Kansas public universities spend big bucks on DEI, state audit finds

A Kansas state representative requested an audit that showed that six public universities in Kansas spent $45 million on DEI, with $9 million coming from state funds.

The audit comes as more and more states are introducing legislation to curb DEI on college and university campuses.

Kansas lawmakers discovered that around $9 million of state-provided funds were used for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) services and activities at Kansas’s public universities. 

The Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit completed an audit this February to review DEI expenditures and foreign funds at six state universities. The auditing team reported that out of the roughly $45 million spent on various DEI programs, approximately $9 million were covered by state funding in the 2022-2023 school year. 

The audit was requested by Republican State Representative Steven Howe, as reported in the Kansas Reflector. Howe had previously introduced House Bill 2460, which would restrict higher education institutions from “condition[ing] admission or educational aid to an applicant for admission, or hiring, reappointing or promoting a faculty member, on the applicant’s or faculty member’s pledging allegiance to or making a statement of personal support for or opposition to any political ideology or movement, including a pledge or statement regarding [DEI], patriotism or related topics, or to request or require any such pledge or statement from an applicant or faculty member.” 

State Rep. Howe told Campus Reform: “The audit revealed that the six state universities do not have a shared definition of what diversity, equity, and inclusion activities are, which is problematic. How are we to evaluate the return on investment? Additionally, the Kansas Board of Regents reports that from 2018-2023, Black or African American student enrollment is down 12.2%, American Indian students is down 7.1%, White students is down 9.6%, and all-state university student enrollment is down 7.1%. Washburn University, our state’s sole municipal university shows even steeper declines from 2018-2023 with Black or African American student enrollment down 18.5%, Hispanic enrollment down 11.1%, White enrollment down 40.9%, and all university enrollment down 19.4%. Based on this data, Kansas universities seem to be less diverse despite investing heavily in DEl.”

“I do not support DEl that seeks to promote anti-racist ideology, is hyper-focused on immutable differences, and misappropriates merit and advancement based on those immutable differences. Institutions of higher learning should provide learning opportunities and pathways for success that encourages and rewards a strong work ethic. Universities should be beacons of opportunity, learning, research and civic discourse. Universities should respect the intellectual diversity of students, faculty and all employees - they should not be in the business of promoting political ideologies and activism,” he continued.

[RELATED: Kansas considers bill to end mandatory DEI statements in higher ed]

According to the audit, none of the universities had “a shared definition of what diversity, equity, and inclusion activities are,” nor did they have “consistent measures for determining whether DEI-related activities are effective for achieving their DEI goals.”

DEI spending at Kansas’s public universities made up between 0.5 percent to 2.7 percent of all expenditures, and the percentage of the total state funding that supported DEI varied between 0.8 percent to 2.2 percent, according to the audit. The report also noted, however, that since “[t]he universities’ DEI-related expenditures are self-reported,” the auditors had “a limited ability to determine if they are accurate and complete.”

Top spenders included the University of Kansas, which spent more than $18 million on DEI, Kansas State University, which spent $13 million, and Wichita State University, which spent more than $10 million. For each of these schools, between $2.3-2.6 million came from state funding. 

Heidi Zimmerman, supervisor of the auditing team, said: “The accuracy of this information is dependent on whether or not the universities reported completely and accurately to us. Additionally, we cannot ensure complete consistency across the universities because they do not all think of DEI in exactly the same way,” the Kansas Reflector wrote. 

The University of Kansas’s DEI office promises the addition of more “all gender” bathrooms on campus, Fort Hays State University’s DEI section contains a resource page for illegal immigrant students, and Wichita State University’s diversity office page lists, among other options, scholarships for illegal immigrant students.

[RELATED: Anti-DEI bill to end mandated ‘divisive concepts’ passes KY Senate]

The audit follows a trend of states that are introducing legislation to restrict DEI initiatives. More than 20 states have introduced or passed bills to reign in DEI on campuses in the past few years, as reported by Axios

One of those bills is Texas’s SB 17, which was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on June 17, 2023. The legislation, among other measures, forbids colleges and universities from “establish[ing] or maintain[ing] a [DEI] office,” forcing anyone to give a DEI statement, or preferring job candidates “on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” 

In a memo obtained by The Texas Tribune, Governor Greg Abbott’s chief of staff Gardner Pate said: “The innocuous sounding notion of [DEI] has been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others.” 

Campus Reform has contacted the DEI offices of the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University, and Fort Hays State University for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.