Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed an executive order that defunds diversity, equity and inclusion offices and programs in state agencies, including public colleges.
The executive order, signed Wednesday, prohibits state funding and state “property or resources” from being used for such efforts.
Oklahoma now joins several other Republican-led states that have moved to curb DEI programs.
While proponents of DEI programs argue that they help marginalized communities and increase diversity in the classroom and workforce, critics have slammed DEI efforts, calling them discriminatory.
“In Oklahoma, we’re going to encourage equal opportunity, rather than promising equal outcomes,” Stitt said in a news release. “Encouraging our workforce, economy, and education systems to flourish means shifting focus away from exclusivity and discrimination, and toward opportunity and merit.”
“We’re taking politics out of education and focusing on preparing students for the workforce,” he added.
The Oklahoma executive order also prohibits state resources from being used to require any diversity training and effectively bans mandatory diversity statements for employment and mandatory pronoun disclosure.
The state’s agencies have also been directed to conduct a review of DEI programs, eliminate “non-critical personnel” and be compliant with the order by May 31.
However, the measure makes it clear that the restrictions do not apply to “scholarly research,” student organization activities, and any procedure or class in compliance with other state or federal laws or that are required to retain a college’s accreditation.
CNN has reached out to the governor’s office to inquire about how many agencies and colleges this order is expected to impact, and if Stitt is expecting any challenges to his executive order. There are nearly 50 public college campuses in Oklahoma, according to the state’s official websites.
The order swiftly drew criticism from Democratic state lawmakers, who argued that curtailing such programs will have a harmful impact on students.
“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies are put in place to deter discrimination of marginalized communities. The fact that the governor sees this in reverse further illustrates the fact that he’s not experienced true discrimination,” Democratic state Rep. Trish Ranson said in a news release. “We need to let our universities lead the way and work towards better educating all students.”
In a statement shared with CNN, the University of Oklahoma – the state’s flagship university – said it is “disappointed” in the decision but acknowledged that it is “obligated to comply.”
“We remain committed to ensuring an education from the University of Oklahoma remains accessible and available to all students and will continue to work to recruit and retain a workforce of the most talented and qualified minds that are representative of our state,” the statement read. “The citizens of Oklahoma deserve nothing less.”
The office did not elaborate on how it plans to continue its diversity and accessibility efforts while being in compliance with the executive order.
On Wednesday, Republican state Sen. Rob Standridge introduced four bills expanding the executive order that would outright ban DEI efforts in state higher education, such as establishing offices or hiring employees to “carry out DEI practices.”
At least 40 anti-DEI bills have been introduced in 22 states and at least seven have passed, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott banned DEI offices at public colleges and universities, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defunded such programs.