.
  • Changes in Student Government Structure and Focus
    • The structure and focus of the student government have been adjusted to ensure alignment with SB17.
    • These changes may involve shifts in the allocation of resources, support for student initiatives, and the overall governance model to exclude DEI-related activities.

Staff and Faculty Groups

Staff and faculty groups that have traditionally offered support and advocacy for diverse populations within UT Austin are facing new operational realities:

  • Independent Operation and Fundraising:
    • These groups must now operate independently from the university and secure their own funding.
    • This shift requires significant adaptation, as these groups were previously integrated within the university’s support framework.
  • Impact on Resource Groups:
    • Various resource groups that cater to different faculty and staff categories, such as those based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, have been significantly affected.
    • The necessity to operate independently challenges their ability to provide comprehensive support and advocacy.

Graduation and Programs

The implementation of SB17 has led to notable changes in graduation ceremonies and support programs:

  • Cultural Graduation Ceremonies:
    • The university will no longer organize cultural graduation ceremonies, which are events celebrating the achievements of students from specific cultural or demographic backgrounds.
    • These ceremonies, which provided a sense of community and recognition, have been discontinued.
  • Support Programs for Specific Demographics:
    • Programs designed to support specific student demographics, such as undocumented students and Black males, have been altered or discontinued.
    • These programs often included mentorship, financial aid, and community-building activities, which are now being restructured to fit the new legal constraints.

Support and Opposition

Supporters’ Perspective

Supporters of SB17 argue that the elimination of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) activities is a necessary step to promote fairness and meritocracy in public higher education institutions.

  • Perception of DEI Practices as Discriminatory:
    • Proponents of SB17 believe that DEI initiatives often lead to preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, or ethnicity, rather than individual merit.
    • They argue that such practices are inherently discriminatory and counterproductive to creating a truly equitable educational environment.
  • Advocacy for Merit-Based Approaches
    • Advocates for the law assert that hiring, admissions, and promotions should be based solely on merit, qualifications, and performance.
    • They contend that this approach ensures the most capable individuals are chosen, thereby enhancing the overall quality of education and institutional performance.
  • Eliminating Divisions:
    • Supporters claim that DEI activities have created divisions among students and staff by emphasizing differences rather than commonalities.
    • By banning these activities, they argue that SB17 will foster a more cohesive and unified campus environment where individuals are judged by their abilities and contributions alone.
  • Focus on Equal Treatment:
    • The law is seen as a means to enforce equal treatment of all individuals, regardless of their demographic characteristics.
    • Supporters believe this approach will lead to a more just and unbiased educational system.

Opponents’ Perspective

Opponents of SB17 raise significant concerns about the potential negative consequences of the law on diversity, inclusion, and the overall quality of education in Texas public higher education institutions.

  • Undermining Diversity and Quality of Education
    • Critics argue that DEI initiatives are crucial for fostering a diverse and inclusive campus environment, which enhances the educational experience for all students.
    • They contend that diversity in the student body and faculty brings a variety of perspectives, enriching classroom discussions and promoting critical thinking.
  • Impact on Retention and Graduation Rates
    • Some fear eliminating DEI programs could adversely affect the retention and graduation rates of underrepresented groups.
    • Programs that provide targeted support, mentorship, and resources to these students are seen as vital for their academic success and overall well-being.
    • Without these supports, underrepresented students might struggle more and potentially drop out at higher rates.
  • Discouragement for Prospective Students
    • Opponents worry that the implementation of SB17 will discourage prospective students from marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ students, from applying to and attending Texas universities.
    • The lack of visible support and inclusive programs could make these students feel unwelcome or unsafe, leading them to choose institutions in other states with more supportive environments.
  • Potential Legal and Social Backlash:
    • Critics also highlight the possibility of legal challenges and social backlash against the law.
    • They argue that SB17 could lead to lawsuits alleging discrimination and violation of civil rights and freedoms.
    • There is a concern that the law might damage the reputation of Texas higher education institutions, making them less attractive to both domestic and international students and faculty.

Implementation and Compliance

Timeline and Actions


  • Institutions began implementing changes immediately after the law was signed.
  • Compliance plans and adjustments are ongoing in affected institutions.

Key Actions

  • Development of compliance strategies by public higher education institutions.
  • Communication and guidance provided by the University of Texas System and other entities.

Monitoring and Enforcement

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is responsible for monitoring the impact of SB17.

It includes conducting compliance audits and addressing potential lawsuits related to non-compliance.

Institutions must remain vigilant and proactive in ensuring adherence to the new regulations to maintain their state funding.

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