Gordon Vetoes Legislature's Defunding Of DEI Programming At University Of Wyoming

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon on Saturday vetoed the legislature's defunding of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at the University of Wyoming — but he still let the budget defund the DEI office. The latest veto prompted legislators to call for a special session.

Clair McFarland

March 23, 20246 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Wyoming’s governor vetoed a portion of the state’s budget Saturday that would have defunded diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programming at the University of Wyoming, but he kept language defunding the DEI office.

The Wyoming Legislature handed Gov. Mark Gordon a $11.1 billion biennial budget after its recent lawmaking session, which included a line-item requiring no state money be used for UW’s office of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), or any DEI programming.

The measure stripped $1.7 million from the university — and that cut remains. Gordon did not alter the $503.7 million total appropriation to UW, though with his veto pen, he guaranteed that the UW can use its budget on DEI programming. But it can’t use state money on its DEI office.

In a Saturday veto letter to Secretary of State Chuck Gray, Gordon said federal grants hinge upon DEI programming and the Legislature may be misinterpreting those programs.

“Without this targeted veto, the Legislature will have inadvertently put millions of dollars of federal grants that regularly flow to the University at risk,” he wrote.

The grants are vital to research and other core purposes, but require their recipients to extend participation opportunities to “underrepresented and underserved populations,” said Gordon in the letter.

This includes veterans, people with disabilities and Native Americans, he said.

He hinted that the Legislature is misconstruing the nature of DEI.

“These grant-required inclusion efforts are much broader than LBGTQ+ or others that our Legislature may believe are the only populations for which inclusion efforts are intended,” Gordon said.

“Clearly, Wyoming need not pursue any ‘woke’ agenda, and I have encouraged the university to drop such nonsense,” concludes his veto statement on the DEI line.

UW To Start a Working Group

UW dispatched a Saturday statement saying it's considering its next steps, and is appointing a working group of faculty, staff and students to scrutinize UW’s programs and determine how to move forward.  

Some of the implicated programs must continue so as not to jeopardize federal funding for research and other programs, says the statement.

“We certainly will continue to value and serve students, employees and community members of all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds, and work to make everyone feel welcome,” it reads. “But the message from lawmakers, regardless of the welcomed line-item veto from the Governor, is that our DEI efforts must change, and discussions are underway to determine the best path forward.”  

It Still Cuts

Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily on Saturday that for Gordon to keep the portion defunding the DEI office makes for a “much more reasonable” gesture than if he’d vetoed the entire footnote.

Still, “it invites abuse,” he said, adding that the DEI office could just rebrand itself to use state money.

Also, the university will still feel the $1.7 million funding cut, regardless of its terms.

“I hope the university got the message, that it needs to avoid that particular operation which elsewhere has just disastrous consequences,” said Scott of the programming.

Scott, a Harvard alumnus, said DEI programming emphasizes innate characteristics like race over merit, diminishing educational success.

“We want everybody standing on their own merits,” Scott said, adding that allowing universities to tap any criteria outside merit also gives them an excuse by which to pursue political conformity.

UW should seek a diversity of political views in its staff but only excellence in merit, and with no regard to innate characteristics like race, Scott said.

“And that’s what a great university will do,” he continued. “And we’re trying to avoid the instrument that has destroyed some of the great universities.”

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, who sponsored the defunding amendment, was less subtle, saying Gordon “is willing to do anything for a buck.”

“He is willing to sell out the people of Wyoming and our university students to the DEI green new deal and gun grabbing crowd in the Biden administration,” she wrote in a Saturday text. “Don’t listen to what he says; look at what he does.”

Half A Gesture

The half-veto was half-heartening to Laramie Democratic Sen. Chris Rothfuss, who’s a UW faculty member. He said he wished Gordon had stood up more for the idea of DEI, not just the federal funding associated with it.

“The sad part (of Gordon’s letter) is that it justifies the veto not because it was a bad policy, but because the policy puts the university at risk to lose federal funds,” said Rothfuss. “And that message is incredibly disappointing.”

UW still will need to seek outside money or restructure if it wants to support its DEI office. Either way, it will have to make a major change if it expects that office to weather this two-year budget, Rothfuss said.

“This is a national movement and we see other universities and other states around the country going down this hateful path,” he said. “And regrettably, the University of Wyoming and the state of Wyoming are now on that list.”

After The Storm

Gordon’s line-item veto comes after UW leaders pledged efforts to keep at least some DEI programming even if the defunding line passed into law.

“I totally support what our DEI office does, and I think we need to have funding for it,” UW Trustee Carol Linton said at a Thursday meeting of the UW Board of Trustees. “If not funded from the Legislature on a block grant, then it should be from somewhere else.”

UW President Ed Seidel also noted that the defunding line didn’t outlaw DEI programming altogether.

Like Gordon, Seidel indicated a belief that lawmakers misunderstand the programs.

For example, he said UW does not promote people or admit undergraduate students based on race.

Both actions would be unconstitutional, he added.

“We are more about access, and about success,” said Seidel. “We are not about that.”

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter