Nationwide campus protests, DEI was focus of Texas Committee hearing

There were no confrontations Tuesday morning at the Texas State Capitol where members of a state Senate subcommittee on higher education looked into recent campus unrest. Protests like the one at UT Austin, and the allegations of acts of antisemitism, brought about the hearing. 

Jewish UT student Levi Fox testified about a threat allegedly made to him by a faculty member and the anti-Israel chants he heard from classmates.

"A lot of the people that attended those protests, their goal was to be peaceful. But when you have instigators, when you have people that turn it violent, when you have people that turn it and focus it on Jew hatred, that is where the line needs to be drawn," said Fox.

Committee members also heard from UT Law School professor Steven Collis. He described what free speech isn't.

"Physical harm to body or property vandalism, including spray-painting buildings. Blocking roads. Blocking access to buildings. Barricading oneself into a building. None of those qualify as speech," said Collis.

A controversial action taken by protesters, at out of state campuses, was brought up during the hearing. Courtney Toretto, with the Anti-Defamation League, in her testimony noted acts like pulling down American flags may be inflammatory but technically not illegal.


"If I were involved in that protest movement, I'd probably say, 'hey, maybe don't do that'. That's not going to get people to support the cause you are supporting," said Toretto.

The trooper response in riot gear to the protests was defended by Lt. Col Freeman Martin.

"It is our experience that overwhelming force allows us to use less force," said Martin.

The tactics by troopers were questioned by state Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio). Later when he spoke with FOX 7, Menendez also urged lawmakers to temper their response.

"The laws that come out of this building must be applied evenly across the board to everyone," said Sen. Menendez. 

The committee took up another hot button issue. They called in officials from several state universities to see how they're complying with SB 17, the state law that shut down DEI Programs. The chancellors for UT and A&M were first to testify. 

J.M. Milliken and John Sharp told the committee the two systems have eliminated a total of 30 DEI offices and cut more than 400 jobs. It was also revealed that both systems, at all their campuses, spent almost $50 million on DEI programs. That money is now being redirected to student recruitment programs.

"I think DEI made us a little bit lazy, made bureaucrats a little bit lazy," said Sharp.


As the hearing continued, a coalition of DEI supporters held a news conference in a separate committee room. They claimed SB 17 is an attempt to legalize white supremacy.

"They want to see black bodies on the football field and on the basketball court. But they don't want us in the classroom. They don't want us teaching. They don't want us to be in academia, but they want us to be entertaining," said state Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City).

While that accusation was made, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) questioned UT Systems Chancellor Milliken. West acknowledged DEI programs may not have improved graduation rates, but he argued a total ban is still a mistake.

"So do you throw the baby out with the bath water, or do you kind of figure out exactly what the problems were and then fix the problems," said West.

Public testimony did not start until late Tuesday afternoon. Several UT students testified the loss of DEI programs will prevent them from flourishing. And those who took part in the protests said they were disappointed in how the university reacted.